At the recent ANA conference, PepsiCo executive Brad Jakeman lamented that ad agencies are too homogenous and we need more diversity. In Mr. Jakeman's words, "Innovation and disruption does not come from homogeneous groups of people."
I completely agree. Given consumers' focus today on authenticity and relevance, brands that are undergoing agency reviews must look beyond the time-worn standard markers like years of experience in your vertical, experience of agency leads, and quality of the pitch. One criterion that should be on every brand marketer's or CMO's radar is agency diversity.
From an operations standpoint, I'm sure most agencies would probably prefer to have a team that is very similar in terms of work experience, culture and general background. Homogeneity generally makes it easier to develop employee training, provide tools and technologies and scale up, since presumably everyone knows the same things and all you have to do is find more of the same kind of employees.
However, teams that walk and talk along the same path do not necessarily create winning campaigns that deliver fresh ideas and results. And let's face it -- in order to create real impact that drives real business results, brings consumers over to your side and positively affects a brand's bottom line, you need differentiating ideas that come from teams that share a love of great work and can also share their different perspectives and experiences.
This commitment to brand-changing ideation means putting together account and creative teams that are actually not well aligned. That's right -- an intentional non-alignment is what develops the diversity that leads to thinking outside the typical agency box. After all, a dozen employees who come from the same basic backgrounds, in the same generation, will be more likely to rest on the "been there, done that." They need to have their thinking, assumptions, go-to creative solutions or marketing plans challenged -- and they need to be comfortable pulling ideas from outside their usual comfort zones.
This need for diversity goes beyond heritage to a wide range of demographic and psychographic criteria: age group, preferred music styles, income, family socioeconomic status, gender, experience with technology or social platforms, education level, hobbies and interests, and so on.
Wonderful things can happen when you put an eclectic group together in the room -- men and women, gay and straight, millennials and baby boomers, native-born Americans and foreign expats. Tastes and interests vary; they'll have differing work experience and history in terms of types of accounts and agencies, different kinds of expertise (niche experts or flexible generalists), junior employees and agency veterans (with a wealth of successes and failures to share).
With so much diversity, you'll actually have a dream team, and things will really start cooking. The agency will have set the stage to meet Mr. Jakeman's battle cry for disruption among marketers -- a team that will work together to find new ways to reach the brand's target audience. They will disrupt each other's accepted ways of thinking and collaborate in new, fresh ways that will spark the interesting conversations brands want to have with their consumers.
Through this diversity, agencies can be leaders in developing revolutionary marketing approaches and innovative campaigns that set new standards for creative -- and that breathe life into advertising that consumers will respond to.