How Diversity Impacts Advertising Agency Selection
The creative development process intrinsic to marketing success has a level of mystery about it akin to that of a dragon’s egg. The process can be fragile. Capturing it can be elusive. The conditions for nurturing its potential present an opportunity to birth something quite powerful.
When we recruit creative agencies for our consulting clients we weigh many factors. Increasingly front and center is the appreciation for team diversity.
The lynch-pin for the great partnerships that follow agency selection is the cultural fit between the people involved. Most highly functional companies have strong cultures that are forged as a result relationships and human connections. The same premise of cultural alignment and performance extends to supplier relationships.
Tight client-agency teams that produce brilliant creative work together begin with an appreciation for what is important to each party. These partnerships benefit significantly from diverse perspectives and sophistication that comes from cross-cultural intelligence.
Cross Cultural Intelligence
“To be culturally competent means to have the ability to understand and communicate effectively with people from cultures and backgrounds that are different from yours,” writes Keesha Jean-Baptiste, SVP of talent and inclusion at the 4As, Adweek 2018.
In a recent interview with AdWeek, Verizon CMO, Diego Scotti said he viewed Verizon’s diversity and inclusion initiatives with its agencies as important for its own business “because the more diversity we can get, the more we can respond to the needs of our business, but also because it’s a way of driving change in the industry as a whole.”
Most professionals respect that diversity goals apply to hiring practices and interpersonal behavior. There is however, a broader realization of diversity as a competency that will make us better marketers.
Cultural awareness of others is not to be acquired from reading or research but results from authentic bonding that occurs when a diverse group of people work together, often united by common cause.
As messy as the creative development process may be, it is enabled by keen insights that inspire original thinking. Original ideas that when evolved working with others are shaped into brand expressions that resonate with targeted consumers and move them to take action.
To achieve this outcome, brands need to demonstrate mindsets and social media behaviors that are fully inclusive. Brand partnerships, affiliations and choice of media channels also benefit from cross cultural intelligence and insight.
Advertising veteran Mark Wnek, founder of The New Breed Talent Army, affirms this dynamic noting that “Without diversity, even with the most talented writers and art directors and ideators, your work is likely to be dull.”
Client Case in Point
In a recent consulting engagement for Spirit Airlines, the stakes for evaluating creative agencies with cross cultural competencies was more than a nice to have. It was a common desire expressed across many company leaders.
Developing an authentic-to-Spirit brand voice would certainly herald the notably turnaround success of the airline, and in doing so engage new customers that could amplify the momentum for expansion.
Like other service-oriented companies, the brand voice is regarded as an inclusive rallying cry across the organization designed to inspire everyone to fulfill the brand promise.
Senior leaders discussed the airline’s guest-centric, inclusive culture – one that permeates from corporate leaders to in-flight pilots and attendants – all who pay attention to Sprit-branded communication. The need for adverting campaigns that would reflect the “the Spirit family’s guest-centric culture” was a must.
Sounds great. But how?
Three ways to start:
The diversity movement requires more nuance and attention than simply fulfilling arbitrary quotas. By elevating diversity goals and inclusive thinking into the evaluative criteria in agency selection, clients can foster the conditions for creative success.
1. Look to Leaders
Leaders guide the priorities of an agency. They are directly responsible for managing how best to develop and deploy human resources who in turn service their clients.
The make-up of an agency leadership team and its ownership structure is a key indicator to determine if the diversity platform is getting the attention it deserves.
The ethnic and gender diversity profile of a leadership team is also evidence of a cultural environment that allows for advancement with equal opportunity. And chances are, individuals who have made it to the top are most attune to the conscious and unconscious biases they have encountered along the way.
Scotti also frames the diversity issue as one of advancement and retention.
“I think the focus on leadership is critical,” Scotti said, regarding areas in the industry that most need improvement. “Part of the issue that I think a lot of companies face is that diversity is there in the lower rungs but then as the pyramid gets smaller, either those people leave because they are not valued in terms of their ability to go and get their roles or, for one reason or another, those roles aren’t available for them.”
Agency employees who don’t see fair growth and advancement opportunity leave; clients who experience high agency employee turnover also leave. Agencies with high client turnover are less stable and less likely to attract new clients.
Conversely, healthy, growing agencies have higher rates of retention because people perceive an inclusive, fair playing and fair paying field.
2. Go Deeper
Fact-finding can be insightful to compare agency options, especially if you agree with the principle “what gets measured gets done”.
To source a fully diverse and inclusive talent force, one that is reflective of today’s society, probe these topics in RFIs and RFPs as a starting point:
- What diversity programs and policies are currently in place?
- What are the recruitment and hiring practices currently in place?
- How is diversity incorporated into social responsibility efforts?
- What external awards or recognition has the agency received to indicate the health and wellness of the company culture?
- How does your agency measure employee satisfaction?
- What is the average tenure of employees?
3. Let’s Dance – Qualitative Encounter
Clients seeking to assess diversity as a competency among potential agency partners can bravely ask for a diagnostic assessment of their current brand and its creative messaging.
The dynamics of this on–topic work session will reveal cross cultural competencies, generate valuable conversation and identify blind spots for the brand; agencies can offer all available resources to put ideas into action.
The outcome? improvement map for the brand. The experience? A test drive of the capability and cultural fit between client and agency teams.
The diversity conversation is a most important one to be elevated in every company’s agency selection decision. Building an inclusive agency –client team culture will enable advertisers to tap into a wider pool of talent, retain valued team members, and gain cross cultural insights into the hearts and minds of their own increasingly diverse customer base.
Ready to hatch some powerful new partnerships? Contact ROJEK.