Crafting Inclusivity: How TA Creators Cultivate Inclusion in Their Work

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Inclusivity might be a new term to you or old hat by this point. Regardless, the very notion of inclusion is an important part of being human. We connect with others, we gain support from our communities and we in turn respect the humanity of those in other groups or communities.

How does inclusivity look from the perspective of a creative agency like ThomasArts? Every day we are tasked with generating words and images that speak to other humans through advertisements, blog posts or even internal communications. As creatives, how does the idea of inclusion show up in our thoughts and in our work? We’ll explore this and more, with stories from TA team members who create every day.

TA is an agency with experience across many markets, from the healthcare industry to banking institutions to the national 4-H organization. When we create, we do so with the intent to connect. The tools we use are the science of finding insights through research and data, and then connecting emotionally through the art of storytelling.

But how does TA use those tools to support the idea — and practice — of inclusion? We talked with creative minds from around the company: John Kinkead (Creative Group Director), Jordan Brough (Art Director), Andrea Feucht (Senior Copywriter), and Vincent Ninh (Content Marketing Strategist).

The conversation that followed brought out insights and stories that helped to show what inclusivity means for all of us, and what it looks like when we bring inclusion into our creative work. Let’s dive into some of the questions we discussed.

 

Q1: What does inclusivity mean to you? 

It’s important to start at the ground level by defining the term “inclusive.” Before you can identify how you view a topic, you have to know what that topic is, and how it actually shows up in your current role. Remember that inclusivity can look differently depending on our role and our scope within the environment. Those who work in HR may very well have a different take on what inclusivity means to them compared to those on a creative team. 

In John’s view, inclusivity “is about communicating with enthusiasm in a way that does not call upon stereotyped, historical or cultural assumptions.” He notes that “intent is so important. Because anything can be perceived as a trigger, we want to make sure to clearly communicate what our intent is, and that we see value in a person’s perspective and aspirations, not just their background.”

One way to achieve the kind of messaging John is describing, complete with enthusiasm and also positive intent is by bringing a spirit of authentic curiosity into the process. When you bring genuine curiosity to any communication channel — marketing materials or kitchen table conversations — your intent and openness will be seen by others. Jordan notes that his favorite terms around inclusivity are “openness, humility, and respect. It is the respect that we offer other people while being humble enough to admit that we don’t know everything off the bat, that makes inclusivity work.”

Andrea notes that honesty is part of what Jordan mentioned — and it’s how you show that you are open and curious but that you “don’t know everything and you’re willing to learn from missteps.” Owning those biases or outright mistakes also shows we are comfortable with being at least a little bit vulnerable, and vulnerability is something that helps to build trust.

So far, our definition of inclusivity as it appears in creative work is communicating with openness, enthusiasm, and honest curiosity about others.

 

Q2: How can we ensure that our work is inclusive?

Knowing what inclusivity means to us is one thing. Trying to ensure that the work we do is as inclusive as possible is another thing entirely. For our creative group, remember that inclusion is all about communication. We need to know that when building an ad to be shown on social media, or writing a whitepaper, or creating a logo for a billboard, there are messages that might be received by the viewer. We can’t assume that a particular message is traveling from the creator to the viewer, only that a message will be received. Despite that, we can absolutely take steps to create pieces that hit the mark. 

Some of it requires planning, like having enough time to really think about what we create. Andrea says, “it’s good to have a process (and enough time) to not just write something and send it out, but rather to sit back, re-read the copy as if you are someone else and even have others read it to see how it is received.”

For Jordan, relatability is a goal when he delivers work in the early stages, saying, “When I provide image options, I make sure to include photo options for diverse groups so it’s not just the stereotypical constructs. Our clients really appreciate that.”

 

Q3: How would you handle potential backlash from inclusive work?

This question is difficult because it gets to the heart of how inclusion can be tricky. Even with good intentions, work can be criticized or seen in a way that was unintended.  John reinforces what we talked about earlier, noting that having established our intent and building trust with the audience puts us on firmer ground when negativity might occur. If we know our position and we have been clear from the beginning, it helps our response come from a place of integrity. 

Jordan notes that “At TA, we work with many people and external clients who embrace inclusivity already, so we do not (often) face backlash.” This is a bit of a virtuous circle because it helps the creative team build their confidence in their inclusive voices, keeping a forward momentum. That said, it helps to know what reactions could be encountered so that we can be prepared.

Once in a while, the idea of inclusivity for all is perceived as the exclusion of others. This could show up in a questioning reaction to a proposed photo of people in a racial minority, if the regional demographic is mostly white. The solution could be to propose a group photo that includes many different racial backgrounds. This could serve the purpose of bringing more inclusivity while honoring the client’s request. John reminds us that “we can’t read people’s minds, but if we have a sound marketing approach and stick to our values, that will serve us well.”

An approach of forgiveness and humor helps, always. Assume that when you give a naysayer a chance to move in a positive and more inclusive direction, they will. When we can back up our inclusivity with positive results for the client — for example, better return on their investment — of course this can help them embrace inclusion, even if it felt like a challenging conversation at first. As our founder Dave Thomas likes to say, “Meet people where they are.”

As an agency, we are best when we are consultative rather than seeing ourselves as a vendor. We work with all parties, anticipating where bumps might arise and having options ready. This, plus a dose of empathy, goes a long way. We give our clients a chance to grow right along with us, and that’s exciting, because it’s fun to work with companies whose values mirror ours.

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August 3, 2021by John Kinkead, Jordan Brough, Andrea Feucht, and Vincent Ninh

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