Seven years ago, upon learning that out of all creative directors, only three percent were women, I attended the third annual 3% Conference, whose mission was to change the ratio and get more women in creative leadership. I was an art director at the time, with almost as much self-doubt as I had confidence and I was ready to absorb all advice to help me break the ceiling I was operating under.
The 3% Conference was a catalyst for my own progress and when I took on the leadership of APCO’s creative practice in North America in 2019, I vowed to lead with and encourage empathy, to celebrate everyone’s individual strengths and to create a culture of support.
The movement has grown and expanded far beyond what it set out to accomplish and as they now tackle all of the “isms” in the workplace and lead the charge for better representation of all people in advertising and communications, APCO continues to be the agency dedicated to Accelerating What’s Right and helping clients catalyze progress while meeting their business goals. In the spirit of this year’s theme of the 3% Conference—A Decade of Difference—it’s a good moment to reflect on some of our own advancements, from launching an Inclusivity Accord, a document of commitments each individual employee can make in their day-to-day roles, to launching a Trained Ally network to help address microaggressions in the workplace.
But, as the world’s largest women-owned and independent advisory and advocacy communications consultancy, it’s our responsibility to not only celebrate the work we’ve done so far, but to continue to push ourselves to do more and to do better. We have a role to play in providing opportunities to all our employees to do purposeful work, while supporting and empowering them to help clients address these very issues in their own organizations and communities.
To this end, I was delighted to reflect on the important work we are doing within our virtual and physical walls during an exchange about the theme of opportunity with two of my colleagues, APCO Impact Director Liz Duncan-Watt and North America Equity & Justice Lead Elle Arlook.
Tracy: We’ve been interviewing for a number of open roles on our creative team and I keep hearing candidates say, “I want to do work that is more meaningful, like the work APCO is doing.” Between our teams, I feel like we have a pretty special perk, right?
What do you think is the unique opportunity to work at APCO?
Liz: Every day we have the opportunity to choose how we will use our energy, our time, our resources and our capabilities. I worked with someone who used to have a small plaque on his desk that read, “what good shall I do this day?” That stuck with me, and everyone who knew him. I like to think about that very opportunity we have every day to influence the world around us, and ideally, in whatever small or big ways to build a world that is different than the one we exist in today. Because another world is possible—one built on equity for all individuals, empathy, economic justice and shared prosperity and respect and regeneration for the planet.
As consultants, we have the unique opportunity to influence some of the world’s most powerful companies and organizations to help be a part of building that world, whether that’s through things like building their ESG strategies, shifting their philanthropy, creating new programs or telling stronger stories to engage key people on critical social issues.
We recently worked with the team behind the Marshall Plan for Moms to publish a playbook for employers that lays out solutions to building more mom—and all-human—friendly workplaces to address the massive setback women in the workforce have faced specifically as a result of the pandemic. We’ve got a lot of opportunities on the horizon and we’re looking for the do-gooders of the world to join us.
Tracy: I agree. As our team has been designing a number of playbooks and ESG reports, creating numerous video series about sustainability in food and consumer goods or raising awareness about resources available for victims of crime or sexual assault, the opportunity for creatives here at APCO is definitely different and probably more personally gratifying than those you might get by working at a traditional ad agency.
Like journalists, we storymine and communicate our clients’ purpose through targeted and tailored advertising and branded content that must connect with their unique and discreet audiences in an authentic and meaningful way. When we’re crafting a brand’s positioning, messaging and creative content, we have to look at everything, not only as creative practitioners, but through the lens of public affairs, corporate communications, crisis management and/or advocacy.
Since 2019, for instance, we’ve been working to change perceptions of community college across the state of North Carolina to fill talent gaps across rural and urban communities, which is more important than ever now, as individuals look for opportunities for their own economic stability. After launching our integrated creative campaign, called Your Hire Education, we saw enrollment spike after a decade of stagnant and declining numbers and we saw the state’s enrollment numbers fall less than national averages, since COVID-19. The pandemic exposed many threats to the social mobility of marginalized communities and there’s work to be done but we know, through our work in education, community college can be a key ingredient to progress. Through our campaign, we were excited to recently promote a new grant, funded by federal relief packages, to help pay for community college tuition for recent graduates in North Carolina, who need financial assistance. We saw nearly 6,000 site visitors follow our advice to fill out their FAFSA, which is the first step in getting the grant money. As someone who was a first generation college student who utilized financial aid to pay for 100% of my college tuition, this work feels even more important.
Elle: The work we are doing has a real impact on our communities, as well as our clients’ employees and customers in a way that feels meaningful and tangible.
We have such an incredible opportunity in front of us, not just to define what it means to drive corporate equity and justice within the context of the current environment but to truly make an impact. We have the opportunity to sit around tables with some of the most influential decision makers within our clients’ organizations and help guide them towards embedding a lens of equity, justice and inclusion within their decision-making structures and across their internal and external systems.
While many progressive companies and leaders in the space have been working for years to redefine DE&I beyond traditional workforce-centered programs, the past 18-months has served as a once-in-a-generation catalyst for progress in the face of converging crises. These crises include the pandemic, murder of George Floyd, rise in violence against AAPI communities, groundswell of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic harassment, controversial legislation rolling back access to fundamental human rights for those most marginalized, quarantine-driven spotlight on the lack of accessibility rooted in every day digital tools and services . . . I could go on.
This complex landscape means our clients are grappling an incredibly diverse set of issues every day and need teams that are as diverse as the issues. This has created immense opportunity for those looking to bring lived and learned experience to consulting.
If you’re a creative person who wants to join our diverse and growing team, or if you’re a do-gooder interested in working across Impact and Sustainability or Equity and Justice, we hope to meet you.