How This Documentary Filmmaker Landed a New Job After Pitching a Workshop

Tiffany Persons is David&Goliath's first-ever director of empathy

a black woman sitting on a rock in a wooded area
Persons initially pitched a workshop about empathy and inherent bias, which led to her getting this role. Christina Gandolfo
Headshot of Ryan Barwick

You don’t get the title of director of empathy without having a story to tell.

For Tiffany Persons, that story began after poor grades in chemistry at Georgia State denied her entrance to the university’s nursing program. Instead, she enrolled in the film school, finding her place in a documentary film class.

After graduation, in a “pre-Michael Moore Hollywood,” Persons couldn’t find work on a documentary team. Instead, she assisted music video legend Dave Meyers in the early 2000s, working on shoots for Missy Elliott and Jennifer Lopez and racking up more than 16 MTV Music Video Awards.

Although the work was fun, it left Persons unfulfilled. After a conversation with a friend about a refugee from Sierra Leone, Persons pitched and raised funds for a documentary centered around the fallout of the country’s civil war and the diamond industry. But funding fell through, so instead, Persons dedicated herself to creating Shine On Sierra Leone, a nonprofit that provides educational, financial and healthcare support to people in the country’s Kono district. Her work with the nonprofit earned her a Woman of the World honor by the United Nations.

All the while, she continued to work in the entertainment industry, running her own commercial casting company where she focuses on finding and matching brands with real people that have authentic stories to tell.

To date, Tiffany Company Casting has worked with brands such as American Express, Apple, Google, Nike and Starbucks and led the casting effort on Microsoft’s “Change the Game” campaign, which took home the responsibility Grand Prix at the Epica Awards. Persons likens her work to “finding a needle in the haystack.”

“For directors and consumers, you can see that glimmer of life force when you’re watching a real person have a real reaction,” said Persons. “That reverberates and it translates. It’s the future of the industry.”

Persons will now be reporting as the first-ever director of empathy to David&Goliath founder and creative chairman David Angelo to “unlock empathy” for the agency, recruit underrepresented talent and foster an environment where they can grow within the shop.

“Empathy is an antidote to so much of what’s going on in the world right now,” said Persons.  

Big Mistake

“Trusting others more than myself,” Persons said. “Believing that everyone else had it figured out and were somehow better than me.”

Lesson Learned

“Love, authenticity and kindness are superpowers,” she said. “I used to think it was position, titles and labels. … Being our most authentic selves, in whatever unique capacity that we were created, that’s a superpower.”

How She Got the Gig

After developing a relationship with Angelo based around their work together in Sierra Leone, Persons pitched a workshop centered around empathy and inherent biases built around what she called “the revolution” during the 2020 summer of social unrest. Instead, she got a job offer to become the agency’s director of empathy, a title created just for her.

Pro Tip

Persons’ favorite quote is: “If you’re coming to help us, you’re wasting your time. But if you’re coming because you know your liberation is bound up in ours, let us work together.”

This story first appeared in the Oct. 5, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@RyanBarwick ryan.barwick@adweek.com Ryan is a brand reporter covering travel, mobility and sports marketing.
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