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5 Minutes with… Kerry Glazer


The timeTo steering committee chair speaks about the British industry’s efforts to end sexual harassment, as well as her 20-plus years at AAR Group, recent involvement with Untold Studios and much more

5 Minutes with… Kerry Glazer

Kerry Glazer is one of the most prominent figures in the UK communications industry, with a career spanning over three decades. She is non-executive chair of both AAR Group, a leading consultancy that helps brands find the best agencies for their needs, and Untold Studios, a production company and creative studio that works across entertainment, music and advertising. She is also the chair of timeTo, the UK industry initiative to end sexual harassment in the advertising and marketing industry.

Kerry held leadership roles at creative agencies including Wunderman Thompson and Engine before she joined AAR as commercial director in 1999, became CEO in 2006, and transitioned to non-executive chair in 2019. She also joined the board of Untold Studios as its chair in January 2020.

A key player in organisations for the benefit of the people in the advertising industry, she’s also a past president of WACL (Women in Advertising and Communications Leadership) and one of its seven honorary members. She is also a former NABS president, trustee and support committee member, and a member of numerous industry organisations and steering committees. She was named as one of the IAA UK 21 Women of 2021, and has been shortlisted for the 2022 iList.

LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Kerry to find out more about her journey, her achievements, her passions, and what inspires her about today’s industry.

LBB> How did you first get into advertising? 

Kerry> It was more by accident than design! 

After finishing my A-levels, I trained and qualified as a registered nurse at a London hospital (in the days before nursing was a degree-based profession). After five years in the NHS, I returned to university with a plan to get into a growing area of nursing research - particularly, the study of how nurses were recruited and educated. During my third-year work placement I spent a month at JWT (now Wunderman Thompson) in their information and research department, and was totally smitten. 

I’d always loved ads: I grew up in the ’70s with the Smash Martians, Hovis hill, and Leonard Rossiter sloshing Cinzano all over Joan Collins, but my month at JWT was a coup de foudre. Everything about being in an agency – the creative work, the people, the energy, the power to transform the fortunes of a brand, and the sheer can-do optimism of the industry was addictive. As luck would have it, as I finished my degree, a job came up at JWT and I managed to blag it. Within 12 months I’d joined the other grad trainees in account management; 30-odd years later, the rest is history. 

LBB> Early in your career, what were the most important lessons you learned that have served you well to this day? 

Kerry> Five years in the NHS taught me a lot about how people can behave when they are under pressure, or very anxious about the circumstances they are in. Developing skills to try and get the best out of someone when the proverbial is hitting the fan has been consistently useful (alongside the knowledge that even on the days when it all goes wrong and everyone’s a bit shouty, nobody dies). This still helps me put bad moments in context to this day. 
The power of taking people with you when trying to sell ideas, make things happen, or deliver change was another lesson I absorbed in my early days at JWT. Forcing things through because you were senior, or powerful, or scary was one approach, but it seemed so much more effective to find ways to get people to be inspired to come on the journey with you (or better yet, thinking it was their idea in the first place!). That’s never stopped being useful. 

LBB> In your years as chief executive of AAR, what are you most proud of? 

Kerry> That AAR, across nearly 50 years and three phases of leadership – by Lyndy Payne, me, and now Victoria Fox – has evolved and transformed culturally and as a business very successfully, while also retaining the values of integrity, impartiality, and mutuality that Lyndy built the company on. I think it’s a big part of the reason why the business is still here. 
I’ve been lucky enough to work on some magnificent pitches, observing the most talented people in the industry at the top of their game, but my personal highlight was leading the pitch to find the marketing agency partner and third-tier sponsor for London 2012 – the first time a sponsorship like this had occurred. Working with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic & Paralympic Games to appoint McCann Worldwide to this once-in-a-lifetime project is something I’ll always be proud of. 


LBB> You've played a role in some of the UK industry's most important non-commercial organisations such as WACL and NABS (both of which you've served as president of). What are some of your highlights there and why? 

