In a Divided Country, How Agencies Can Use Their Reach to Rebuild Trust and Inspire

A message to the unafraid in creative land

Our agency is no different than yours. Tough, sensitive. Young, old. Black and white. Full of usually hopeful, sometimes brilliant, mostly crazy storytellers.

And like many of you, on the eve of the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States of America, we don't know what the hell is about to happen.

Chris Raih

There's an atmosphere of disbelief in what's true. Fake news and disinformation have put honesty under siege. But we are in position to tell true stories, injecting more positivity back into the world. More than ever, we agency runners must seize today's uncertainty as an opportunity to lead.

The great brands we work with need us. We have to help them win—not just in categories, but in culture. That starts by telling the truth, which is the most powerful element in advertising anyway, as Bill Bernbach reminds us. It's the right thing to do, and it's good business. We need to become smiling warriors; weapons for good. But mostly? We need to be unafraid. This is no time to curl inward, no time to fear monger.  

After all, you're part of the industry that gave the world Thank You, Mom and #RealBeauty and Wheelchair Basketball and Jess Time and—just this week—Be Good to Each Other. These campaigns—and so many more—are reminders that fear never wins. And neither should negativity and cynicism.

Which brings us to the talent inside our organizations. Like your shop, our hallways and kitchens have been a chorus of "I'm so sad" … "How could this be happening" … "Will my partner have to leave the country?" And, so, the true test of our ability to unify begins on 1/20.

Let's start by admitting that people aren't caricatures. Resist the urge to typecast. That's what got us here in the first place. Take me: I grew up in a large, Irish-catholic, highly conservative family in the Midwest. Does that make me deplorable? Today, I read Thomas Friedman and run a creative agency on the west side of L.A. Does that make me elite? Neither over-simplification would be accurate. So avoid stereotypes, seek the common ground—and above all trust the good in people. "Trust," as Friedman quotes in his new book, "is the only legal performance-enhancing drug."

So how do we inspire our agency teams? How do we rebuild trust? How does Agencyland step up to the plate? Start by reminding your people that it's a battle for truth, not a war between left and right. And we're not unarmed. Unlike most people, we have a platform. We have an audience. So many of the patriotic and frustrated have no outlet for their concerns. We, the lucky few, are in the communications business. We communicate—and at scale.

If we can re-energize the talent that walks through our doors every morning, that's an army of 150,000 brilliant and willing storytellers in America alone.

Encourage your staff to be vigilant, but optimistic too. To stay engaged. Come to the work with belief in the possibilities and love in their hearts. Open, not closed. Let's use the platform, bridge gaps and create results. And above all, let's stay unafraid.

Chris Raih (@chris_raih) is founder and CEO of Zambezi.