Trust at Stream

by Akia Mitchell

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”
― ​Stephen R. Covey

To describe Stream to a non-attendee, I’ll have to borrow an analogy from a recent book club reading. In “Thinking in Systems” by Donella H. Meadows, a witty and precise MacArthur genius and Pulitzer Prize winner, she breaks the world into three components: elements, interconnections, and purpose. To experience Stream, is a three-day immersion in a system where you realize your presence and voice has an impact. The elements are agency leaders, partners, and clients. The interconnections are the rules of Stream: no titles, no selling, and participate. And most important, the purpose is derived from the behavior of the system, to drive collaboration, trust, and profitable partnerships across WPP’s ecosystem.

Watching a dynamic system that combines advertising, media, creativity, and partnership led me to reflect on three ways that “trust” dominated my Stream experience: (1) trust between brands and customers, (2) trust within WPP’s ecosystem, and (3) trust individually, on a human level.

1. Trust between brands and customers.

Every consumer market has become more competitive, with a larger range of brands competing for limited cash and shorter attention spans. In an era defined by political hacks, privacy breaches, and social upheaval — the unintended consequences of losing public trust cannot be overstated. Recently, brands have grappled with value-based consumers’ demand for socially-minded marketing, and corporate initiatives. Kai Wright’s thoughtful discussion entitled: “Nike vs. Pepsi: Should brands ‘do it for the culture’?” compelled us to grapple with those same challenges as a group.

Seated on black beanbags, we tossed around a basketball, popcorn-style, participating in a word-association game where it became apparent that among 40 people were 100 distinct definitions of the word, culture. I observed a very rudimentary concept play out. I associated food, music, and fashion, with culture, while others recalled justice, family-values, architecture, and a range of equally valid one-word definitions. My takeaway is that: culture is personal and therefore powerful.

2. Trust within WPP’s ecosystem.

We are all humans with interesting, fascinating, and remarkable lives, with stories begging to be told. Ignite talks can best be described as condensed Tedx talks covering any topic. Ignite talks were not only a masterclass in pitching from some of the best CMOs, CEOs and academics, but also educational. We learned how to spread rumors, drive race cars, and were allowed to take a peek into more intimate stories about the presenters. Ignite helped show a warm human side to the skillful negotiators and analytical geniuses who presented. Empathy builds trust.

3. Trust on a human level.

One of the most frustrating things to experience are forced all-white panel discussions about diversity in the workplace. This happens a lot in advertising, but that wasn’t my experience at Stream. What signaled a shift in trust: these discussions about race, gender, and intersectionality naturally flowed between activities and meals. I’ve never talked about race, intersectionality, and hate speech this much, with people in the majority, ever. Not in corporate, not at any fancy schools I’ve attended, and not even with my white friends. These intimate discussions required trust that our conversations, thoughts, questions and challenges were safe with each other. What set this atmosphere? David Sable’s discussion entitled: “Combating Hate,” and his rousing interview with former NFL player, Martellus Bennett’s interview, about why black kids needing their own super heros challenged and inspired us all. Since the sessions on diversity were thoughtful, and relatable, follow-up discussions organically occurred in smaller groups and ran for hours, over lunch, over coffee, and even dinner.

Perhaps we’re ​embracing the uncertainty of our times, and perhaps it’s because Stream occurred a week after the US midterm elections, two weeks after pipe bombs were found in the mail, and during the second week of CA wildfires. It seemed like everyone arrived in Ojai with a different purpose: a desire to self-correct, evolve, and to lead through service and gratitude. WPP, our clients and partners showed up strong and leaned into each other. I’m optimistic those behaviors will change the rules, and lead us to more robust and smart partnerships that are based on reasonable levels of trust to help us all to evolve, and bring us closer during these times of uncertainty.