Tiffany Persons has joined David&Goliath as the agency’s first director of empathy.
The title, unusual even for an ad agency, encompasses a range of responsibilities. In this role, she will conduct workshops to “unlock empathy” at the 180-person shop, recruit underrepresented professionals and focus on fostering an environment where BIPOC employees can grow.
She is reporting to David&Goliath’s founder and creative chairman David Angelo and its president Yumi Prentice.
Persons has had a somewhat unconventional background in the industry. She started her own casting company 12 years ago, which specializes in finding real people for brands to feature in their ads. She did the casting for Microsoft’s award-winning “Changing the Game” spot that ran during last year’s Super Bowl.
She’s also the founder of a Shine On Sierra Leone, a nonprofit that provides educational, financial and healthcare support to people in the country’s Kono district.
Angelo and Persons met through a mutual connection roughly five years ago after he expressed an interest in working with orphans. The two planned to visit Sierra Leone together, but their trip was canceled due to Ebola.
Shortly afterwards, David&Goliath created a campaign called “Today, I’m Brave” to inspire and encourage children in Sierra Leone who’d been impacted by Ebola. The agency sent them T-shirts and cards with affirmations.
Since then, Today, I’m Brave has grown into a nonprofit dedicated to helping “individuals and organizations take on their biggest challenges.” In 2018, it helped launch the 100 Roofs Project, an initiative dedicated to aiding Puerto Ricans affected by Hurricane Maria.
“We have a really special beginning,” Persons said of her relationship with Angelo. “That’s what brought us close.”
At David&Goliath, Persons will use her background and experiences to cultivate a culture of empathy and “activate compassion” in the agency’s work. “Connecting with the consumer in a heart-centric, authentic way is paramount at this time,” she said.
Her appointment comes months after Angelo faced criticism at the inaugural Allyship & Action Summit, a virtual event that brought together agency executives and diversity advocates to discuss how to overcome systemic racism in the industry.
During a session titled “How TF can agencies be allies going forward?” Angelo spent much of the time discussing the importance of empathy and speaking in platitudes without sharing what actions he or his agency is taking to fight systemic racism in the industry.
“Empathy is who we are. When we understand that, we unlock our empathy, and from there comes action,” he said at one point.
Attendees were quick to call him out. “This white dude is making race into vague metaphors,” one person said during the live chat.
Another wrote: “David, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I am really not hearing anything actionable. Regardless of whether you can commit your agency to them, what are real changes you would like to make?”
Nate Nichols, co-founder of Allyship & Action, said Angelo reached out to him after the event and has since made moves to become a more action-oriented ally. For instance, Nichols said he’s committed to hiring more Black employees and is designing a mentorship program. Angelo also recently granted $100,000 to the Allyship & Action organization and is serving as an adviser. Nichols said Angelo has been “receptive and productive” in the months since the event.
“When I was asked to be on the panel, I immediately said yes because I believe that true accountability needs to start at the top,” Angelo said in an email. “What I learned from the experience is that people were looking for concrete action steps, and rightfully so.”