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6 Ways to Become a More Inclusive Agency

By Frank Chang, Creative Director, RAPP NY

Note: This is the second article in a two-part series on DE&I. You can read part one here

In our last post, I outlined why DE&I is critical for agencies to take seriously —particularly after the jarring social, political, and transformative events that came to a head in 2020.

As a follow-up, I've listed six strategic ways you can position your agency for the cultural revolution that’s already causing seismic ripples in the fabric of advertising. Jump into them all, or bite them off one piece at a time.

1. Restructure your agency’s DNA.

Even if your agency is diverse, there’s a pretty high chance it’s not diverse enough. Do your creatives represent multiple points of view? Where are you strong? Weak? Make a plan and then start to build diversity into your agency’s basic DNA.

The benefit of different voices will become obvious. For instance, you’ll always have someone on board who may be able to provide a deeper perspective on what’s happening. By listening to those signals early, you can lead the pack. Plus, you won’t have to rely on pulling in “diversity teams” to help every time a news cycle situation arises. That’s PR, not progress.

2. Get serious about internal DE&I initiatives.

Along with bringing different people on board, push your people for more diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Not sure how or where to begin? At RAPP, we’ve already taken some steps during the past year. 

Regardless of where you start, even if it’s in your creative department and nowhere else, put on the push. Eventually, you can spread your DE&I initiatives and make them agency-wide priorities beyond a single department. (Side note: Want to start something right now? Figure out how to foster an atmosphere where diversity and different viewpoints are openly encouraged and embraced.)

3. Rework your creative and messaging.

Language matters. Reconsider the words you choose when discussing briefs and target audiences. For one, ditch the term “mass audience.” Any mass audience is made up of people from various backgrounds and experiences. There isn’t one mass audience way of speaking or storytelling. But resist the temptation to resort to siloed solutions like calling one audience “mainstream” and another “multicultural.”

Looking for the right word to describe your target market? An interesting one I heard recently was “diverse mass.” It’s not perfect, but it’s a step toward acknowledging the mass audience you’re trying to connect with is made up of more than a couple of segments. Certainly, you’ll want to come up with your own way of describing audiences. Give yourself time and space. Like all pivots, this new mode of thinking requires you to flex untested muscles. So give your people the mental workout they deserve.

4. Focus on DE&I buy-in from your leaders.

If the people at the top of your agency don’t buy into diversity, equity, and inclusion, you can’t possibly get far. Your leadership absolutely, positively needs to embrace DE&I considerations in all their facets. This includes not just hiring a diverse team, but also evaluating the creative process. Don’t assume that your creative team should do all the heavy lifting. Every member of the agency team should hold themselves accountable — especially leadership.

Getting support from the executive level will ease everyone’s minds and give them the freedom to dig into DE&I. Without upper echelon backing, creatives won’t feel confident dedicating enough focus on diversity during the creative briefing process. This could leave them missing the boat on important considerations. For example, things like wires and UX (that define and impact usability), which are critical to the inclusivity space. You’ll know you’re getting DE&I right when your creative team never has to backtrack in order to “plug in” diverse or inclusive elements.

5. Promote proactive client outreach.

Being an agency that practices DE&I is terrific. However, it can be challenging for staff members to know what to say to companies and brands. Make certain all your teams (and I do mean all of them) are equipped to have serious DE&I conversations with clients.

How can you make this happen? Train your staff on what soundbites and reasonings they can use to get their point across. Provide them with up-to-date figures and facts on inclusivity and equity to use as supporting evidence with hesitant prospects or clients. Eventually, their explanations will become as second nature as any other talking points they use when speaking with brand representatives. In time, your team won’t feel like they have to “sell in” DE&I to clients. It’ll just be what they talk about.

6. Revisit and revise your recruitment and hiring processes.

On the equity front, it’s important to note that DE&I starts in-house by ensuring that all employees are on a level playing field. This could mean everyone follows fully outlined standardized processes. Or it could pertain to crafting foundational KPIs for all roles so that the opportunities for advancement are equally distributed.

You may also want to think about new types of talent. At RAPP, we’ve started to look for “out-of-the-box” hires — ones with the talent but not the craft. Consequently, we’ll expect to spend upfront time investing in their potential, knowing we’ll get tons of long-term payoffs.

We’re edging into a world where it’s becoming nearly impossible to separate marketing messaging from personal or political messaging. Finding our way through this new country will require patience — and the willingness to accept plenty of trial and error. What brand and agency leaders need is the courage to look at ourselves, breathe deeply, and step into this uncharted journey.

Sure, we’ll make mistakes on the way. But as the push for social change continues to grow, the biggest mistake would be not forging ahead.