When Stephen Rodriguez, a former Apple Genius and all around go-getter with a knack for all things tech established RIFT, he wanted to create "a better mouse-trap." A full-service digital marketing agency that would utilize technology to not only build amazing work for it's clients, anticipating their needs and exceeding expectations, but also pull in and retain outstanding creative talent. In this way, Rodriquez has been wildly successful. Business is generated entirely by word of mouth. RIFT has never cold-called, never pitched to a potential client and the ability to work remotely, connected by a multitude of digital interfaces, not to mention a fat paycheck, has drawn in and kept some of the brightest and most talented creative minds in the industry, producing a stunning array of websites, integrated & intuitive software, photography and videography that not only looks pretty, but evokes a thrill unmatched by many of it's competing agencies.
So, what's the problem?
Let's start with this: When Rodriquez was asked by one of my fellow Circus Freaks (oh, I should mention here that he was our most recent #CircusForum speaker) why he named his agency "RIFT" his response was something to the effect of:
I wanted to create something new, something that broke apart the traditional ways of working and challenged the status quo ... to retain brilliant creatives and make the best work.
Okay sure, that's a pretty good reason, especially considering that the definition of rift is "a crack, split, or break in something." But challenging the status quo? I don't buy it.
Before the Q & A portion of the forum, Rodriguez showed us a 3-minute video that he was "incredibly proud of" and was meant to show the best of RIFT's videography and serve as a sample of the kind of work they do. It was 3 minutes of fast cars driven by white dudes, fit, white guys mountain biking to their slick sports cars, and women dressed in skin tight lace dresses laying down on couches in bars coyly waving at the camera as they prepped for a photo shoot. Basically a straight 17-year-old boy's wet dream. And that was what he is most proud of. That was what he chose to show a room of young creatives, many of which are women and POC, to exemplify the work RIFT does.
Naturally, I was frustrated. Naturally, I wondered if he even saw this as an issue. Naturally, I had to say something.
So after his presentation, when the floor was opened for questions, I shot my shaking hand in the air. My mind swirled with words, trying to quickly fit them together correctly before taking the mic. How can I address this issue and be heard? How can I respectfully call him out for this injustice in a way that doesn't illicit eye rolls and "here she goes again" sighs? So worried about his response and the reaction of my peers I almost didn't even say anything. I almost sputtered a "how do you manage creative freedom and client's needs?" nonsense question into the mic. I almost let it go. Almost.
Luckily, I was sitting next to, in front of, and behind some of the most supportive creative forces that are about to take this industry by storm. Luckily, I realized the moment I took the mic that if there was anyone in the audience that was going to be annoyed by my opinion, that's their problem, not mine. Luckily I said something to the effect of:
With all due respect, that video that you showed us was three minutes of white dudes driving cars and women blatantly being objectified. Don't get me wrong, it was beautifully shot, but I'm just wondering, as a person of authority at your agency, why didn't you put a woman behind the wheel? Danica Patrick could have been in there and she wasn't.
Shouldn't you use your position to increase diversity? Change the perception of the market? Women like sweet sports cars and mountain biking too.
Or something. I probably rambled a lot more and half apologized and then took it back. I don't know, I kind of blacked out. But I've been told it was great.
His response was very diplomatic. He acknowledged that he actually hadn't thought about it until I asked the question and that it will be a huge take away for him. I sure hope he was sincere. Because honestly, it's not that these CEOs and CDs and presidents of agencies don't want to be purveyors of social change, do the right thing, increase diversity and empower women, it's that they don't realize they aren't doing it. They don't realize that by not taking a stand, they aren't just continuing on a well-worn path of inequality, they are telling the rest of the world that it's okay and encouraging them to follow that same path.
That's where people like me come in. It's our job to open their eyes and not just ask politely, but demand that they make a change. No one likes to be called out, no one likes to be put on the spot and told that what they're doing is offensive especially when that was never their intention. But how is our industry supposed to grow if we all just let it go? Sweep it under the rug? Be the "cool girl who gets it?"
And to all my CD's out there reading this, (okay so probably just my Dad, hi Dad!) it's your job to take some social responsibility. Produce work that challenges perceptions and attacks stereotypes. Don't just hire a few women and token black people and call it a day. Put them in your ads. Hire them too, duh, but definitely create work that shows women and POC empowered, educated, and strong.
Please share this if you deem it important, and check out The 3% Conference to learn more about how you can support women and diversity in advertising. Thank you.
Peace, Love & Speaking Up