Creative agencies are in a position of influence. The intent of the work produced on behalf of clients is to be seen, to affect decisions and to engage audiences. From brand creation through to advertising and in-market implementation, this work has the ability to either perpetuate the norm or push for change. So as good partners, the responsibility to advocate for inclusivity and elevate equity in our clients’ brands and their marketing efforts often falls on us.
At the societal level, it’s important for business to drive the way — to demonstrate how real change can happen in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and social justice. Clients need help understanding the impact their brand has, and based on their priorities and goals, agencies can help translate theory into action. By working in partnership with clients, agencies can determine where clients have power and influence, or could, and bring it to life in truly meaningful ways.
Start with the Scope
Have early conversations with clients during the briefing phase, as the creative is being shaped and scoped. Ask the client questions about what they stand for as an organization. Why do they exist, what does their work contribute, what are they hoping to achieve and who do they hope to serve? While many clients now have the goal to be more inclusive, what that actually means and how it’s accomplished is where agencies can help hone the discussion and define authentic opportunities.
It also often helps to put the client’s own mission statement at the center of the conversation. Most companies’ mission statements contain themes of equity and inclusion. (If they don’t, it’s time for a rewrite!) Then, it’s easier to connect strategies and potential deliverables to what that mission statement is promising, and how it shows up in marketing.
When goals and objectives around DEI are clearly embraced and illustrated in the defining stages of a client/agency engagement, then it becomes easier to hold each other accountable throughout the process. Change is often uncomfortable, challenging and comes with its own set of risks, which is best managed together as partners. And both clients and agencies benefit from the ability to reference these early stage commitments later, when the work starts to push past what’s been done before.
Expand the Creative Brief
Audience is a key element of the creative brief to develop work. So thinking beyond core target audiences, which can carry implicit or unconscious biases, to opportunities for broadening and engaging more diverse and inclusive audiences should be the aim of any client. While developing the creative brief and thinking of ways to increase awareness, engagement, etc. with the client’s target audiences, agencies can take it further and include goals around broadening target audiences. Who is being marketed to often affects the marketing itself. If the audience isn’t diverse — across gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. — then the creative likely won’t be inclusive either.
Target audiences and personas are tools agencies often use to focus, but they can sometimes perpetuate too narrow of thinking if not approached from a values-base. Agencies should communicate to clients that inclusive work is actually about both focusing and broadening. It’s about focusing on the client’s most basic values, but finding ways to connect those with a broader set of communities — to welcome people in and not discount them based on limiting characteristics.
Additionally, what’s happening from a cultural perspective is essential to capture in your brief. As you’re developing the brief, ask questions like:
Connect to Business Opportunities
Recent months have seeded many necessary conversations between agencies and clients. While acknowledging the problem has confirmed the need for change, actually promoting DEI via the work is going to be a matter of persistence. If brands want to get in front of this and be thought of as proactive, relevant and progressive, it’s not only about statements of support but also about making change now and continually.
Throughout the creative process, it’s important for the agency to talk to the client in terms of business. Doing the right thing and business opportunity don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Show them how they can do this work authentic to their mission and values while genuinely benefitting their audiences, and how it will build their business moving forward.
As agencies are ambassadors for clients’ businesses, it’s part of our role to do the right thing over time and consistently promote DEI. And it will take time, but it will also take commitment. Agencies have influence over the content and messages people are taking in, every day. The work we do should be representative of the people who see it. It’s our responsibility to help our clients understand and champion that, too.