Six years ago, Aaron Walton and his partner Cory Isaacson sat down in a Starbucks on the gold coast of Chicago to sketch out plans for their new agency, Walton | Isaacson (W|I). They were determined to become “the planet’s most interesting agency”— a phrase that serves as the company’s tagline. To live up to that, they decided W|I needed a mix of people with an array of sexual and cultural orientations. That would set it apart from mainstream agencies as well as those catering to the demands of one consumer segment, such as the LGBT community, Hispanics or African Americans.
“I don’t live my life strictly through the prism of LGBT or being African American or being 6’1”. There are a lot of things that influence who I am and that are part of my DNA. I want to make sure as a manager and an agency that we’re tapping into all of those groups. And I think clients realize that formula helps them build their business,” says Walton.
W|I has helped some major brands score a perfect 100 in the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) analysis of how well companies reach out to the LGBT community. These include Caesar’s Entertainment, Orbitz and Lexus.
Walton says he’s particularly proud of W|I’s campaign that launched Lexus’s new hybrid, the CT 200h. It targeted LGBT, Hispanic, African American and general markets, spanning both traditional and digital media and fusing fashion, culture and music. One reaction particularly pleases Walton. HRC president Joe Solmonese received a letter from a fleet manager who was so impressed by the Lexus display at an HRC event that he bought 12 cars. “Here was a group that a lot of brands didn’t focus on, and we did something that really made a difference,” Walton says.
That’s a small example, but for Walton, it’s an indication of how the LGBT market responds when brands engage with it specifically. He notes that LGBT buying power has rocketed to $835 billion this year, according to estimates by the research firm Packaged Facts. “Who wouldn’t want to tap into that consumer segment?” he asks
When a group of LGBT employees at Draftfcb asked Laurence Boschetto, the agency’s President and CEO, if he’d like to take part in a video to discuss some of the rough patches he’s faced as a gay man, they were concerned he wouldn’t want the exposure. “Hell no,” he remembers telling them. “I’ve been gay my whole life. This is a package deal here. There’s no invisibility.”
Since it was posted in early February, the Draftfcb video, part of the “It Gets Better” initiative aimed at helping young LGBT people deal with intolerance and bullying, has attracted nearly 17,000 views. “To us the video was about empowerment and reaching out and being part of something far more significant and greater than our individual components,” Boschetto explains.
There’s little wonder that AdColor founder Tiffany Warren told Boschetto that his participation in the video was a key reason why he was is one of the first recipients of the new Advocate Award.
Boschetto has fostered a philosophy of inclusion within Draftfcb. The LGBT group is one of five affinity business resource groups within Draftfcb. Others are dedicated to the interests of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and women. An officer of the company heads each group because Draftfcb believes inclusion is so important that it needs to be driven from the top down. Draftfcb also has a chief diversity officer who sits on all the diversity councils. That helps “elevate the cause,” Boschetto says.
While Boschetto says there’s no way to quantify a return for Draftfcb’s diversity investments, there are big benefits. For example, it’s a great way to build a pool of top talent, because “people feel that they belong here,” he says. What’s more, “when you walk into a room and have a diverse leadership team that’s pitching to a client, their response immediately is, ‘Wow. That’s pretty amazing.’”
Money isn’t really the point. “It’s all about dignity and respect and giving people the opportunity to actualize their dreams,” Boschetto says. “It’s empowering people to find their voice and to feel comfortable in their skin, to be who they are fundamentally and eradicate the walls that people sometimes put us in.”