Marketing

While some agencies speak out, their clients are mostly silent on abortion

Agencies like GSD&M and Bospar PR aren’t pushing clients to speak out on the potential fate of Roe, but they’re making sure they’re part of the conversation.
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GSD&M

· 5 min read

Since the Supreme Court draft opinion leak on Roe v. Wade, corporate America has remained…mostly silent, perhaps at the advice of some communications teams.

Last month, Popular Information reported that PR agency Zeno, which has worked with clients like Coca-Cola and Expedia and is owned by Edelman, was advising clients to “not take a stance you cannot reverse, especially when the decision is not final” the same week the draft came out. The leaked email from its EVP of media strategy, Katie Cwayna, called abortion “a textbook ‘50/50’ issue.”

According to Gallup, a majority of Americans identify as pro-choice, and more than 70% don’t want to see Roe overturned, according to a Marquette University Law School survey of 1,000 American adults with an opinion on the decision.

However, a Marketing Brew survey sent out last month found that of the more than 300 readers who responded, there was a nearly even divide on how brands and agencies should proceed. Around 54% said brands should take a public stance on abortion, yet only ~48% said agencies should encourage them to do so.

While agencies seem to be leaving it up to clients to bring up the conversation around abortion, that’s not stopping some of them from speaking out themselves.

Your statement, your choice

Kate Rush Sheehy, SVP of strategy and insights at Texas-based agency GSD&M—which has worked with clients like Hilton and Tyson—told Marketing Brew that despite the agency’s public support of abortion rights, it is not actively encouraging clients to speak out. “It’s a personal choice for each company and they have to look at what’s true for them and when it’s appropriate to do so,” she said.

Curtis Sparrer, principal and co-founder of Bospar PR, which has worked with companies like Paypal and Logitech, said that while the agency has offered support should clients want to speak out, not every client has expressed interest. “Some companies have told us that they feel like they would be an interloper on the issue. And, ultimately, good PR is listening to your client and making sure you understand where their priorities lie,” he told us.

Rush Sheehy said it’s important for clients to “have [their] house in order” before saying anything political in order to come across as authentic. This means having policies that support employees whose reproductive rights are at stake.

She said she’s been encouraged around some companies’ benefit decisions, like ensuring abortion is covered by insurance and reimbursing travel costs for those in states with limitations or outright bans. While “the big brands aren’t doing brand marketing around the right to choose, it’s taking an action,” she said, adding that she doesn’t think it’s “any small deal” that companies like Apple, Citigroup, Yelp, and Bumble have taken steps to try to provide employees resources to access care.

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In taking a public pro-choice stance on the issue, Rush Sheehy said brands need to “recognize you’re going to lose some customers to perhaps deepen the love and loyalty amongst those that feel really passionately about this. And the data shows that the majority of the US supports it. So the numbers work in your favor.”

Speaking up

Even if clients aren’t speaking out, that hasn’t stopped agencies like GSD&M from doing it themselves. When the draft opinion leaked, Maria D’Amato, executive creative director at GSD&M, told us the company began work on its “Forced Mother’s Day” campaign the next day.

“We locked in on that idea by 2pm on Tuesday and then just sprinted for about 56 hours to get that thing real,” D’Amato said. She added that there’s urgency in speaking out before the Supreme Court decision is made because “we’re at a moment where we can affect the message that our leaders are hearing right now.”

a screenshot of GSD&M's Forced Mother's Day campaign

GSD&M

As part of Omnicom, GSD&M employees have access to out-of-state care and travel reimbursement. Other agencies and holding companies have confirmed similar benefits, including Wieden+Kennedy, Dentsu, IPG, and WPP.

Bospar also covers out-of-state care, which it reinforced after the leak. Sparrer said it was the first to offer relocation compensation to employees impacted by Texas’s six-week abortion ban, SB8, in September 2021, followed soon after by companies like Salesforce. At the time, six of Bospar’s ~60 employees were based in Texas. To date, Sparrer said none have moved, but have it as a safety net in case of a “break-glass situation.”

Since that policy was enacted, Bospar helped organize a virtual job fair with nine other agencies for people looking to leave Texas. Sparrer said he’s seen an increase in interest from potential employees since speaking out on abortion: “One woman said she was looking at us and a much larger firm, but she picked us because we were a lot more vocal about how we support women and she said that’s the kind of leadership she was looking for,” Sparrer said.

He called the lack of corporate responses “deafening” and said that he wants his agency to be “an instigator for change” not just for agencies, but also clients and other businesses.

“You have to take risks in order to lead,” he said. “You can’t keep on taking the temperature to decide whether or not [you’re] going to act.”

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