A New Creative Strategy for Agency Diversity, Briefly

It’s going to take some powerful creative thinking to revamp the industry’s image as a bunch of misogynistic mad men who like to believe women have no vertical ambition. Typical diversity initiatives aren’t effective in agencies, because agencies aren’t typical businesses. We need a much more strategic and creative solution than the one-size-fits-all diversity approaches proliferating.

There is no document more critical to the craft of great advertising than the creative brief. So here’s one to inspire breakthrough creative ideas for the diversity issues facing us.

OBJECTIVE:  Simply hiring more women and minorities may improve how account and creative teams look, but it won’t necessarily improve how they perform.  Agency business is more demanding than ever. As pressures mount, our diversity objectives have to include enhancing agency performance, too.



TARGET:  The talent we want to hire and the talent we want to retain. The clients we serve, the brands we build. The consumers who see our messages. The investors who fund our work. The whole freaking world. We are a visible, vocal and influential industry. We have to take the mantle of our position seriously.

KEY MESSAGE: It’s not just diversity for diversity’s sake anymore. The outcome of a successful diversity initiative is a highly functioning, expertly performing team with complementary perspectives, capabilities, race, creed, color, and gender. By first identifying and then leveraging our unique strengths, we will improve our ideas, enhance our working relationships, and increase our business results.

POINT OF DIFFERENCE: Stop framing the diversity problem as simply a gender or race issue, and instead frame it as an optimization challenge. Do not invest time in workshops that overly define the psychology of biases or indulge in learning about personalities. Instead, let’s rethink how agency talent can sustainably manage the complex layers of their own beliefs and professional relationships; how they can use bias as a tool. Focus on solving diversity within the precise performance and productivity needs unique to the agency business. And tap into the power we have to positively impact our target audiences with every brand message.  

REASON TO BELIEVE:  Experts have identified 9 interrelated factors that underpin fairness for everybody. By enhancing these factors, team performance measurably increases. The new agency culture will encourage every team member to ‘lean on’ each other for optimal performance and for greater well-being. 

PERSONALITY: Innovative. Respectful. Sincere. Fair. Driven.

EXECUTIONAL MANDATORIES: The language around diversity is emotionally charged. Our response must be sensitive to the concerns of the individuals on the team.  It must align diversity objectives with performance objectives.  As our teams begin to diversify, we have to shift the cultural style of the agency to welcome them, value them, and keep them engaged.

DUE DATE:  Now. 

2 comments about "A New Creative Strategy for Agency Diversity, Briefly".
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  1. Anna Christina S. from Freelance Designer, August 25, 2016 at 3:05 p.m.

    To say that “It’s not just diversity for diversity’s sake anymore” assumes that there was ever any traction on diversity within American ad agencies in the first place. There never was.

    All we were offered were vague diversity statements on agency and holding company websites (that changed nothing), VPs of Diversity that had no hiring power (and changed nothing),  diversity awards shows sponsored and paid for by the very agencies and holding companies that locked men and women of color out in the first place, and diversity training programs that put money in the pockets of outside consultants (and changed nothing).

    Diversifying ad agencies requires something over and above just talking about it endlessly without talking about the specific numbers of minorities in Madison Avenue-level agencies in the first place. We need a proper initial head count like Apple, Google and other leaders in the tech industry have done so we can see where we need to go, if we need to go there in the first place.

  2. Kristi Faulkner from Womenkind replied, August 25, 2016 at 4:59 p.m.

    You are absolutely right, Anna Christina, which is why I contend that diversity is not working in agencies right now. We at Beyond Bias has a plan to fix that, and it aligns exactly with your vision. Thank you for you comment!

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