Create with Diversity or Die

I have a bug. A compulsion. An obsession. It’s a bit of a create or die feeling. I have to be doing or I won’t be happy. I’ve always been this way. And one day I worked under someone who said that’s a good thing. She encouraged me to be better, work harder, break the rules and above all, be myself. When I quit that job because I didn’t agree with the work of the Creative Director there, I wrote a letter to that same woman about it. She told me the letter took a lot of guts and that my instinct was right. That meant a lot. It never occurred to me that my role model and mentor was a woman — and why should it?

Diversity is the latest industry buzz word, but here at Rokkan, it’s the status quo we’ve never had to work to achieve. We haven’t been back-peddling to hit quotas, hire women or bring on minorities. We received a brief the other day that required at least half of the creative team to be women. We looked around and realized we had already met the brief. Our team was perfectly balanced — and that’s just the way it is.

Our first priority is having smart, interesting people on the job — they just happen to be women and men of all different colors, backgrounds, ages, cultures, experiences and life stories. When each of them, with points of view made up of countless influences throughout their lives, get together in a room, something no amount of convention or conformity can create is born: a powerful idea.

Diversity is the lens through which younger consumers look at the world. As we become connected through technology and our world becomes a little smaller, lines drawn by previous generations are becoming blurred. A good creative agency will aim to break down barriers too, rethinking their work not just to sell products but to tell universal stories that celebrate our differences as well as our similarities.

In the same way I would suffer without my work, creativity would die without diversity. When a limitless number of perspectives come together, there is simply more to choose from — more emotion, more color, more movement, more words, more reality, more imagination. And from that, more innovation.

We need diversity as agencies. We need people from all over the world, of different shapes, sizes, sexes and backgrounds. Our brands need them, too. We are just here to connect brands with people. When I look around our office and see diversity all around, I realize we’re exactly where we need to be. And as we grow, we’re more conscious of diversity — not because we’re worried about how we’re seen, but because we know diversity in creative works. It’s the golden ticket.

When we worked to position Glenfiddich Scotch for a different audience, the art director, a woman, couldn’t stop talking about her relationship with her dad. The ad ended up featuring a young woman who poured her and her father a Scotch after a long day at their guitar shop. We are believers in the idea that some of the best work comes out of true stories. For Mikimoto, we were tasked with making pearls cool to a younger audience. The creative team was entirely female, as was the director who shot the commercial. The ad ended up mirroring the evolution of women with the process of how a pearl gains its look and texture. I don’t believe the same insights and thinking could have come from a bunch of guys.

Slowly, diversity is becoming the norm. Clients are beginning to expect diversity in the teams they hire, the work those teams do, and the message that work sends. When we see clients like that, we know they are a forward-thinking brand that understands the needs of a different consumer today.

Diversity is what created this company. When I started at Rokkan, it felt a little like a rag-tag crew of pirates who took any pre-conceived notion of what it means to be a creative in this industry and threw it overboard. We realized something very basic — we are people making things for other people, and while we have differences and idiosyncrasies, we are more alike than we are different.

This humility — and respect for one another — allows us to speak up when something feels off or wrong. It allows us to attack a brief from very different points of view. Most importantly, it allows us to create a story for a brand where the hero isn’t always a white man — because that’s not who we are. We are a million other things, and at least one thing that unites us is that bug — to create or die.

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