Rana Reeves, Executive Creative Director and founder of the communications agency RanaVerse returns to the program to discuss the importance of brands becoming involved in politics, and shares examples from some of his successful campaigns to help get out the vote. Discover what a voting campaign should look like, and how to cut through the noise.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- The importance of brands as partners (7:00)
- How to avoid partisan politics in voting rights (15:00)
- Rana’s journey and how he came to found his own agency (20:30)
- The need for additional staff at polling stations (27:00)
- Equity issues around voting access (30:00)
- How to utilize a network of leaders to get the word out (33:30)
- How to overcome brand resistance (37:00)
- What Rana has learned about accessibility (42:00)
- Rana’s advice for brands on how to get involved (50:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Hello, wealthy changers. Well, we are living in an unprecedented time of significant disruption that has caused many of us to swiftly reconsider how we work with one another. As people who value diversity, equity, and inclusion and want to champion those values in the workplace, we have a real opportunity now to proactively center underrepresented and underestimated voices in the next normal. At JBC, you know that we are on a mission to awaken, to equip and inspire as many people within as many organizations as possible with the knowledge that they are needed, that their voice has the power to make an impact and that real change starts by educating themselves about what they don’t know.
And that’s why we created our popular DEI Foundations course to help participants by guiding them through a deeper understanding of what it means to be a truly inclusive leader and empowering them to speak about the value of DEI work in a way that meaningfully engages the people around them. If you text DEI Foundations to 55-444, we will register your interest and make sure to add you to our list to receive more information about our next cohort. Again, please text us at DEI Foundations at 55-444 to register your interest.
We did nine different PSA’s with different what I would call flavors and personalities. What was amazing is the response to that, definitely dope. That’s the young guy, that’s his channel and seeing the ASL Instagram community pick up on that and people pick up on thought if they’re not being spoken to, right? Because they need assets, they need people that look like them talking to them in whatever form it takes that makes sense. Right? For a young black man to be signing a PSA can show other young hearing impaired black men that we vote and it matters.
DOUG FORESTA: Everyone has a diversity story, even those you don’t expect. Welcome to the Will To Change with Jennifer Brown. Get ready to hear from leading CEOs, bestselling authors and entrepreneurs, as we uncover their true stories of diversity and inclusion. And now here’s your host, Jennifer Brown. Hello, and welcome back to the Will To Change, this is Doug Forrester and of course, I’m here with Jennifer Brown. Today we have a return guest, although he was with us before from a DEI community call, Rana Reeves. And before I say a little bit about him, couple things, one is, I definitely encourage you to listen to the previous episode with Rana, which was episode 114, Change or Die: Inclusive Direction with Rana Reeves. And I also want to make sure that we let people know about there’s an upcoming community call with Rana. And actually, let me first say a little bit about him and then I’m going to make sure Jennifer to ask you how people can access this call.
Rana is an executive creative director based in New York and London where over the past 22 years, he’s worked in a wide range of brands and award-winning campaigns, including PlayStation Gap, Adidas, Unilever, Equinox and General Motors. His specialism is marrying brands with popular and contemporary culture for commerce, utilizing the lens of diversity and equity to tell stories and highlight experiences to the mainstream, be that through content, partnership and, or experiences. And in 2018, he founded his communications agency, RanaVerse to continue this mission. We have an upcoming DEI community call with Rana this Thursday, October 15th. Jennifer, if people are not signed up for these calls, can you give us… I know you have a really convenient way for people to access these, right?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, I hope so. Texting is easy. Yes, so if you send us a text at 33-777 and you write DEI community, all one word, you will get information on getting the RSVP link. And then once you are a CP for these weekly calls, and you will always be notified about them and you won’t miss any of our guests and you’ll get all the replays, which a lot of people really appreciate because it’s sometimes not possible to attend live, although I do recommend attending live because the chat is amazing. And you can ask your questions and I try to capture your questions as best I can, but it is 33-777 and what you want to text to that number is DEI community, and that will get you in the loop.
DOUG FORESTA: Thank you so much. Yeah, I mean, I want to make sure in this episode, we talked a little bit about, or talked quite a bit about voting and about brands. We talked about how this is an evolution, a next evolution about Ron’s getting involved in politics. But the DEI call that you have coming up, the community call is about why brands should get involved in politics and how, and I thought maybe we could go through some of the things that… some of the questions that you’re going to be covering, because I think they’re really interesting.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah.
DOUG FORESTA: Yeah, I think they’re really meaty.
JENNIFER BROWN: They are.
DOUG FORESTA: I don’t know if perhaps you want to start but these are great questions you’re going to cover here.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. I mean, so Rana really stretches my own thinking about what I have traditionally thought of in terms of the voice of a brand when it comes to philanthropy, or community involvement. And it makes me feel a little old school but in a great way, because he’s super cutting edge and the number of players and the coalitions that he’s able to build in terms of like, I wouldn’t even call it responsible marketing, I would say it’s really like social equity focused marketing for brands. It’s a way in for them to get involved in something that should be non-partisan, which is access to voting and yet demonstrate diverse voices spreading that message, demonstrate that brands can be about more than just selling things, they can be about values and hence the title of this episode and that can educate certain communities that may be missing out, or historically have missed out on things like accessible and fair voting. Right?
