Best of the week: Diversity quotas, publisher pivots and … tequila!

Summer may be winding down, but that’s not reason to not do a (classy) shot of tequila: It’s the weekend! Here are some of the best Digiday stories from the past seven days:

It’s been a big week for discussing diversity at agencies. General Mills told Advertising Age that it now requires agencies competing for its business to meet quotas: 50 percent of the creative department must be female, while 20 percent must be people of color. Shortly after, HP CMO Antonio Lucio called on its agencies to send the company a proposal outlining exactly how each agency will improve diversity numbers.

Shareen Pathak spoke with one anonymous agency CMO — who is not involved in the General Mills or HP work — to give an unvarnished insider’s perspective. Here are a few key exchanges from a longer interview:

So brands and agency diversity quotas: Good, or bad?
It’s a weird thing, isn’t it? That it’s come to this? I think it’s really sad that it has to be this way. And the reason it’s sad is because ultimately, any decision — whether you’re hiring someone, whether it’s an agency or a law firm, this kind of thing — will make people feel like they got the job not because they are the most qualified person for the role regardless of sex, gender, race.

You’re talking about the post-quota hires?
Yes. The trouble is, we run the risk — as an industry and, broadly, as an economy — that we make decisions not based on merit but based on quotas.

OK, but diversity is a huge problem. If not this, how do you fix it?
Of course. It’s sad that as an industry we’re not naturally reflecting the population. But it’s so complicated. Quotas are a Band-Aid to sort out the fact that agencies are not reflecting the population the brands are selling to. But when you think about diversity inside businesses, the issues are far more fundamental.

Across the pond, our Jess Davies weighed in with a post on how European agencies are reacting to the quota news. Sentiments overseas tend to mirror those stateside, she reports.

Publishers strike back, sort of
After years of guzzling at the platforms’ traffic spigot, publishers’ worst fears are coming true, writes our publishing doomsday correspondent Max Willens. The platforms have inserted themselves between publishers and their readers, making it harder for publishers to make money off them.

Now, though, publishers are getting smarter about striking direct connections with readers: A growing number of media outlets are turning to digital marketing tools and tactics to pry readers away from social media and strike up long-term relationships with them via email subscriptions, digital memberships and other services. These tricks won’t work on every part of a publisher’s audience, but that isn’t stopping publishers from trying to super-serve every audience segment they can find.

“The benefits accrue to whoever’s closest to the customer,” said Omri Bloch, the chief operating officer of Bounce Exchange. “[For publishers], you have third parties who effectively own the customer relationships. Publishers realize there’s an existential threat there.”

Can you see me now?
Nearly a year since its launched, Verizon’s mobile video app Go90 has struggled to make a dent among the viewing public, reported Sahil Patel in the latest issue of Pulse, our print quarterly. Numerous content partners report viewership in the “hundreds” or “thousands” per video.
“Early on, we thought the platform had promise, but it was an absolute dud when it launched,” said one Go90 publishing partner.

But Verizon, a phone company that now also wants to be a media company, isn’t giving up. Recent hires including NBCUniversal vet Chip Canter and YouTube alum Ivana Kirkbride signal Verizon’s commitment to keeping and growing Go90 — for now.

Domo arigato 
For the past two months, the Guardian has been testing a Facebook Messenger bot, “Sous-chef,” that provides recipe suggestions to people based on what they had in their fridges. Now, the publisher has used what it learned to inform its new main news bot, which launched a week ago. Among the lessons: keep things simple, and make sure to strike the right tone.

“Don’t build people’s expectations too much of what’s possible, just keep it simple,” said  Chris Wilk, group product manager for off-platform.

Bottoms’ up!
It took a while, but tequila has successfully shunned its lick-shoot-suck frat-boy image. Evolving consumer palettes and a shift toward more premium, 100 percent agave varieties have put tequila on a sustained upswing, with total tequila volumes increasing by 4.5 percent to nearly 14.7 million cases in 2015, according to the Shanken News Daily’s Impact Databank.

But significant marketing pushes have also helped tequila distance itself from that bad boy image, reports  senior soused correspondent Tanya Due. Leading that charge is Patrón, which is responding to increased competition in the category from brands by investing in new product lines and emphasizing “substance over style” in its marketing.

“We relied heavily on our swagger and our market share for the longest time,” says Lee Applbaum, Patrón’s CMO. “But macro trends necessitated that we shifted the focus on our story and process much more.”  

More on that — and much more — also in our new issue of Pulse.

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