As they have been for so many people and businesses around the UK, the last nine months have been a period of education, reflection, and action for all of us at Total Media.

For many of us, myself included, we have learnt that not being racist doesn’t mean that our own privileges and unconscious biases are not fuelling the inequalities in our industry and society.

As an agency, we have also taken some time to self-reflect. We have realised that our historic efforts in ensuring and celebrating diversity and inclusion weren’t enough. More action could be taken within the business to help drive real change within the industry as a whole.

As a result, 2020 saw the creation of our D&I council with sub-groups in charge of delivering meaningful action and accountability to ensure equality across Race & Ethnicity, Gender, LGBTQ+, Age, religion, and disability.

With a number of changes being actioned internally, as a media agency, we recognise that our responsibility extends beyond the four walls/Zoom calls that make up Total Media.

As media planners and buyers we are responsible for the allocation of millions of pounds worth of ad spend each year, and we must take the time to understand the impact that our decisions have on the wider world around us. Especially as more and more of this budget shifts online (both due to fragmentation of audiences as well as ongoing impacts of lockdown on the media landscape), the more that the responsible allocation of this budget can help fund diverse voices and content, and ensure that it isn’t used to give voice to hateful, divisive or extremist content – the scenes from Washington D.C. at the start of 2021 demonstrate what can happen when the wrong voices are given outlets to spread their hate.

I’m not saying that the advertising industry is solely to blame for the invasion of Congress, but it’s yet another example of the sort of views and content that, left unchecked, can be inadvertently funded by programmatic advertising or investment into the wrong sites or platforms.

Counter to this consider the fact that news brands lost a reported £50m in advertising revenue in the first half of 2020 due to keyword blocking preventing ads from running on quality journalistic content around Coronavirus and Black Lives Matter.

In the same way that we must now be actively anti-racist, we must now realise that the brand safety tools that we once considered “good enough” can no longer be the only tools that we rely on. We have to actively ensure that, beyond simply not funding hateful or divisive content, our media spend is reaching a wide range of minority groups and funding a diverse range of content.

This is why Total Media has taken the step to join the Conscious Ad Network. Not as a box to be ticked or a logo to add to our agency credentials, but as a public commitment to the changes that we are making, both structurally as an agency and in terms of our approach to planning and buying media.

We have already made changes to the way that we operate in many areas, including bringing diverse audience representation into our planning process, and are committed to targeting diverse sites within our programmatic buys. Alongside this the frameworks that CAN provide to help agencies assess their actions and shortcomings in all six areas covered by their manifestos – Diversity, Anti Ad-Fraud, Informed Consent, Hate Speech, Children’s Welfare and Fake News – are a fantastic resource to ensure we are not missing anything out, and have inspired a number of additional initiatives and changes to the way that we will be planning and buying our campaigns moving forward.

We understand as an agency, there is a way to go, and the joining of CAN represents the beginning of this journey, not the end. I would encourage all other agencies & brands to do the same – only together can we ensure that the advertising industry helps drive meaningful change in our communities, and achieves greater representation of all people and groups that make up these communities.


The Conscious Advertising Network is a voluntary coalition of over 70 organisations set up to ensure that industry ethics catches up with the technology of modern advertising. More information on their six manifestos, as well as information regarding joining CAN, can be found here.

Sean Golding - Head of Display & Programmatic

Author: Sean Golding - Head of Display & Programmatic