It’s just incredible how many things one campaign can do when it is designed by someone like Rana, with a corporate partner like Unilever. Right? And then we’ll talk about the AXE body spray ads and around voting that are just this incredibly, I think, really skillful and elegant and inclusive and important campaigns leading up to November 3rd. We just delve into how did that happen? And who’s the person on the other side that really sponsors that kind of effort, right? And I ask him about resistance, is there resistance when you bring this kind of creative to the table? And I think his answer is really, these days, no. I mean, I think there’s so much appetite for, how do we take a step forward as a brand?
How do we support an issue we know exists that’s hurting parts of our population, both in the workplace, but also in the world? How do we stand for certain values and accessibility and fairness and equity without something being overtly political? And I think these campaigns have succeeded in doing that and they’ve just… I’ve learned so much and Rana has learned so much too about the particularities of some communities and their relationship to things like voting and civic participation so he’s gotten a really sad tutorial and voter suppression. For example, as a Brit, looking at America and really learning the extent of why campaigns like this are necessary and why we need brands to be involved to combat the suppression, right? And that suppression hits different communities differently.
Just to get to the heart of that and then feature the influencer from Instagram who’s signing because he’s deaf, he’s signing the importance of voting. And that’s one of the campaigns, another campaign is someone who’s a really well known member of the house community, so he explains what the house community is and the LGBTQ+ implications for voting access. Anyway, I just always am so grateful that Rana is the one at the table, bringing his intersectional lens to everything that he directs and creates and that brands are partnering with him and following his guidance and that he has such a finger on the pulse of the communities who are the least enfranchised and least empowered and yet need this attention and need this overt messaging, right?
Because what’s the point of having this scattershot approach where we hope the people who were the least, have the least accessibility might be targeted, might be reached, Rana goes right into it and says, if we highlight the experience of voters, trans voters of color in this election, we will hit everyone else because that’s honestly the core of so much of culture starts in the trans community of color, so much music, so much culture, so much art. And so, if those are culture setters and we all follow, which I think is the dynamic that actually happens, whether we name it that way, or not everyone else will follow, right? And so I just find it fascinating that kind of overt messaging and the messengers that he chooses for these campaigns resonate so much with a huge swath of people.
And so we’ll try to include in the show notes some of the creative so folks can see but if you just check out AXEs ads right now, I know Doug will put in the show notes some of the other influencers that he utilized, right? And so you can watch some of those and get a sense of what I’m talking about perhaps before you listen to this, so that you have some context for what we’re discussing and then do join the community call on Thursday at noon Eastern, which will be actually hosted by my friend, Brian McCormack, who introduced me to Rana. And then I’ll be in the background managing questions and just listening, which I love to do as well. Rana, can you give me just a quick taste of the campaigns that you have released in the last couple of weeks and are releasing and for whom just so I know?
RANA REEVES: Yeah, so the election specific campaigns, I’m working with Coach on the campaign called Coach the Vote, which is a partnership that they have with LeBron’s organization, More Than a Vote. I’m working with Unilever on an LGBTQ+, Get Out the Vote and they are working with When We All Vote, Michelle Obama’s organization and also VoteRiders, which is an amazing organization that helps people get ID, which is up here can be a major issue in the queer community. And then with AXE deodorant, I’m working again with When We All Vote and also, the Hustlers Guild which is another great organization talks to particularly black communities but they call it on the block communities, so people that are completely disenfranchised from the political system. And then I’m working with SoulCycle on the Get Out the Vote. I’m trying to remember, they are working with some amazing organization, which is aimed at getting female felons to vote.
JENNIFER BROWN: What?
RANA REEVES: Yeah, it’s incredible. It blew my mind because More Than a Vote are working on felons particularly in Florida, because if you look at the prison system, mass incarceration, that’s huge amounts of inequity, et cetera, et cetera. And SoulCycle are looking at it but through the lens of women, which I hadn’t heard before, it blew my mind when they said that that’s what they do.
JENNIFER BROWN: Wow. Wow. Wow.
RANA REEVES: Those are the main election campaigns at the moment that I’m doing.
JENNIFER BROWN: Okay. These are some links we can include to these organizations. Rana, it strikes me, you’ve become an expert probably on voter disenfranchisement-
RANA REEVES: Yes, [inaudible 00:13:33] Thank you.
JENNIFER BROWN: … through the process, right?
RANA REEVES: I’ll be honest, Jennifer, I can’t even vote in this country, I’ve got a green card.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh my God.
RANA REEVES: Do you know this thing I’m learning about which is so fundamentally shocking to me is voter suppression?
