Trailblazers is a regular series covering diverse-owned startups in the advertising, marketing and media industries
Rana Reeves’ ascent to creative agency founder was filled with road blocks.
As a British-Indian gay immigrant, Reeves has a combination of identities rarely seen in the advertising industry. On top of that, his childhood was admittedly void of “lawyers, attorneys and accountants,” making his interest in creativity difficult to see as a viable career.
Still, Reeves took on roles at different agencies, including as a creative director at Shire Communications and director of brand and culture at Jackie Cooper PR.
He began to experience the systemic inequities in the industry first-hand.
“The industry is systemically racist, not set up for mothers, older people and the entire LGBTQ community,” Reeves told Campaign US. “Which is irrational, because they sell themselves on the idea of the new, fresh, young and relevant.”
So Reeves set out to do things differently. He co-founded John Doe Communications and launched Storey, the PR division of production agency North Six. He also landed a position as a creative director at Sean "Diddy" Combs’ agency Blue Flame, where he worked while securing his green card.
Enter the RanaVerse
In 2018, Reeves set out to launch his own creative agency, RanaVerse, which brings brands closer to moments in popular culture.
The premise struck a chord, and Reeves immediately signed on Equinox for a campaign. More brands followed, including Unilever, which partnered with the agency for “United We Stand,” a campaign that conveys what Pride means to LGBTQ+ people. RanaVerse also worked with Coach on its #CoachTheVote campaign in 2020, which encouraged voter education while countering voter suppression.
More recently, the agency worked with GM to promote the Hummer EV in a campaign starring LeBron James. RanaVerse also hopped on the NFT trend, creating a collection with Kate Moss and Moment in Time Gallery (@MITNFT) in April.
“The biggest mistake I've made in my career is giving over my power and equity to other people, because of the fear I wouldn't be able to do it myself,” Reeves said. “And that hasn’t been true. I did.”
‘Diversity is common sense’
Despite attracting blue chip clients, Reeves still faces challenges as a start-up agency brimming with big ideas.
“The conventional ad system is not set up for innovation,” he said. “Things like procurement, payments, they're set up for big agency partners. They're not set up for dynamic, younger players that are trying to get a foothold and make a change in the industry.”
Then there are the stereotypes that come with being a minority-owned agency. Reeves often feels pigeonholed into multicultural work “because of the color of my skin,” he said.
“When you're Black or Brown, and you own an agency, suddenly you're called a ‘specialist agency,’” Reeves explained. “My white counterparts don't get that. They just opened ‘an agency.’”
As the ad world works to rectify its diversity gaps, agencies need to understand it's not a trend.
“We don't sell [diversity] to clients, because it's common sense,” Reeves said. “Are you talking about race now? Where were you 15 years ago?”
“Racism and gender equality are not new,” he added. “That should be in what you have intrinsically, because it's the right thing to do.”