There are fewer than 100 black women in corporate level positions in advertising agencies in the US. This is according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which also notes that out of the total 8,734 executives, 7,651 are white, and 3,037 are white women.
According to Tricia Clarke-Stone, CEO and co-founder of Narrative marketing firm, this isn’t a surprise. She told Business Insider that many advertising agencies approach and solve problems in a very similar fashion to how they did when they launched in the 60s and 70s.
Clarke-Stone said that when she was working with these companies, everything they were doing felt insular, and didn’t invite a lot of outside ideas. This meant there was a monolithic type of thinking where everyone gravitated towards the majority or what they already knew, which didn’t really inspire innovation.
To challenge this, Clarke-Stone pitched the idea of Narrative four years ago to the chairman and CEO of Rush Communications Russell Simmons. She wanted to create an agency that attracted people from a whole range of backgrounds, to be able to come up with some of the most daring and innovative ideas.
“A lot of people thought I was crazy to launch yet another agency because there are thousands, but for me it was about really looking at how I thought I could change the industry,” Clarke-Stone told Business Insider. “I felt as though there needed to be something where we could re-imagine the way stories are told based on audiences today: who they are, what they like, what makes them tick, and how they’re actually consuming and engaging with content or experiences. We definitely disrupted the industry.”
Now, Narrative works with some top clients such as Samsung, Under Armour, Showtime, and Universal Pictures.
Clarke-Stone talked to Business Insider about the lessons she learned when setting up a new marketing and technology firm, which she refers to as an “innovation lab.”
She also pointed out why diversity in companies, especially advertising agencies, is so important for telling the right stories and engaging with people, and how agencies can attract and welcome people from diverse backgrounds.
Here are her 7 main pieces of advice for embracing diversity, and creating opportunities:
1. Stick to your ethos.
Clarke-Stone says in the industry, she always tells brands to be authentic to what they are. So, if you’re trying to create a campaign that will be unfamiliar to people, then it’s your job to sell the message. It’s up to you to make it appealing.
“We have to have a better understanding of why we’re doing this and what the value is that’s being delivered,” she said. “So for me, it’s about turning a vision into action, so that you then get the goal on the side and they have a better sense of the work that you’re doing.”
2. Recognise that diversity is an advantage.
Lack of diversity is one of the big issues in the advertising industry, Clarke-Stone said. When there’s a lack of diversity, she said it trickles down to the output and the work.
For her, it started to become obvious that the advertising world was like an “old boys’ club.” Whether it’s people of colour, people from different backgrounds, or having enough women in the company, there’s a lack of inclusion, she said.
Also, if companies do have quotas they want to fill, they aren’t necessarily hiring people from diverse backgrounds into high level positions. Just because someone is hired, doesn’t mean they are empowered within the organisation.
“The key to it is, you have to empower these people, and include them, and give them a seat at the table,” Clarke-Stone said. “So that you have this diverse thinking, and it really starts impacting the work and the direction that you’re taking.”
She added: “The way I look at diversity, it’s almost like a competitive advantage, because you’re getting so many different points of view and perspectives. Then, you have to sit there and figure out how do you integrate it, how to make sense of it, and how to mould it into something that’s really unique and different.”
3. Don’t be afraid of disruption.
Don’t be afraid to really make a change, Clarke-Stone said. If there’s something you want to do, stick to your guns and take the risk.
“I think often people don’t want to disrupt the system or really lean into a big paradigm shift,” she said. “So I say to myself, if we don’t do it, who else will do it?”
- YouTube / Billions
4. Try something new.
One the innovative campaigns Narrative ran was when it was asked to take on a project for the TV show “Billions” to expand the audience for the second season. The show focuses on a character who runs a very successful hedge fund company, which invests in people, products, and ideas.
For the campaign, a profile page was set up for Axe Capital, the fictional company, on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter. Ace Capital then began backing creators on the website, using the hashtag #BackedByAxe on social media.
“We were going in and backing companies, getting them to their goal,” Clarke-Stone said. “We were leveraging a social platform in a new way, and thus reaching a huge amount of people that essentially became brand ambassadors for the show.”
5. Know that figures are your friends.
Clarke-Stone also pointed out the importance of proof points, industry speak for evidence that proves the quality, importance, or uniqueness of the product, such as statistics of how far your campaign reached. This way, you’re not speaking without authority, because you can show true results, and get more people on board.
“A big part of why I’m so tied to results is that I started my career in sales,” Clarke-Stone said. “Even though I’m in advertising, and we dream big, and we’re always pushing and stretching our minds, I still in a certain way deal with tangibles – because a balance sheet doesn’t lie.”
6. Use big data, but be wary of it too.
Big data both helps and hinders the industry, Clarke-Stone said, a bit like a catch-22. She said it’s great to use to form strategic directions, and uncovering facts about an audience. However, it shouldn’t be used in lieu of cultural understanding.
“[Big data] opens up new territories for us to play in, but in the same regard, because we have access to so much data, people believe that they understand everything,” she said. “That puts us at a disadvantage because then we think we have a complete understanding of an audience, and a cultural nuance, and we can apply it because we’ve researched it.”
In other words, don’t lose sight of real people and experiences.
7. If the opportunity isn’t there – create it.
Lastly, Clarke-Stone says she never worked for an advertising agency before she launched her own. However, she saw that there was a gap in the market and she went for it, and she has shown that success can come from that.
“People are at these agencies who aren’t getting a seat at the table, but they have the know-how, the education, the experience,” she said. “Imagine giving a handful of them the opportunity to see what they can do.”
Clarke-Stone says she didn’t have a secret superpower, she just had the ability to identify the areas where she could make a difference.
“I’m no more special than anyone else, but I would never have been able to be at this level if I didn’t carve out and create this opportunity for myself,” she said. “People just need the opportunity, and if you give them the opportunity, that’s where you can start making things happen.”