JENNIFER BROWN: I know. I know.
RANA REEVES: What we’ve been looking at, and I have to say that Esi Bracey, who is my client lead at Unilever has been a monumental influence on me in my approach and she talks about safe and fair voting, right? And so this is about, to me, it’s essentially identical to Black Lives Matter, in that Black Lives Matter is not saying other people’s lives don’t matter, it’s just saying that we should all matter equally. And that safe and fair voting is about is that there are sections of the community that are not given equal access to the right to vote, which for me is shocking, coming from Britain, I’m not shocked by racism. I’m not shocked by homophobia. I’m not shocked by transfag. I’m not shocked by sexism. We have all of that in Britain and that Britain should be focusing on itself with those things. I’m unaware and I may just being naive about this idea of suppression in Britain, maybe just because we’re smaller but it’s shocking to me.
JENNIFER BROWN: I know.
RANA REEVES: Yeah. [inaudible 00:15:03] I still believe in the American dream and I believe in America as a democracy. Right? And I love the ethos, but yeah, it’s crazy what I’ve been hearing and it’s fact.
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s fact, oh it’s fact, even though it will be denied by everybody on a certain side, that’s not happening or Democrats do it, too, or that’s just part of our American tradition. No, no, stop with that.
RANA REEVES: The trick has been, how do I navigate this idea of safe and fair voting? Voting is a right for all, without being partisan. And because essentially, there is so many things on the ballot, right? There’s women’s rights, queer rights, immigration rights, et cetera, you could go on and on, education, health care. And particularly, if you’re targeting a specific community, like if you take the LGBTQ stuff, right? It’s very difficult to work with the trans community and not be part of that because there is no gray area with that. I think there can be gray areas on bigger communities so if you take Gen Z women, for instance, right? There is more of a spectrum and you have to respect say, pro-choice, pro-life, like I have my own personal opinions, but it doesn’t necessarily… it’s not hundred percent cut and dry, right?
Whereas with something like trans rights, they don’t have them so there’s no gray area, so that’s been a real learning for me. And I think for the brands as well, it’s stuff that we talked about the last time we spoke in that the personal and the brand world and now political, whether they wanted to be, or not. I heard this really good phrase yesterday, which when you hear something that it just bounces around in your head like ages. Let me get this right, it’s the values provide value. Never heard that in a business context before and it’s huge and that is the absolute nugget of the work that I’m doing. There’s commercial wealth, but then there’s emotional, spiritual, wealth and the two are now physical wealth, they’re just intertwined.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right. Right, I love that. I mean, they always should have been.
RANA REEVES: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: Great. Now they’re being forced to be, but I’m glad for it. I think that accountability is so critical and it speeds diversity of all kinds, as you know if we can make that true, then I feel like the case is easier to make for the world we want, which is a world that reflects all of us.
RANA REEVES: Yeah, 100%.
JENNIFER BROWN: Great, Rana. Thank you so much. You’ve joined the Will To Change before in the form of a community call that you and I did about the campaigns you were working on for many of the same brands you’re working with now. But that was a couple months ago, right? The vote was not… The election wasn’t looming as it is now and but we did predict and I know you were working on a campaign specific to what’s going to happen in November and how brands are positioning themselves as voices for equity in equal access regardless of partisanship. However, I know you and we have certain, agenda, isn’t the right word but we know that the way we do this and the way we approach this can be intersectional and it must acknowledge that there are inequities in this topic that should be nonpartisan, but it is inevitably. Right? And so on the one hand, you have the deep advocacy and activism of you personally and me, too.
And then on the other hand, we have the steerage of these major global brands through these really choppy waters that I think they really haven’t navigated to this extent before. I wonder, first of all, just reacquaint our audience with, who you are, what you do, how you identify and then tell us about how brands are inflecting through this moment, this very, very important moment. Because I think what changes now and the new terrain that brands are navigating, they are always going to have to navigate this going forward. This is not going… There’s no going back. I mean, once we open up that, I think of the Pandora’s box and I personally, I’m here for that. I want it, I want companies to be challenged by social issues. They need to be, because they aren’t on a hill, they are in our world, we buy from them, we work for them.
They are places that I want to have psychological safety, I want them to be about values. I want us to be able to be seen and heard in them, whether we are an employee, whether we are a customer, all of that. I think this is amazing. This is an amazing moment. And I feel like you’re leading, you’re showing them how to do it, I feel like, in an inclusive way, which is invaluable. Anyway, so Rana, tell us about you, how you got here. Tell us about your agency and then take this wherever you’d like to go, fill our listeners in on all you’re learning and what you’re building and why it’s so important.