Kerry> With these two exceptionally important and influential organisations, the key highlight has been working as part of an outstanding team of committed and passionate people. During my presidency of WACL, we voted to change the purpose of the club to make it a more overtly campaigning organisation, pursuing equality for all in the industry as our new North Star. This has led to campaigns to back industry initiatives such as flexible working and maintaining gender pay gap reporting, as well as supporting timeTo (the initiative to end sexual harassment in the industry) as one of its three founding organisations. 
With NABS, anything you can do to support and raise money for the team of people who support the emotional, mental, and professional wellbeing of everyone in the industry so expertly and tirelessly is a very good thing. Our industry is a generous one, but, without keeping the pressure on the pedal to keep fundraising for NABS top of mind, donations can fall. Whilst I was president, my AAR colleagues and I held a massive agency quiz night at Facebook where 60 agency teams helped us raise £20,000 for NABS. This month, AAR has repeated this exercise, raising even more money for NABS in the process. I would encourage everyone to support NABS by attending its events, donating, or, if you have a great fundraising idea, get in touch with Sue Todd and the team at NABS. We have never needed NABS more than we do today, and it needs us. 

LBB> What was it like to become part of the board at Untold Studios in 2020? That's a very different kind of business to AAR. 

Kerry> It's been an exciting ride so far! Two very different business for sure - in that the studio is only in the first five years of exponential growth compared to AAR’s five decades - but both allow me to get my creative fix, even if it’s only by proxy by being associated with phenomenally talented people involved in advertising, online video content, television, film, and music. 

There are also valuable parallels. Supporting the respective executive teams through the pandemic, balancing the needs of investors and shareholders with the ambitions of company leadership, and trying to be an effective non-executive director has been a steep learning curve (and evidence that you can still teach an old dog new tricks!). 

LBB> Since you've been involved with timeTo, what have been your biggest priorities working with them? 

Kerry> The ambition of the timeTo steering committee since our first round of research in 2018 – when 41% of those who responded to the survey had either experienced or witnessed sexual harassment during their career – has been to end this unacceptable behaviour in our industry. To make this happen, we developed campaigns that showed sexual harassment wasn’t a ‘thing of the past’ as many mistakenly believed, created a code for industry businesses to endorse (giving practical and actionable guidance on what to do if you or a colleague experienced, witnessed, or perpetrated sexual harassment) and, most importantly, provided effective, thought-provoking training that would deliver the behaviour change we needed to see. These three priorities have been the gamechangers in making progress. 


LBB> What's the most important impact that timeTo has made so far? 

Kerry> We have 300 businesses in the industry endorsing timeTo, and more than 80 companies have completed the training workshop, with many more booked to receive or repeat it this year, rolling it out across their teams. Most significantly, the progress being made is evidenced by the last two rounds of the Advertising Association’s All In Census, carried out in 2021 and 2023, showing that the number of people experiencing sexual harassment in advertising has more than halved from 2.5% of respondents in 2021 to 1% of respondents in 2023. In 2021, 3% of women and 2% of men that responded to the census said they’d experienced sexual harassment in the previous 12 months. When All In asked the same question in 2023, just 1% of women and 1% of men who responded said that they had. 
When you think about where we started in 2018 with our first survey – when 26% of respondents had been sexually harassed whilst working in the advertising industry, 30% had witnessed it, and 41% had either experienced it or witnessed it – there has definitely been a seismic shift in behaviour.  It’s not all down to timeTo: the industry has been working very hard to eradicate all forms of bullying and harassment, but the most important thing is that we don’t take our foot off the gas. There is still work to do. 

LBB> What's inspiring you in advertising, or in culture more widely, today? 

Kerry> For me, it’s always about the people in our industry, particularly the increasing diversity of those being attracted to the industry. Innovations like AI are exciting (and terrifying) and will, I am sure, change the creative industries beyond all recognition over the next decade. But, the thing I find most inspiring is the effort going behind making advertising more diverse, in the messages it communicates and in the way we are attracting young people to the industry who would hitherto have thought this business is not for them. 

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LBB Editorial, Tue, 30 May 2023 14:45:20 GMT