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Translation's Steve Stoute speaks about social activism as the 'core element' of impact-driven marketing

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Credit: Amy Fletcher

The Ad Council's Lisa Sherman discusses social activism, impact, and a new breast cancer risk education campaign with Translation's CEO Steve Stoute.

It's heartening to see how many brands are focusing on purpose and making social activism central to their work. At Translation, you truly are cultural catalysts. What are some of the things you've done internally and externally that you're most proud of?

Our team at Translation is focused on social activism, both as a core element of our culture and as a pillar of our work. As one example, in 2017, we partnered with Chance the Rapper and his team at SocialWorks to fuel their grassroots movement of changing the future of public schools. We facilitated a partnership with Google.org to match Chance's $1 million donation to Chicago Public Schools to help offset a severe budget deficit as well as initiate modular programming that will promote computer science education in schools across the district for years to come.

Another example, the team recently hosted a volunteer event in honor of Notorious B.I.G. at a local men's shelter, where more than 30 volunteers served Biggie's favorite meal to people in need. The agency has also invited a number of speakers, including Translation executives, to touch on topics like overcoming barriers and how consistency through hard work leads to success. I'm extremely proud of how our team upholds our values, and how they bring that commitment to both their activism and our work.

You partnered with the Ad Council on the launch yesterday of the "Know Your Girls" campaign with Susan G. Komen to address breast cancer in black women. We're so grateful! Why did you take it on and lend us your team's pro bono talent?

For this campaign, we had the opportunity to use our creative abilities to make an impact on the important cause of black women's health.

Breast cancer has touched so many in our community, including my sister-in-law, who was lost to this devastating disease. When we saw the statistics—that black women are 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women—we knew we had to get involved and help eliminate this disparity.

You just mentioned that black women are 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women. This campaign is focused on reaching black women because they're so disproportionately affected by the issue. You and your team took great care to make sure this work was speaking to them. What audience insights influenced the creative strategy?

We knew we must first understand the many factors that affect their actions when it comes to health. Our goal was to shift the outlook from one of fear around breast cancer to empowerment around breast health, and the key was to focus on the strength of sisterhood and the inherent resilience of black women as a community.

"Know Your Girls" leverages an Alicia Keys song. You also created that fantastic ad for Apple Music with Mary J. Blige, Kerry Washington and Empire's Taraji P. Henson (directed by Ava DuVernay). Plus, you've just launched UnitedMasters, where you're matching talent to brands. How do you think about celebrity influencers, music and entertainment impacting culture and purpose-driven brands?

It's all about knowing who the target audience is and finding influencers and artists that resonate.

The key is to bring all three—influencers, music and entertainment—together in a cohesive way. That's why UnitedMasters is so exciting for us. First, we're giving artists an alternative to traditional record labels. We're making it easy for them distribute their music across different platforms, and we provide them with tools that help them identify their top fans to target with tickets and merchandise. And we're also matching UnitedMasters talent and their songs up with brands.

When it comes to purpose-driven marketing, the key is authenticity, and finding the artist or influencer who can truly connect with the campaign and resonate with the target audience. Of course, Alicia Keys, for example, has had a long-standing commitment to women's empowerment in general and breast health specifically.

Diversity continues to be a big issue in the ad industry. What more can we be doing? Any tips from your experience building Translation?

When I think of diversity and what positive effects it can have in our industry, it comes down to the ability to create new ideas and new thoughts. It's tough to do that without a diverse team. We are a creative industry, so diversity should be a requirement. Agency leaders need to challenge themselves and their employees to embrace diversity so it can be used as a competitive advantage.

What advice would you give a brand that wants to do more in the social good space?

The key is being all in. A brand shouldn't be involved in social good if it can't commit the time and resources it takes to drive a successful social initiative. Brands must be prepared to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. If the brand makes a half-hearted or inauthentic commitment, ultimately it will come back to haunt them, especially today on social media. It's really important to carefully research and choose what cause the brand will associate itself with. It should be something that complements the brand, resonates internally within the organization and, of course, resonates with customers and the public.

And, lastly, what's your favorite PSA ever?

The most impressionable PSA for me came from the "Keep America Beautiful" initiative in the 1970s. It was a very visual ad that I grew up watching and the narrative of the spot had a lasting impact on me. Very early in my life, it made me realize the value of the environment way before the rise of "An Inconvenient Truth" and other environmental initiatives.

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The Ad Council brings together the most creative minds in advertising and media to address the most worthy causes. Its innovative, pro bono social good campaigns raise awareness. They inspire action. They save lives. To learn more, visit AdCouncil.org, follow the Ad Council’s communities on Facebook and Twitter, and view the creative on YouTube.
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