RANA REEVES: Yeah, sure. I suppose a bit about me, so I’m Rana. I’m he, him, I’m a gay male, green card holder, I suppose, that makes me slightly an immigrant. I have an agency, RanaVerse, and as I’ve said, essentially what we do is we live at the bridge between commerce and culture and we’re having this conversation for everything that you’ve just said in the diversity, equity, the political sphere I’ve now entered and will not be leaving that intersection of commerce and culture. And having an approach and a perspective on equity and diversity is now not an additional, it’s an intrinsic part of every brand’s make up. And if you choose to opt out of that, you’re also making a very conscious decision that is saying that I don’t care, and I don’t think any brand can do that anymore.
What I would like to say is, I get to work with some amazing brands but within each amazing brand, there has to be almost always a person that is willing to put their head up, their hand up and push things over and bring the organization with them. And most corporations, even the coolest brands tend to lean towards a sense of conservatism, a sense of let’s not get involved, procurement legal, all of these sorts of people who will say that you can’t, or shouldn’t have a voice in this area. It always takes brave individuals in each of those organizations. I think Black Lives Matter and the movement that we’ve seen in this country has smashed through that and quite rightly. If you’re going to do these campaigns around Black Lives Matter, if you’re going to do these campaigns around pride International Women’s Day, Mental Health Month, Latinx Heritage Month, whatever else the bullshit they’re all coming up with, you have to live that 365 days a year, right?
And all of those are in some way linked to the political system of whatever country you live in, right? Because if you’re actioning for change, the biggest way you change is via the democratic process. Right? And so I think the Koreans have just acknowledged that now in a way that they haven’t before and what it’s been about is like looking at the situation we’re in. I treat the election like how we treat any major cultural moment, right? Be it fashion week, Oscars, the festival season, it has a rhythm, so the rhythm, the presidential debates, the election, and then within that, there are a whole host of organizations that make up the structure of the government plan. Right?
What I’ve learned is that there’s essentially two phases to this. The first phase is registering to vote, right? Making people aware of how simple it is and technology has helped with that, so you can text to learn, you can go on one website and it will help you when we all vote. It’s getting people to register to vote first and what I’ve been looking at with the brands is, there’s no point speaking to highly politically engaged consumers, they’re registering to vote already. Right? You have to talk to the people that are either disenfranchised, thinking their vote doesn’t matter and it can’t change anything. Who cares, right? Or you talk to the people that are just like, well, politics isn’t for me, it doesn’t affect me and you show them that it affects housing, it affects your medical, it affects gentrification, it affects social issues that you care about. It affects climate change, right?
And you push them obviously to register to vote, so it’s this mixture of information in an easy digestible format, mixed with this is why your vote matters. Right? That’s phase one. Phase two is then protecting and making sure people do vote. Making sure do people do vote is about safeness, which is mailing your vote. Right? That’s probably the safest way to not get mixed up in the pandemic, right? Is to mail in your ballot. You can take it in early, or you can vote in person and what can you do around that? Then the safety comes in having the correct information about what is going on where you are. There are organizations that are actively combating voter suppression, particularly in black and brown communities. More Than a Vote is an awesome one, they’ve been doing work to create trusted sources so they’re using sports people, athletes as trusted sources of information because people can’t trust what is out there on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, right? They can go to these people that they trust and get actual news.
They’ve got major sports stadiums to act as places that you can cast your elections. There are hubs that are safe and that will be open without suppression. The other part of it, because that’s all external is, how do you work in certainly for diversity and equity personnel, or HR personnel? This is critical is that you can’t be going out and asking a brand’s consumers to register to vote and go and vote if the brand is not giving access to its own employees to do the same. And also, if you have a commitment, is it about giving people four hours paid time off? It’s important that it’s not just the corporate office that gets that, if you have stores or sites, et cetera, that everyone gets that. If you’re really committed to the vote, one way that suppression is happening this year is that, predominantly the people that volunteer at polling stations are older and they’re scared to come out understandably due to the pandemic, so do you get your staff to volunteer at polling stations? How can you provide support?
That internal is as critical as the external, you have to lead those values and so that is essentially the cadence that we’re in. We’re in phase two at the moment, which is educating people as to why their vote matters and that you should go out and vote. Also, things I’ve learned so it’s not just a presidential election, that’s not the only thing on the ballot. There are local elections, attorney generals, the Supreme Court, there’s a lot more to it and giving people the power of information in a way that they will digest. Instagram, peer to peer communications, that sort of thing has been critical. I think this year, TiKToK, anything that is reaching people and what I do is I use the same channels that I would use to sell, say a handbag or a car or classes of cell cycle, but I’m dropping knowledge rather than sales. I spoke a lot there, Jennifer, but hopefully, it makes sense.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, that was great. It’s so interesting. I have so many questions. We were talking earlier about voting for those of us who are disenfranchised in a very real way versus the sort of everybody get out the vote, right? Like the difference between truly disenfranchised communities and targeting those but not having that be political, right? I’ve seen some of your creative and I wanted you to tell us a little bit about a couple of your campaigns. There’s one where someone’s signing, there’s one that is very targeted to LGBTQ+ communities for one of the brands you work with and then there’s the general messaging. I guess there’s a balance that you think about and try to achieve between the general message and simultaneously messages specific to communities with particular sort of nuances, difficulties, obstacles.
