For Agencies to Diversify, Big Clients Need to Set Ultimatums

Black-owned brand consultancy Rupture Studio on fixing internal D&I issues

chuck welch and nadi welch
Chuck and Nandi Welch lead brand consultancy Rupture Studio. Rupture Studio
Headshot of Ian Zelaya

Key insight:

Chuck and Nandi Welch, the husband-and-wife duo leading brand consultancy Rupture Studio, have built their business bridging gaps between clients and audiences they want to reach.

Since launching the New York-based company in 2010, the Welches have helped brands such as PepsiCo, Hennessy, BET and skincare brand Fresh strategize with new insights and ideas for global products, campaigns and messaging. Chuck previously worked for agencies serving the music and entertainment industries, while Nandi worked in marketing for beauty brands like Revlon and L’Oreal.

Chuck Welch, Rupture’s founder and chief strategy officer, describes the company as “sitting in the middle of ad agencies and clients,” with work that includes developing strategies with internal brand teams, vetting and hiring their partner agencies, and writing briefs.

“We identify what a client’s key problem is, interrogate that problem and help them resolve it,” Chuck said. “We help clients understand their audience’s socioeconomic and historical realities, and bring that insight into the boardroom. We challenge how a client thinks about the role of their brand in the world, and how to create relevance and value for the population they’re trying to connect with.”

While they revitalize and reposition brands externally, Rupture also wants to get into the business of helping companies improve their corporate culture internally—especially now, as employees continue to call out companies for perpetuating racism and mishandling their approaches to D&I initiatives.

One of the reasons the Welches chose to work for themselves was to avoid getting put in a box as Black professionals—whether that box be siloed to multicultural projects or putting in more work for less pay.

In the last decade, Nandi Welch said the diversity she’s seen working with clients and agencies has remained stagnant, with leadership teams often providing two reasons: They couldn’t find Black professionals to hire, or they hired Black people in junior positions who didn’t stay with the company. She said the excuse of Black employees frequently leaving reveals deeper issues with diversity in the industry.

“You’re tasked with making sure all of your non-Black counterparts are always comfortable with who you are, what you have to say and how you look, all while you’re made more and more uncomfortable, and frequently for less pay,” she said. “You often have to endure negative comments, and you’re not being given a seat at the table. It’s this combination of what you get, which is often a lot of negativity, and what you don’t get, which is allyship and opportunities that have visibility baked into it. That imbalance topples over, which is why you see Black people fleeing these organizations.”

The Welches are beginning to partner with companies to help improve internal corporate strategy and culture, from the makeup of their content studios and teams to the overall diversity within their organizations.

The duo said larger brands and agencies publicly showing solidarity and donating money to racial equity organizations isn’t enough, because it’s less clear how the companies are dealing with transparency and accountability when it comes to their own operations. They advise these companies to invest in expertise to help them do better, and set long-term goals to measure their success.

“What’s your 2025 vision for success when it comes to diversity, inclusion, equity, Black people and people of color in your organization?” Chuck Welch said. “Corporations grab resources, move resources around and say they’re going to aim these resources for this problem to get this return. But I don’t think many organizations are articulating what that return looks like and who’s going to be held accountable for that return.”

Another issue Nandi Welch cited is people in D&I positions at companies with predominantly white leadership often not having enough visibility to make impactful changes.

“D&I is often buried within HR or another group. They’re not actually on the CEO’s dashboard, and they don’t have that direct relationship,” she said. “They have to report to someone who has a much broader agenda. It just fundamentally doesn’t make sense that all these issues should be headed up to an old white man.”

Moving forward, the Welches also want to see clients put more pressure on the agencies they work with to ensure their talent makeup reflects the type of audience the client is trying to serve.

“There hasn’t been a concentrated effort or an industrywide effort to hold agencies accountable,” Chuck Welch said. “But now, you see brands [boycotting advertising] on Facebook. More big clients need to set [ultimatums] such as: ‘We’ll give you 90 days to get your house in order.’”

Adweek will continue to spotlight Black owners of agencies to share their experiences and ways they want to see the industry take action for change. Ian Zelaya is an Adweek reporter covering how brands engage with consumers in the modern world, ranging from experiential marketing and social media to email marketing and customer experience.