The Importance Of Diversity In An Agency

Sarah RippnerGuest Post by Sarah Rippner. Sarah is President at S. Rose Executive Search Firm.  You can connect with Sarah on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Looking to breathe new life into your agency relationship?

Are you still choosing your agency of record or performing an annual agency review the way you’ve always done it?

Given the change in consumer behavior and people’s increased focus on authenticity and relevance, it is crucial to consider factors beyond the standard markers — such as years of experience in your vertical, agency leads, quality of its dog-and-pony show and so on.

One criterion that should be on every brand marketer’s or CMO’s radar is diversity within the agencies you are evaluating.

From an operations perspective, most agencies would likely prefer to have a team that is very similar in work experience, culture and general background. Homogeneity generally makes it easier to develop employee training, provide tools and technologies, and scale up with faster onboarding, since presumably, everyone knows the same things. All you have to do is find more of the same kinds of employees.

While all these factors would create the perfect “Stepford Wives” organization, with teams basically all walking and talking along the same path, it would not create winning campaigns that deliver fresh ideas and results.

If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that creating impactful campaigns that change consumers’ minds, drive real business results and have a positive impact on a brand’s bottom line begins with amazing ideas that stand out from the noise. This type of breakthrough idea comes from teams that are diverse in lots of ways beyond obvious markers like skin color or ethnicity.

Build A Bigger Box To Fit Your Team’s Diversity

I believe that to drive that level of brand-changing ideation, you need to have a team that can think outside the typical box, and that means a team that is actually not well aligned. Yes, you read correctly: a team that is not well aligned but is instead diverse.

If you have ten people with similar life experiences and from the same generation, you will get the same type of old ideas. Their thinking, their assumptions, their go-to creative solutions or marketing plans need to be disrupted, and to do so means introducing team diversity.

I’m not only talking about diverse heritage. I also mean a whole host of demographic and psychographic criteria:

  • age group,
  • preferred music styles,
  • income,
  • family socioeconomic status,
  • gender,
  • facility across social platforms,
  • technical understanding and skill,
  • education level,
  • and hobbies and interests.

Advertising legend David Ogilvy is quoted as saying,

Senior men and women have no monopoly on great ideas. Nor do creative people. Some of the best ideas come from account executives, researchers and others. Encourage this; you need all the ideas you can get.

Wonderful things happen when you put an eclectic group together in the room — men, women, millennials and baby boomers. Tastes and interests vary. You might be mixing classic rock lovers with classical music lovers; some might be vegetarians who support animal sanctuaries while others are carnivores who also enjoy rodeos.

Add to the mix differing work experience, the types of agencies on their resumes and agency history (only worked at one agency to date vs. worked at several), and things really start cooking. For example, it helps to combine:

  • People that have worked at startups and those who’ve worked at legacy brands
  • Employees who are experts in one vertical and those who are flexible generalists
  • Staffers who are just starting out along with those who are looking  back on decades of successes — and failures,

You get the idea… and you’ll end up with a dream team.

Don’t get me wrong, it will not be easy to get them to speak the same figurative language, and they will never be fully aligned. But that’s the whole point.

The Benefits Of Diversity

They won’t rest on their laurels; they won’t settle for “We’ve always done it that way.”

They’ll work together to find new ways to reach the brand’s target audience, combine their experiences, insights and perspectives of the world. They disrupt each other’s way of thinking and play off each other in fresh ways that can’t happen when everyone’s always the “same old, same old.”

The ideas and connections that can arise from people who are willing to learn and teach others — those who come from different places in their work and personal lives — can lead to truly revolutionary marketing approaches and innovative campaigns that stir the creative pot and deliver advertising that consumers will respond to.

Even if it is tried, tested and proven, nobody talks about the laundry detergent commercial that shows how much of a stain you can remove. But when someone comes up with something new and different, like the spec work done for Tide, you can spark some interesting conversations.

Next time you go into agency review, make sure you get a team in place that provides a wide breadth of experiences and backgrounds — one that can breathe new life into your brand’s marketing in unexpected ways.