Tell us about some of those particular obstacles, whether it’s oppression, whether it’s voter ID, whether it’s access, whether it’s economic, the ability to vote. I mean, there’s so many presumptions in the way that we’ve approached access that I think we’re all getting a hard lesson about this year. And luckily, I think brands are waking up to the power they have to say, we’re going to call these out and we’re going to get really into the specifics of what prevents certain communities from using their voice. And we’re going to address it in our creative, which is literally what you’ve been doing so tell us a little bit about some of your specific campaigns.
RANA REEVES: Yeah. The first thing was to work with organizations that are effectively non-partisan, so I think that they’re 5013C. I’m hoping I get that right. There’s the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, More Than a Vote, When We All Vote, Civic Alliance, Hustlers Guild, they all have as part of the makeup the fact that they need to be non-partisan, what they are, is built up though from the communities that we are trying to reach, right? They have an intuitive understanding of what needs to be discussed and what needs to be done then what I’ve done so if you take the queer community, we had to breeze, there’s kind of reaching, say, BIPOC communities, who are the people that face depression and then wider one in five LGBTQ+ people are not registered to vote.
We did that through the lens of the creativity of the house ballroom community. We did a partnership with four different houses to get their members to register to vote, getting their friends and family to vote and then also volunteer specifically in cities that face depression, have large queer communities of color, so Charlotte, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Miami. As part of that, we use their creativity in the way that they would hold an event. It’s kind of still everything bowls down with me to old-school colored nightclub disco mentality.
JENNIFER BROWN: Of course, it does.
RANA REEVES: Is that right?
JENNIFER BROWN: Right.
RANA REEVES: You have to fit, say 2,000, 3,000, 5,000 people and you have to know how to do that. How’s his physicality of doing it? Obviously, now we have access to Instagram as a communication tool so we build a structure around this, which was like a promotional structure. We build relationships with the houses and then from there we generated content. We have two different soundtrack monologues by an iconic trans person, Junior LaBeija, who was in Paris Is Burning reading the kids about why they should vote. We’re also making it engaging, right? This isn’t school, it has to be relevant and realistic to your day to day life. That was specifically aimed, it wasn’t specifically aimed at black and brown queer people, but it was made by starring and vibed by them. Right? And I will always say that they are like the backbone of the lexicon of queer culture, particularly in America.
Then we utilized a network of what I would call national queer leaders so in this case, I use drag queens because drag queens have the biggest followings often, the RuPaul’s drag race, drag queens, et cetera, et cetera. And they span a range of gender identities, ethnicities, et cetera, et cetera so we were creating content that was made for black and brown queer communities, but pushing it out on a national scale. Right? It’s a series of pieces of information that we put out there. We then held four polls over Zoom, which were essentially like education around the vote. When We All Vote spoke, VoteRiders spoke about the things that were needed, always communicating, registered to vote. And as part of that VoteRiders then did IG live sessions where you’re able to talk about issues you might have with your ID and Unilever provided a scholarship to fund different people getting their IDs, so that they could vote. The principles are all universal to a degree, right?
The communication of it and this is where I think that America is particularly special when it comes to diversity, is that I will always say that essentially black culture and to a degree brown culture in this country are the mainstream of culture, in music, in art and fashion, in sport, in entertainment. Right? If you utilize any of those and you’re true to it, if you take that Coach, you hire black, black creates it, black expresses it. Then essentially, you are talking to the mainstream now in this country as a whole, particularly Gen Z, which is the area that I deal with. We’re able to simultaneously make something that is culturally relevant and lexiconed to the target community that faces suppression, but at the same time has a resonance and a relevance to the community as a whole, if you take the queer community. Hoping that made sense, Jennifer.
JENNIFER BROWN: Excellent. No, it’s excellent. If anyone, can you just give us a quick for people who don’t know the house community? Quickly, can you just explain, I mean, watch Pose?
RANA REEVES: Yeah, so I actually work with… The consultant I work with is [Japanese Rahi 00:36:11], who’s one of my best friends and I love him dearly. And he actually is one of the writers on Pose. A house is essentially a community of people that have come together as a logical family in the queer community. Often as we know, as queer people, there’s rejection, disenfranchisement, homelessness, all the things that can happen, people that need guidance around transitioning and houses come together to provide the family structure that sometimes, or often a biological family, or society isn’t providing. But I would say also they deal with a lot of incredible flair and panache.
JENNIFER BROWN: Those are the words, absolutely beautiful and I love how you are just so strategic about identifying, if you start with black and brown communities, you’ll hit everybody and you just made the point of the creative in front of the camera, behind the camera and then also, but then pushing it out through those who have the biggest social media presence, the drag queen community. I mean, it’s just a brilliant way to I think bring us all to this, I don’t know, could bring us all to the middle in a way. And I love that, I hear the strategy shining out from that. And brand, did brands just follow you? Did all of these campaigns for Coach and Unilever and AXE body spray and all the other SoulCycle, was it literally like okay, tell us what to do, or were there some hesitations, how did you overcome resistance, or did you not find any resistance because brands are just really hungry for this?
