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DE&I: Accelerating Change with Jef Martins

Advertising Agency
São Paulo, Brazil
Leo Burnett Tailor Made’s creative communications and social impact director speaks about how a deeply personal project led to him focusing his career on diversity, equity and inclusion
Photo credit: Jonathan Wolpert

Jef Martins is the creative communications and social impact director at Leo Burnett Tailor Made, in Brazil. He has completed an array of diversity and inclusion-focused studies at various universities across Brazil. These courses include Brands and Representation and Internal Communication, Diversity in Organisations and Training and People Development, and ESG Management: Sustainability and Business.

He is a member of the APP Diversity and Inclusion board, is part of the Diversity Observatory board, teaches culture and diversity at Mestre GP and is also part of the group of mentors at Distrito, the largest innovation ecosystem for startups in Latin America. 

What’s more, under Jef’s social impact stewardship, Leo Burnett Tailor Made prioritises diverse talent: a majority of agency leadership is female, and the percentage of Black talent has increased by double digits each year in recent years at all levels of the agency. 

LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with Jef about how he first got engaged with DE&I, and the roles of agencies and clients in pushing industry representation forward.

LBB> What drew you to the field of DE&I? 

Jef> My very first connection with advertising and social causes was in 2015, when I took part in an Ogilvy Brasil project called ‘The HIV+ Poster’, where I was both client and character, as a person living with HIV for over 15 years. That campaign, about fighting the stigma of people who live with HIV, was a watershed moment in my life and, I believe, in the lives of many people who were touched by the campaign. After that experience, I began to question the real impact of all the communication work that is developed and delivered every day, and that’s what motivated me to suggest and implement changes at Tribal DDB Brazil, where I was working in 2017.

LBB> Before it became your job role, what was your specialism? And how did you get involved?

Jef> Before working officially with DE&I, I had always handled corporate communications for agencies and clients, in addition to events and marketing. Thanks to that central position, I was always in contact with everything that was created by the agencies and delivered to the clients, and I was able to develop a broader view about intentions and results. I began noticing that, all around me, the industry was too homogeneous, with little diversity or literacy about different life experiences and repertoires. That’s when I decided to suggest the creation of a department to take a 360° look at diversity and representativeness in advertising. 

LBB> There’s a lot of frustration around the industry’s glacial pace when it comes to improving DE&I across all sorts of axes. What’s getting in the way?

Jef> From my seven years of experience in the field, I understand that there is a lack of political will for things to happen. And political will is the first step for the entire process to take place. After that, we must understand that it's essential to have specialists, with KPIs, resources, and the ability to engage within businesses and society, in order for projects to be done in a structured manner and effectively have the desired impact. Data is also essential to developing goals and paths to tread.

LBB> Outside of the advertising industry, where do you see examples of large-scale meaningful progress (if at all), and what should our industry learn from it?

Jef> I understand that large corporations have understood the need to invest in DE&I. I believe that, in terms of structure, they are better prepared to develop projects and promote change. What we must learn is that this is a demand and a responsibility of each and every business towards society. That it isn’t philanthropy, and much less charity. It’s a social investment to make both the business and the community grow together.

LBB> The dimensions of DE&I can differ somewhat according to geographic/cultural context - I’m curious, where you’re based, what are the big issues or most urgent elements of DE&I that you need to address? 

Jeg> I am in Brazil, and here we have many urgent fronts that need to be addressed. One of the main ones is the racial issue. Over 56% of our population self-identifies as Black and Brown, and our industry, as a whole, has a much lower representation of this community, generally less than 15%. 

Another very important front is when we think about the LGBTQIAP+ community, especially the trans community, which in Brazil has a life expectancy of 35 years, and its members live in the country that kills most trans people in the world – for the 14th consecutive year, according to research by the NGO TGEU. This community has a very small representation within our industry, and that drops to zero when it comes to senior management positions. 

There are also the people who live with some disability and, despite the specific laws we have in the country for companies to hire them, they are also invisible in Brazilian advertising agencies. 

Finally, gender equity and sexual harassment is also a fight that has been gaining strength in recent years. The generational issue, focused on professionals who are over 40 years old, is also beginning to gain momentum.

LBB> In your role, what have been some of the most meaningful projects or policies you’ve been involved in regarding DE&I?

