When Executive Nashville asked me to write about the state of the ad industry in its first issue devoted to highlighting the achievements of the city’s female business leaders, I jumped at the chance. Never before have we seen such vibrancy in our business and communications profile, with more women than ever holding key leadership roles at firms across the city.

However, at what many perceive to be the epicenter of the ad industry globally, the picture may be different. In fact, the topic of gender equality has taken center stage following a significant lawsuit, recently filed against one of the world’s largest agencies, based in New York. In her opening remarks at an industry conference just last month, American Association of Advertising Agencies’ President and CEO Nancy Hill decried the inequality alleged in this lawsuit. She was right to do so…the accusations are appalling and intolerable.

Nashville, in my view, has a powerful opportunity to stand apart from this situation. And, in many cases, we already do. Our authentic substance as an open place to live and do business is helping many women-owned businesses thrive, including those in this magazine and a growing number in our industry. For these and all businesses to flourish, we as a city must reject the arrogance, shallowness and insecurity that lead to gender inequality in the first place. It is startling how different this can be versus major ad city culture.

Further, there’s an important truth in advertising that should prevent bias at the very core of our craft. We are hired to go deep into the hearts and minds of people. We know that the biggest ideas – the ones that make the most profound impact on the greatest number of people – require us to go far below the surface. And the people who come up with these ideas also close their eyes and see into the souls of people, not their race or gender or age or nationality or religion. This is where the most extraordinary advertising and brands have always been born.

I believe Nashville gets this. Here, women and men, Millennials and veterans, researchers and dreamers, startups and stalwarts are all affecting a vibe that stands apart – in the ad industry and beyond. It is an economic, creativity and career multiplier we enjoy in ways other cities do not. This should bring more clients and talent here. And it should make the work and results that come from here that much better.

At The Buntin Group, we are focused intently on our “Everything Speaks” mission. This applies to gender balance in our business. Women hold leadership positions, board positions and represent 60% of our overall workforce. They are also – in many cases – the CEOs and CMOs of our clients, as well as suppliers, peers and mentors of our company. Additionally, a number of our fellow communications firms in town are owned or led by women, each of whose success deserves to be commended. Despite this, none of us feel the work is done. A 2013 Lipscomb University study found that the number of women on Tennessee boards was growing, but still falls far below the positions held by men. A different 2016 study ranked Nashville the top city in the country for female entrepreneurs. Inside our own company, we are always striving to get better – and we will.

Whichever statistic you read, what I hope we all see – when we look into the collective Nashville ad industry mirror – isn’t just gender, but something deeper. The same objective and vital authenticity that defines our city. As I see it, in order to realize our full potential as a market and as an industry, this is the only way forward.


Jeffrey Buntin, Jr. is President and CEO of The Buntin Group, Tennessee’s largest strategic brand communications firm and an ADWEEK recognized top 50 U.S. agency, by state. He can be found on twitter @JeffreyBuntinJr, at his desk thinking about client business or in the yard, chasing his kids.