RANA REEVES: I think on work as we talked about before Jennifer with a certain sort of brand, there’s a certain sort of brand that is attracted to working with someone like me. And what I would say is that I have incredible clients, still right, or wrongly that the vast majority of my clients are white, but they sit at the table of equity and the idea of holding space for everyone, not just themselves. I think where the reticence will come often is from the legal department, from external affairs or whatever. But I will say with Unilever, which is probably the company I was expecting to be the most conservative compared to a fashion brand like Coach, they’ve been incredible. I had never got over the legal department as much as I do.
JENNIFER BROWN: Wow, saying a lot.
RANA REEVES: [inaudible 00:38:52] incredible and the same with external affairs, so at the end of the day, I fundamentally believe in human nature and desire to do good and correct wrongs, right? And what we’re dealing with are wrongs and so it’s not a case of me leading the client, I think it’s the case of the client creating an environment in which together we can grow something. And I think there’s also, just it comes back to this thing about value and values, right? With acts, which is aimed at Gen Z males, we’ve used hype, the idea of hyping, the idea of a street way drop and the velocity that that creates in order to drop knowledge, so the style of content for AXE is 360, oh sorry, 180 from the style of content for Unilever specific stuff, but the message is identical.
The clients are just been… I just have really great clients, in that I’m blessed. And it’s also a learning process so one of the things that Brian, who’s a colleague of yours who talked to me a lot about is this idea of teachable moments, right? I have to be willing to understand that there are things that a client may not understand per se but vice versa. Right? Whilst I may want to go at 100 miles an hour, if a major corporation can manage 40 miles an hour, that’s still 40 distance covered. Right? That’s kind of the important thing.
JENNIFER BROWN: Tell me about… Yeah, that’s so important. I mean, we talk about meeting the client where they’re at, but I also think we’re in an age when we can actually challenge clients and they’ll go with us. I think that everybody’s searching for the right way to be and to act and behave and utilize, like you said, the acknowledgement of the wrongs. I think we’re just in this new era after this summer of openness, of commitment. And I think more, the question now is, how do we show the commitment and how then do we walk the talk of the commitment, which I love you brought up earlier that is like, hey, it really matters. What time are you giving to everyone in terms of voting? For example, it’s not just the external marketing, it’s the internal practices that you need to make sure align. And I really think that’s important and I’m sure you’ve gotten companies to think about, how are we walking the talk internally as we communicate these powerful campaigns externally?
I’m just so glad, again, I’m really glad you’re the one at the table because I know you care about this and you’re like, look, let’s plan this holistically. Let’s not just go for the performative allyship as we talk about so much, but let’s actually practice this internally so that our employees really feel not only just included in this, but really like regarded, respected, supported that they’re part of this and not some sort of ancillary piece. And I know, that’s the struggle, that’s where eye focus is really enabling employees to feel seen and heard and seeing themselves in the company’s messaging and feeling that commitment in a really real concrete way and not in that sort of superficial way. But Rana, I wanted to ask you [Matt Maxx 00:42:30], you did a campaign featuring… We just wanted to know more about Matt Maxx’s signing in the video. Who did you create this for? And tell me about the ASL sites that picked it up on IG and tell me about what you’ve learned about accessibility with the voting situation.
RANA REEVES: Yeah. I’m trying to think of the best way to phrase this. What I want to say is that a lot of what I’m talking about with you, because this isn’t an area, this is the first time I’ve done voting campaigns ever.
JENNIFER BROWN: I would think, yeah.
RANA REEVES: It’s hugely indebted to my client at Unilever and I know you know Mita Mallick. Mita is boss, Esi Bracey and what Esi has taught me is the way to make sure something isn’t performative, is I have a tendency, I’m a marketeer, is to look at the site. How can I sprinkle glitter, get everyone talking about it, right? But stays relevant without do and then do is not solely cutting a check, the do is what are the demonstrable means that show the change has been created, right? I know that 1,000 young queer kids have IDs now, et cetera, et cetera. What are the tangibles? That is the route that I look at it at, the specific example you spoke about was work that we’ve been doing with the AXE client around, what does polycultural Gen Z look like? Gen Z is not one amorphous mass, particularly in America, which is again, why I love this country. There is a difference between Puerto Ricans and Dominicans.
There is a difference, black is not just some amorphous thing. If I talk about my own culture, there’s a difference between Indians, Pakistan’s, Bangladeshi’s, Nepalese. And so it’s understanding that AXE has being looking at things through the lens of Gen Z humor and again, humor is a very subjective thing. We’re both queer people, Jennifer so we would… There’s certain humor we will get that maybe a straight person won’t et cetera, et cetera. At the top of the year, AXE put together a collective of young people that were doing incredibly engaging things in humor to their own audiences. Being that Latinx queer, I’m not going to get the terminology right but the thing that really excited me, and again, it’s props to the brand is that we acknowledged that there’s an erasure and this would come as well from my pride work, an erasure of people that, I think the term is ably challenged, but you’re better off.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, I think it depends that people with disabilities is what I use. People first, right? That’s what I usually say.
