Advertising and marketing are all about great ideas.
That’s what we’re told, anyway, when we’re starting out, studying it in school. And in the beginning, it’s a notion you grip onto as you grind through nights and weekends to develop commercials, websites, swag, and display ads, some of which never see the light of day.
Of course, you tell yourself with every discarded marketing campaign that you are one crumpled piece of paper closer to the really big, great idea that will change everything. But as you go on, you begin to notice that sometimes advertising isn’t about great ideas at all. Because you see that what gets made is often the result of office politics, an org chart, a client whim, personality conflicts, a CEO’s desire to boast during a round of golf, a presentation error, or a play between people with titles.
So sometimes, it’s about reflecting things that aren’t in the brief, don’t show up in the target audience research, and can’t be easily qualified. They are, essentially, invisible things. And if you don’t pay attention to them, try to see them, and figure out how to deal with and change them, you end up serving them. And producing things that aren’t as good as they could be. Or as effective as they should be.
So after nearly two decades in and out of the ad world and a half-dozen years working at Salesforce, my interest was more than piqued by an invitation to attend the 3% Movement's Los Angeles MiniCon. It’s a smaller version of a larger conference held every year by the 3% Movement, an organization originally founded to focus on the lack of women in the creative director ranks of advertising agencies. Today, their scope has grown to address the lack of diversity in business as a whole. In other words, the 3% Movement addresses some really big opportunity and power inequalities that are often invisible if you’re not actively looking for them.
The west coast conference’s theme was about the interplay between diversity and technology, and how these factors intersect with the 3% Movement’s larger message: Diversity = Creativity = Profitability. Conference speakers shared a wealth of evidence to back this assertion up. Like this study which found that inclusive teams make better business decisions up to 87% of the time. And another study that showed companies that increase the number of women in top management positions from zero to 30% are likely to also have a 15% jump in profits.
But once it was clear what the benefits of inclusiveness are to business, the bulk of the conversations turned to the much more difficult problem of HOW to bring that about.
It would be great to say that the answers to these questions could be as simple as a hiring policy change or shift in governance or the way you run a meeting. But it was clear that it's a much deeper and personal problem, because organizations themselves are nothing if not a reflection of the mindsets of those who work at the company.
As Cristina Jones, Salesforce's SVP and Head of Trailblazer Marketing, put it, “Mindfulness is key to this.” Which, put another way, is to see the invisible things within yourself.
That might sound a little "New Age-y," but it’s always been a cornerstone of great management to be aware enough of yourself so that you’re not reacting out of emotion, or an automatic response you learned from another situation. It isn’t easy. But when we don’t start from a truly blank page, then we hire people who we feel familiar with. We gravitate toward opinions that reinforce the rightness of our own. We listen to voices that tell us what we’d like to hear. And we don't really grow.
— Salesforce (@salesforce) April 26, 2018
One of the things I've always been attracted to at Salesforce has been the concept of the “the beginner's mind,” which suggests a way to create an openness to new ways of doing things. It uses the power of not knowing to call into question how and why we do things, answer questions, and rediscover the world as it is.
As a writer, this is a completely freeing idea. Because while it doesn’t keep me from proposing an idea, it gives me the space to let go of what I think I know is the way to do something when I hear something better. Something more interesting. Something different from what I know. It gives me the power to step away from the routine and the automatic into a much more creative space.
It certainly can be uncomfortable. But sitting there in the audience at the 3% MiniCon, the notion about advertising and marketing that I was always attracted to from the get-go was suddenly rekindled — that if I’m present enough in life, I won’t feel discouraged or even challenged to hear some new thought shaped by an experience that’s different from mine. I’ll be able to really hear it and accept it and see where it takes me.
That starts with me being aware of the invisible things within me, knowing who I am, seeing my thoughts and reactions clearly — so that I can see, hear, and respond to others as they are.
And that's really the only way, I think, that we can ensure that advertising and marketing — and business in general — remains all about the great ideas.
Malachy Walsh has worked as a writer in advertising for more than 20 years in New York, Minneapolis, Denver, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. He joined Salesforce in 2012 where he discovers his “beginner’s mind” every day.