Jef> I have some projects I am very proud to have created and participated in in the last few years. The first was an event called ‘Enegrecendo a Propaganda’ (‘Making advertising Blacker’), which has had three editions since 2018. The first edition, held at Tribal DDB, brought together more than 130 Black professionals at one of the largest advertising agencies in Brazil, something that had never happened before. The second edition took place in 2019 at Y&R Brasil, and it also attracted Black professionals, more than 200, to the agency’s office in order to discuss issues pertaining to the community. In 2021, the event’s third edition was held virtually and lasted four days, in partnership with Leo Burnett Tailor Made (TM), where I work today. At Leo Burnett TM we also managed to increase the number of Black professionals from 14% to 26% since 2021; we significantly increased the number of strategic departments with trans employees, and in 2022 we earned public recognition in the largest ESG report on Brazilian companies as the only communications agency to receive a special mention for its racial inclusion and LGBTQIAPN+ practices. I’m also very happy to have helped start the first creativity school in Brazil focused on blacks, LGBTQIAPN+, and members of underprivileged communities – the RUA School, which was created by Felipe Silva [partner and creative director at GANA]. 

With clients, I’ve played a strategic role from the beginning, with the ‘I AM’ project for Starbucks. This was when I was at VMLY&R as diversity director, the first position of its kind in the world outside the agency’s Kansas City headquarters. This project won the first Cannes Lions Glass Grand Prix in Brazil. 

At Leo Burnett TM, I have contributed to projects such as ‘Prident’, a concept created by putting the word ‘Pride’ and the gum brand ‘Trident’ together. This project brought to light the experience of trans people, as well as their art production, with the NGO Casa Chama, which today has the first endowment in the country focused on LGBTQIAPN+ persons. I also created a policy to ensure that every general meeting and livecast at the Leo Burnett TM office should have subtitles or sign language interpretation.

LBB> What role are clients playing with regard to holding agencies accountable and driving better DE&I (e.g. via RFPs)? Is this something you are seeing or would like to see more of?

Jef> Clients play an essential role in driving these initiatives in our industry. They and their consumers and shareholders are the main source of the demand for us to have assertive, coherent, and structured projects that are in tune with the world we have and want today. I see several actions being taken to promote diversity in the agencies through the clients, from special bonuses tied to goals, to contractual clauses that require a diverse team, requesting diversity information both for bids and contract renewals, and even joint sponsoring of initiatives to train new professionals with a diverse profile.

LBB> We often see DE&I siloed or pigeonholed as an HR issue - what’s the key to ensuring that it’s embraced as an agency-wide or industry-wide responsibility?

Jef> In companies, every business is affected by diversity – or lack thereof. So I believe that the main point is for executives and other employees to have the awareness that it isn’t something apart from their daily lives or professional lives; it’s something that plays a defining role in how we deliver our work, how we produce results, and our legacy for society.

LBB> Covid-19 changed things up across the industry. On the one hand, it opened up remote working, opening up opportunities to those who can’t afford city living, but on the other hand it’s had a notably negative impact on other groups, notably mothers. Now that some time has passed since the extremes of lockdowns in most territories, what’s your assessment of the positives and negatives to come out of that time of disruption?

Jef> In Brazil specifically, one of the major achievements was the possibility of having teams from across the country working together – with their diverse cultures and varied repertoires. In a continent-sized country such as ours, having only professionals from the main hubs defining how communication will take place is selfish and hardly strategic from a business standpoint. On the negative side, I feel that, as the return to offices happens, many of these people who had the opportunity to show their knowledge, experience, and worldview won’t find the integration they could have with their work colleagues who are there in person, and this may hinder these professionals’ growth and access. I also understand that workers with double journeys, such as parents, may have great difficulty adapting to these changes, and it’s only fair that the companies be flexible in understanding the best way for these professionals to be productive in all their activities. 

LBB> What resources/platforms/programmes have you found useful on your DE&I journey and would recommend to our readers?

Jef> The best way to start to understand the need for diversity is to look around you. Who is there and who isn’t? And why? Understanding which people are not there with us at the office, at lunch tables, taking part in cultural programs, visiting our homes, etc. – this is what shows us who the human beings are with whom we relate and have empathy for when their needs and pains appear. Diversifying our interpersonal network gets us halfway to humanising situations that previously we only saw from a distance, and that often failed to elicit in us the attention, seriousness, and engagement they deserve. 

LBB> The scale of the change needed is so massive that individuals can often feel powerless without the levers to move huge structures. What's a more personal act of positivity that you've seen recently that others could look to as inspiration for change on a human scale?

Jef> Singer Kim Petras made Grammy history this year by becoming the first trans woman to win the award in the Best Performance by a Duo/Group category for her partnership with Sam Smith in ‘Unholy’. When they went up to receive the gramophone, Sam gave the microphone to his colleague. I believe that giving the microphone to people who would not normally have it, or who historically have faced difficulties in accessing certain spaces, is an extremely noble act, one that must be practised more often in our industry. 

LBB> If you’d like our readers to take one thing away from this interview what would it be?

Jef> It is never too late to start a change. But there are people who have been waiting a long time for change to happen - who have been waiting a long time to have their voices heard, respected, and considered. So everyone who is not willing to do their part in DE&I is co-responsible for the inequality we have in our societies, and everything that comes from that unbalanced structure.

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