RANA REEVES: Okay. I wanted to make sure there was a reflection of that in culture and in these 15 incredible young comedians I’m working with. Deafinitely Dope, his humor is done via sign, which I can’t do ASL, but just the sheer creativity of it, it blows me away. Right? He was one of the people, we went back to the creators that we’re working with and we said, look, we want to do a get out, register to vote message. Would you be involved in the part of the AXE campaign? So part of what AXE did as their commitment was, they gave over their resources to this message, rather than saying, go buy this body spray, which is what their core business is about.
It was how do we support and show up to the communities, right? Especially after we’ve come out and they were incredible, they built a relationship with Black Lives Matter movement, donated, et cetera, et cetera. There is no bigger cultural moment this year across fashion, music, anything than this election, right? If you’re Gen Z brand that is reflecting Gen Z culture, you have to be in the game with this one because otherwise, you just look weird, it’s like, how would you not be?
JENNIFER BROWN: Right, but a must.
RANA REEVES: Yes. We did nine, I think it was nine different PSA’s with different what I would call flavors and personalities. What was amazing is the response to Deafinitely Dope, that’s the young guy, that’s his channel. And seeing the ASL Instagram community pick up on that and people pick up on stuff if they’re not being spoken to, because they need assets, they need people that look like them talking to them in whatever form it takes that makes sense. For a young black man to be signing a PSA, can show other young hearing impaired black man that we vote and it matters.
JENNIFER BROWN: Beautiful. I can’t wait to share that, if you haven’t seen that creative, I’m going to follow Deafinitely Dope on IG. Thanks for that. Oh gosh, you said polycultural Gen Z, I loved that, Rana. I mean, you know so much more about this than so many of us and it’s such a fundamentally different generation in so many ways. I know they value their own diversity in an unprecedented way. They are literally, I hope… Were there a word stronger than hope I would use it, that we need them to hold the systems around them and the country and the companies and their jobs accountable to reflect all of their diversities and they must. We need that push because a lot of us are on the other side trying to pull this in and you know what that’s like. But it sounds like I love what you said that you’ve got your clients mainly are white, which is fascinating and are at the table, shaking this up and pushing for this.
And you’re finding ally as an unlikely places, which I think is also fascinating in terms of getting these ideas through. What do you… I know you’ve had so many learnings, I mean, since this is your first season of doing voting campaigns. I know you’re comparing and contrasting voter suppression in America, which has a long, sad and disturbing history, and continues to this day compared to Britain, which you cheered, you weren’t sure if it is so rampant, I don’t know, but probably not. I guess this must be energizing you more than ever for the importance of your work. I guess, what’s on your heart and mind as we approach November 3rd, maybe on a personal level, but also just maybe advice for brands many of whom probably are listening to this, people who are always saying to themselves, oh my goodness, my company is nowhere on this.
That is my guess, I could be wrong, but they’re probably listening to this, just craving a commitment like this, craving an investment, whether it’s with a firm like yours or not, but the creative that shows us ourselves is so, I mean, like you said, I sit up and pay attention when I see a queer couple with a kid, I mean, I think there was an ad of two women adopting their kid and signing to their kid when they picked up the kid. And it was this beautiful, I forget which brand it was. I know it was a consumer products company, but it stops you in your tracks when you see yourself, it’s just this unforgettable moment. And then you realize, I never see myself, it’s so profound. This is such a low-hanging fruit for brand, so it makes me frustrated. But anyway, so anything in there that you’d like to comment on in the couple of moments we have left.
RANA REEVES: Yeah. From a personal perspective, I think the adversity and we are in a unprecedented time of adversity, can also bring out the best in people. And my hope, my absolute hope is that come November the people will speak and they’ll speak in, I suppose, my perception of the right way and what joy of positivity that will be, for women, for immigrants, for black and brown communities, for the working class. I think as a country and I talk as an immigrant to this country, it needs it, right? My sense is a sense of bringing together teachable holding space for each other, clearly I’ve left leading, probably completely left leading but that doesn’t mean I’m not materialistic. I think people that haven’t grown up with wealth on the whole tend to be materialistic, but just to bring in together with people, right?
And that note, I can otherwise I can exist in this silo. We’ve spoken about this, Jennifer, that if I take my person into it, I can be, all white people are bad, all straight people are bad about, oh, this is bad and that’s just not true. And that’s where I want to get back to because then my life is enriched. I don’t want to live in an echo chamber, if people reflecting back to me, my point of view, right? The thing that I try and live by is my action causing harm to me or harm to another and if it’s not, then it’s cool. I like an exchange of ideas, right? How am I going to grow otherwise? And if you’re a brand and you’re thinking, we should get into this, the election is not till November the third [inaudible 00:53:06] the brand world, right?
