Here’s the thing with open secrets — they make things alright that have no business being alright. They rope you in with a chuckle, a nod, a knowing glance. And they sidestep, making you feel like the exact thing you are: complicit.
Here’s a shortlist of open secrets in the marketing industry:
- It’s sexist.
- It’s racist.
- It perpetuates stereotypes.
- It’s a big ol’ boys club.
When I first started in marketing, I couldn’t see it. I was ignorant. Eighteen years later, I can’t not see it.
We call ourselves storytellers in this business, and it’s true. It’s what we do. That makes it all sound like a harmless fiction. But stories don’t just reflect the world we live in, they create it.
So after nearly two decades churning away in this racket, I hesitated. I paused. I listened to this quiet, nagging voice. What reality am I creating? Is this reality what I want for my family? My community? This world?
It wasn’t. So I wrestled with it. But as I thought about walking away from the industry entirely, I kept coming back to this: to what end?
To make myself feel better?
That’s privilege at its worst. I’d be giving myself a free pass that wouldn’t change a thing. The industry would gladly spit me out and carry on without the slightest hitch in its step.
Plus, I love writing and telling stories. I love pitching concepts. I love video production. I love navigating the political intricacies of bringing integrated advertising campaigns to market (…at times). It’s mostly fun work — and I’m good at it.
So I told myself what I’d tell a client who needed some tough love: Go tell a better story. Go make it happen.
That story starts with values. They’re not sexy. They’re not clever or ironic. They’re not boosting market share or going viral any time soon, yet some experts think they’re a good place to start.
I invariably do my best work when I’m aligned with my values. I free up mental space because I don’t have to fight against myself. I can approach my clients and their audiences not as dollar signs, but as partners, as people, with all their strengths and fragilities.
Values drive deeper conversations. We learn about our shared goals, shared visions, and shared outcomes before any talk of contracts or storyboards. And the final product shines. Everybody wins.
Don’t mistake this to mean I only work for non-profits or only seek out noble causes. It’s not about that. It’s about finding the nobility in what my clients already do. It’s about looking beyond their business model to show them how they can contribute to the communities around them. And why they need to.
Here’s a quick story about a client in the SportTech industry. On the surface, they’ve got an awesome technology that helps athletes and coaches inprove their results on the field. Dig one level deeper though, and you find out that it’s transforming people’s lives, helping fringe athletes have a better shot at playing professionally. Those stories are worth telling.
Dig deeper still. The company recently released a new version of their product. I suggest to them to donate their last gen products to help programs in need, such as underfunded schools with ancient facilities.
Why? Because it’s the right thing to do.
I don’t have all the answers. This last year has been my beta run for ACC, a year to see if I could operate differently. A year to shape and live a better narrative for this industry and produce for my clients. A year to take a stand.
I lived to tell about it. Better than that, I thrived. So did my clients.
Is it the perfect counterpunch to open secrets? No. But I’ve got more on that coming soon. Stay tuned.