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How Just One Employee’s Life Changed An Entire Ad Agency’s Approach To An Industry-Wide Challenge

Behind Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s Innovative Program That Is Tipping The Scales Toward A More Inclusive Industry

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BY Lauren DeLisa Coleman - 06 Sep 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The narrative concerning the intersection of inclusion and office culture continues to build, and companies are feeling increased pressure to create a workforce that reflects the actual fabric of the United States.

The advertising industry, in particular, has been one of which high scrutiny of hiring policies has esulted in actual subpoenas from the Human Rights Commission in 2006 to more recent demands from Hewlett Packard's chief marketing officer to its ad agencies

Yet one particular ad agency that has won multiple awards in its 28-year history including, most recently a Grand Prix at this year's prestigious Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, "Agency of the Year" twice at the same event, and The Queen's Award for Enterprise in the Export category, twice, is working to apply its ingenuity and expertise to create meaningful change via a method that could serve as a potential blueprint for many businesses wrestling with meeting diversity goals today.

The Force Behind Change

Welcome to "Griffin Farley's Search For Beautiful Minds," a unique program in its fifth year that comes out of the minds of creative agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty--the agency of record for companies like Google, Audi, Samsung, and Nike.

After one of the agency's highly admired strategy directors, Griffin Farley, succumbed to cancer, Bartle Bogle Hegarty decided it wanted to do something special to honor his spirit of generosity of time to engage with aspiring planners and strategists hoping to break into the industry.

The result is a highly-regarded competition that is open to young, aspiring strategists who apply from diverse backgrounds from all over the world. The program is intended to give them a foot in the door into the world of advertising. Here's how it works.

Over the course of the weekend, participants collaborate within a hybrid planning boot camp and networking event. They split into teams of four to five people to develop a creative platform and communications strategy for a particular product.

The teams who've best addressed the assignment are then able to present their strategies in front of a room packed full of agency departments heads and recruiters. This year, it was Be My Eyes, an app that uses volunteers to bring sight to the blind and visually impaired. Finalist teams are judged by a grand jury of strategist executives from top agencies such as McCann Worldwide, R/GA and powerhouses like Google.

The Differentiator

"So lots of agencies have boot camps and intern schemes," explains Sarah Watson, Bartle Bogle Hegarty's chairperson. "But we were always adamant about focusing on different voices, not just privileged voices. We wanted people to apply who either never worked in an ad agency or maybe never even worked in an office."

The result is an organically diverse tapestry of participants of all ages, socio-economic backgrounds, and levels of disability. "We just kind of made this up as we went along, and now it's massive," says Watson.

Watson explains that part of the program's success is a result of a focus on honoring the mind beyond skin color. "And because what we are doing is someone's name, it seems of a higher order. It gives us permission to ask of others, and people find that energizing," she explains.

The Game-Change Factor

Empathy, a key part of the diversity equation, seems to be what's been missing. Yet, it's an extremely powerful tool for companies looking to meet inclusion goals. "Empathy can push the process of diversity forward--and perhaps even transcend it--because it gets us to think about another person's perspective," explains Vinita Mehta, a Washington, D.C.-based clinical psychologist. "It gets us away from thinking about the stats and 'morality' that so often surrounds this issue, and start seeing others as individuals."

Indeed, Bartle Bogle Hegarty even includes different speakers who actually knew Farley to share thoughts about the planner at the start of each "Beautiful Minds" program, thereby bringing his spirit right into the room.

And any company can apply such a strategy. "To do this," explains Watson, "first you have to truly operate from a general belief that really value different types of thought over quotas."

She suggests then finding something great about your organization and deciding how to do some good with it. "Once that happens and you can involve employees in a greater purpose, they will reinvest in their company, as well," Watson says. And just maybe, it can help affect a bit of change in the world, in the process.

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