Fostering a 'Culture of Different'

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(Photo courtesy of Giacomo Da Ros via Flickr)
(Photo courtesy of Giacomo Da Ros via Flickr)

Is everybody at your agency on the same page? Tear it up

There is a quiet issue that pervades many ad agencies today —and it’s not just the equality issue (although that is a massive issue). Agencies today are simply not doing enough to foster different

We are in the business of creativity and originality.

However, walk into any of the top agencies and peer around any of the departments, chances are most of those people came from other agencies. And they are probably agencies of very similar stature and size. 

We want change in this industry. We’ve all read, spoken and preached it for years now. 

We want new ideas. 

We want new ways of approaching and solving problems.  

We are often sick of making ads. 

We are even more sick of making bad ads. 

But we only hire people who make ads (note: I make ads, so in essence, I am a part of the problem). Our recruiting practices dictate that we look at books, reels and awards that force us to hire from "within" our bubble, only to end up creating the same work and solutions with slightly different permutations.

In my past, I was lucky enough to be a part of an agency that had this "culture of different" built in as core to the business. People from different backgrounds and cultures all tossed into a tiny little house, challenged to solve problems together. 

It wasn’t easy, but there was something so pure about that experience that I'll never lose. Not only do I believe it honed my skills as a strategist and collaborator, but it helped shape me into a bit more of an interesting and confident person. (Or at least I hope so — or maybe I just started out really boring and shallow!)

Different fosters much more than just the work or output. 

It changes the creative spirit and energy. 

It pushes you to the edge of your own discomfort and makes you discover new things about yourself.

I’m not saying we scrap all agency talent and hire screenwriters, fashion designers, music video directors, software developers, MIT statisticians and journalists. (Although that WOULD be an awesome experiment, wouldn’t it?) The challenge is to start incorporating those perspectives from the great big world into our everyday practices. That is the bigger challenge: doing this as a part of the core agency offering, not a "specialty."

In adopting this philosophy, we must take the stigma of an "outsider" out of bringing in diverse backgrounds. I’ve seen that happen too many times and it’s not only alienating, but the cards are stacked against that person from Day One. 

As Cindy Gallop has stated quite beautifully before, bravery comes from hiring people who are different. This includes people that don’t look like you; share your upbringing, culture or nationality; or share your opinions and outlook. They won’t possess the same kind of reel or strategic portfolio as you. They won’t have the same shiny awards on their shelves.  

Different is the hard road and far less traveled. Different is uncomfortable. Different may be impossible. But if we are (at least) conscious of it, maybe we can start to get there together.  

My challenge to agencies today: Be as ambitious with your agency casting as you are with your work. My hunch is, that work will be more ambitious than you ever dreamed possible.

Thas Naseemuddeen is VP and Group Strategy Director with Deutsch LA

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