CO-MD Jodie Fullagar: “It’s a prerequisite for Brands to Have Purpose”

The Drum speaks to our CO-MD, Jodie Fullagar about working with consumer brands to build safer and more inclusive communities.

As part of its drive to tackle societal injustice, M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment has been refining its approach to how it diversifies brand campaigns, through a program it calls Step Up.

If, as the agency says, ethnically diverse companies are likely to outperform those that are less diverse by 36%, it is a huge signal of the importance that diversity holds for consumers – but also the potential return on investment for brands. To dig deeper into that social and economic impact, we spoke to managing director at M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment, Jodie Fullagar, about making brands culturally relevant in people’s passions.

‘Step Up’ is M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment’s latest diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiative. What is it all about and what message do you want it to send?

It became apparent to me that we have the opportunity in the comms business to write the story we want to hear. There is a huge amount of influence that every comms or creative business has where, if they’re being asked to deliver campaigns with huge media spend or investment, they have an opportunity to represent the audiences we’re trying to reach. But we know historically, comms hasn’t been great at reflecting the society that we live in.

We thought if we named and framed something we were already doing and have felt passionate about for some time, we can have a very direct conversation with clients right off the bat about what we stand for and our values, and how it translates through our work.

It’s going beyond a trend and becoming a prerequisite for brands to have purpose and point of view. People are already hugely emotional about football, music, gaming; so, when you’ve already got that depth of emotion among fans and you come in as a brand and you make their experience and that space better, safer, more inclusive; they’re going to be more naturally inclined to embrace you as a brand in that space. Step Up helps brands to understand where the barriers are.

How do you navigate those barriers to inclusion?

First, we ensure inclusion sits at the heart of our business by making sure we have a very diverse employee base. It’s impossible to be 100% diverse; intersectional identity is extremely broad. Everyone has different backgrounds and experiences and it’s where those things cross that makes everyone unique.

The Inclusion Alliance is a network of expert and authentic voices built to complement our work internally. We’ve built relationships with them which allows us to tap into their expertise for different campaigns from the early stages of research insight through to the final stages of execution, so we’re representing the real experiences and voices of that community.

For example, we work closely with Vamp, a digital PR, content and influencer agency that specializes in the young black community, on various briefs like Adidas – which is very much targeted at that community. They feed in naturally and make sure we’re doing relevant and impactful work.

How does lack of inclusion in passions affect the creative industry?

If people feel excluded from their passions, they’re looking to brands to feel included. And if they’re seeing comms and campaigns that don’t reflect their experience, they’ll feel even more so.

From a brand perspective, if the toxicity of being a female gamer online (for example) is called out enough and it’s something they’re willing to get behind, that’s when change starts to happen. Until someone holds these organizations to account, it doesn’t really change.

Do brands need a budget to drive genuine change? Why is it important to invest?

Brands include D&I in their ambitions but aren’t invested in making genuine change that isn’t just an annual marketing campaign. We work in a commercial industry; all our briefs should start with ‘we’re trying to make more people buy our product’ – that’s the business we’re in. But you can get there by delivering platforms and initiatives that genuinely create positive impact that isn’t short-termist and are long-term commitments.

Barclays is a client of ours and a 20+ year sponsor of the Premier League. The thing they spend most of their comms budget on is girls’ football. They’re a good example of a brand that does the right thing at a grassroots level and talks about it. People have no issue with brands talking about the good stuff they’re doing so long as it’s genuine.

Are partnerships enough? How can brands make sure they’re making an impact and being consistent?

Partnerships are absolutely vital. It’s about having lots of voices and lived experiences around the table. But I think brands need to be willing to do the self-learning, the education, to listen and understand. We went on a 4-6 month learning process with one of our partners Utopia, a culture change consultancy, on our own culture and to build inclusivity into our work.

In order to be able to say [we’re committed to driving change in this area], brands must be working with the right agency partners, to fully understand what the barriers are and the permissions they have to be able to take them on.

Closing the Gap is a series run by The Drum, shining a light on issues around underrepresentation and the work agency leaders are doing to advocate for change.

To view more articles in this series, visit The Drum online here.

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