Brands including John Lewis, which has launched gender neutral kids’ clothing, are under pressure to do what is perceived to be the ‘right thing’ by consumers

The issue of corporate ethics has risen high up the social agenda in recent weeks, characterised by the demise of PR giant Bell Pottinger which was found to be conducting secret campaigns designed to stoke racial tensions in South Africa.

Whether it’s the gender pay gap at the BBC, John Lewis’ plan to stock gender-neutral clothing, or the decision of the major fashion houses behind the likes of Dior and Gucci to ban super-skinny models from their advertising, it’s clear that brands are under pressure to do what would be perceived as the “right thing”.

It would appear to follow, then, that agencies and other third parties – often billed as extensions to the brand – also need to ensure they are espousing these ethics.

“A strong agency partner needs to stay true to its values, rather than just its bottom line. It is entirely right that clients hold their agency partners to account for actions they take that fly in the face of their core values,” says Wander Bruijel marketing director at brand consultancy Elmwood, former global brand leader at EY and head of brand at Philips.

We are encouraged to meet service providers face to face, to look at their facilities, to meet them, to check their professionalism. We are keeping an eye on delivery the whole time.

Lyndan Orvis, Hayes Garden World

Indeed, when the news came out that fashion giants Kering and LVMH had decided to establish a charter for the wellbeing of models, Antoine Arnault, member of LVMH’s board of directors, said that the working relationship between LVMH Group brands, agencies and models “goes beyond simply complying with the legal requirements”. He stressed the importance of industry leaders taking the initiative when it comes to enshrining a moral or ethical stance.

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Finding an agency that fits

As the thinking goes, the actions of the biggest names will have knock on effects on other companies in that industry. In the world of advertising, Debbie Morrison, ISBA’s director of consultancy and best practice points out that many brands now include detailed ethical questions in their pitch RFIs and RFPs – request for information/proposal – to agencies.

“We would always advise our members to work with agencies that have similar culture and ethics to their own. This is becoming increasingly important,” she warns.

Dom Dwight, marketing director at Taylors of Harrogate, says that for the brand’s creative pitch last year, it asked ISBA to help manage the process and to add an extra level of ‘screening’.

“The main way we ensure we choose good partners is pretty much a matter of good old judgment and trust,” he admits. “We picked people who we liked – not just because they were smart, but because we knew we’d enjoy working with them. That brings with it, I think, at least a sense of…