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Diverse Ideas and What Progress Looks Like

The Influencers 320 Add to collection

INFLUENCER: Grey New York's Jonathan Lee on the agency's partnership with the 3% Movement

Diverse Ideas and What Progress Looks Like

There is only one kind of company who didn’t see progress in diversity in 2018: the companies that didn’t take action.

Across culture, media, and industry – diversity continues to define our present and our future. And for good reason: diversity is still a primary business imperative for companies looking to shape our world. Diversity fuels creativity, and creativity shapes industries.

For Grey, in March of 2018, one step toward progress took shape from a partnership with the 3% Movement. We announced that from here on out, all Grey staffers who work on creative for a client must answer a new, 3%-endorsed question:

How can we make the idea reflect and respect the world's diversity?

The question lives on every one of our hundreds of creative briefs per year. And while the process of evolving our work and ideas has been imperfect, that was the point; it’s in the name of the program, titled The Progress Brief. We’re less than a year into full-agency adoption of the revised brief, and so while we haven’t completely transformed the work yet, we have certainly changed conversations.

3% Founder, Kat Gordon, watched for years as many campaigns missed the mark – often publicly and spectacularly – by overlooking or misrepresenting entire communities of consumers. She realised that this was not only a mistake to be avoided, but an opportunity to be enabled. “Agencies and clients are waking up to the truth that diverse perspectives are a smart way to invite more people into a campaign’s message and to create positive, memorable connections. What better way to remind teams of this than at the kick-off of every project with a 12-word question on the creative brief?” 

Why does a more diverse society necessitate this section on the brief? Because the world we communicate in is changing more quickly than we are adapting to it. If we wait and let our understanding happen organically, we will fail, so having a documented business imperative to address it head on is the only credible way forward. Acting as if diversity should be assumed or implied got us where we are today. Diversity needs to be visibly supported. 

Even with a more diverse talent pool, we all – as humans – bring inherent biases. And if progress is the antidote to bias, then having the right conversations is the ends AND the means for progress.

That said, to advance larger industry conversations, we think it is important to  open up regarding the progress we’ve achieved, with insight into where we stumbled (which is to be expected) and how we will continue to change (which is more urgent than ever). Lessons learned include:


Respect is more vital than reflection

Reflection has been the goal for many industry diversity initiatives, and that makes sense. People want to see themselves reflected in the work, and while there’s a lot to be done in casting and representation, at this point reflection should be cost of entry. Demonstrating respect will make the difference moving forward, as it denotes understanding and connections. When brands really dig for new ways to connect and provide value, it will come from respecting their audience, not just reflecting them. Progress for the industry will mean changing the language going forward, to make sure that we’re addressing and improving reflection and respect.


Cultural perspective is always limited

Even at our best, there are walls to our awareness of other cultures. The brief is helping shatter the walls we put up as humans, and breaking cultural limitation is helping drive true insight and business opportunity. In fact, going outside our agency culture –  to the 3% Movement – was itself an exercise in breaking down barriers. Keep exploring inherent bias. Keep reminding yourself that you don’t and can’t know everything.


Exploration is the root of diverse thinking

We very purposely did not include a literal checkbox to the brief, as diversity is not something to be blindly completed. Diversity is to be explored. At one point, we had integrated a list of diverse demographic groups in the brief – but then where would that stop? Again, because respect means digging deeper, we designed a brief that forced people to explore diverse opportunities around a business challenge. We engaged the innate curiosity of our people with an open-ended question that could yield limitless answers.


Education and advocacy will be next

Admittedly, we need to better advance the brief with clients and all partners related to the work – and that is a process for everyone involved. But the brief was the right foundation for our conversations because it touches everyone. If clients, production and casting are fluent in diversity brief, we can all better unite towards new business goals. This education inevitably entails some uncomfortable conversations – and that’s great. There is no growth without discomfort.

We know our work will change because of this program, and we’ll discuss that work  transparently when the time comes – when we know that our progress as an agency has meant progress for consumers. For now, our conversations that drive the work have been really different, and that already feels like a win.



Jonathan Lee is chief strategy officer at Grey New York

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Grey New York, Mon, 08 Apr 2019 15:25:03 GMT