What I would say is if a crisis hits a brand, suddenly all these procedures that take four weeks they can do in 24 hours, treat this like a crisis, because it is a crisis. You can be non-partisan, but you can stand up for this country’s democratic process, that is quintessentially American. That’s not partisan, it’s quintessentially American and I think that particularly, if you’re a brand that looks at Gen Z, there are 14 million new voters in this election that could be registered to vote since the last election. And so we have to support, engage and build a foundation for youth to thrive.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you so much for that, those are great statistics. You can stand up for the democratic process regardless of party, what a incredible point. And I think that we’ve got to get good at parsing all of these things for the maximum inclusion and your leftism fuels you, of course. I mean, I would call it… Again, it’s not political, actually, it’s a lens that is commercially critical. It’s just critical because what you understand, regardless of your political affiliation is the experience that you’ve lived. And that lived experience is part of your currency and is part of all of our currency, and it’s the missing piece that organizations have tried to wittingly or unwittingly build rather homogeneous workforces, right?
And this is the problem, is that we are missing the actual demographic changes, regardless of what we think about them, whether we like them or not, or whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. The workforce is changing. They want different things. They want to see themselves reflected, our customers care about more than just the product. And we use social media to hold each other and other organizations and institutions accountable more than ever, that’s not going to change. Yeah, I think that I see that the path is sort of laid out ahead of us. And I loved your advice for those of us who are listening, who work for companies and you’re saying to yourself, this would never happen at my company.
We can broach these topics, but the way we approach them and explain them and the way that we ground them in the material, the materialistic, or maybe the commercial, like you said, Rana, I think will mean the success, the difference between our ability to get this conversation going and avoid that trap of well, this is just partisan, or this is just from the left et cetera, et cetera. I think that it is about messaging and positioning and Rana, you do it beautifully and of course, I mean, let this be a pitch for your work, Rana, which it always is, I know. Where can people find more information about you? And we’ll try to share some of these campaigns in the show notes, but if there’s any specific place you would direct people to go and to get a taste of what you’ve created, I would love them to see this to bring these concepts to life.
RANA REEVES: Yeah, well, everything’s on my Instagram, which is basically work and pictures of my puppy but it’s partly official, Rana. You can get a sense of the agency from ranaverse.com. But if you want to see the work, you can go on to Coach’s channel, it’s their work. If you go into SoulCycle’s Instagram, it’s their work. You’ll see it out there, but I can provide you with clips and stuff as well.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you, Rana. And I just appreciate you, I wish there were 100 of you, but I know your agency is growing and good news for all of us because I think you’re really building a sustainable approach for the future that will create the change we need, but also enable us to access the power of major global brands in order to facilitate that change. And I think we can’t do this alone to your point. We need the might of companies, honestly, and I think companies are going to save us even if our political system is faltering. The companies have come through particularly for LGBTQ rights, in the past, the amicus briefs that hundreds of companies have signed for marriage equality.
The companies get it and it’s one of the reasons that I stay in this work because there’s many other things, I may not agree with, or struggle with, that I do every time I think about commitment to equality and equity that I see on the part of these major, major movers and shakers. I think someone’s got my back, someone is fighting and using their might to make a safer world for me and to make sure that I rise to that C-suite and Rana, people that look like you rise to that C-Suite. I think that there’s a lot of commitment that you and I know exists and I do want to sort of say that too, I mean, that I think there’s a lot to be optimistic about in terms of how that massive gorilla is moving alongside us in terms of what we want to see in the room.
RANA REEVES: No, definitely. And always like, you just have to have hope, that’s cultural, it’s like I have to look up always.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. And the LGBTQ community is excellent at doing that in the face of so much difficulty. It does come from the joy in our community in particular, and in many communities that have been disenfranchised. The helpfulness has to be there and it’s so beautiful to see, particularly because it exists in the face of so much difficulty, so it’s extra special. Thank you, Rana for joining us today. I appreciate you.
RANA REEVES: Thank you for your [inaudible 00:59:23].
JENNIFER BROWN: Absolutely. Absolutely. And we’ll be airing this early this coming week and if you’d like to hear Rana again, Rana is joining our DNI community calls, so we’ll include that in our show notes too, how to register for that call and he will come on and speak more deeply about all these things we’ve talked about too, with my colleague, Brian McCormack. Please join us Thursdays noon Eastern and if you want to know more about that, we will include it in the show notes. Thanks, Rana. Keep up the Good work.
RANA REEVES: Cool, you, too.
JENNIFER BROWN: Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com? You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion and the future of work and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.
DOUG FORESTA: You’ve been listening to the Will To Change, uncovering true stories of diversity and inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown, visit jenniferbrownspeaks.com. Thank you for listening, and we’ll be back next time with a new episode.
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