How Allison Wolf Reroutes Ad Dollars to Fund Social Change

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When Allison Wolf entered the workforce, promoting altruism in advertising felt more like an oxymoron than a feasible career arc. But after shadowing colleagues who used marketing spend on inclusive media, she realized brands can covertly contribute to social change when they promote their products in the right places. 

Not long after joining WPP’s Mindshare in 2019 as a planning associate, the idea of using media buying to drive “actual, tangible benefits to society at large” began to sink in for Wolf.

“When you think of advertising being used for good, it’s often applied to advertising creative,” said Wolf, who is now the manager of Invention+, a wing that focuses on the cultural impact of media plans. “I now realize that there are so many more ways to think about the whole ecosystem.”  

Wolf has found creative ways to tie brand budgets to urgent causes. This year, she led the launch of Mindshare’s Women’s Private Marketplace (PMP), which directs advertising dollars to women-owned and women-centered publishers including SHE Media and The Washington Post’s Gender and Identity section.

She also recently launched Mindshare’s Intentional Media Library, a comprehensive list of partners that represent historically marginalized groups.

“A few months out of college and a few months into Mindshare, I really came into my own when I got involved with our employee resource group around diversity and inclusion,” said Wolf, emphasizing the impact of this decision on her career trajectory. “I’ve been able to dig into that and find what I think are clever and creative ways of using media that go beyond day-to-day client objectives.” 

Professional fulfillment also comes from volunteering for projects that fall outside her job description and leaning on mentors with a shared motivation to diversify mainstream media diets. 

Making a case for emerging media 

Since joining Mindshare, Wolf has identified initiatives that motivate her, studied the work of her colleagues and introduced her own iterations. After finding inspiration in the LGBTQ+ and Black PMPs, Wolf supported the launch of Mindshare’s Hispanic and Latine PMP. The collaboration with Espolòn Tequila is meant to facilitate ad revenue for publishers that bolster the voices of journalists within these communities.

Wolf said Mindshare’s PMPs and Intentional Media Library work in tandem to diversify partnerships throughout the media-buying process. 

Mindshare splits partners into two tiers: media platforms that have founders within a community or are primarily focused on covering it, and mainstream outlets that are still doing “substantial work” for the community. Tier one includes women-owned fashion magazine MEFeater and Blavity, a media company focused on uplifting Black women. 

“So much of society, and thus digital publications, view men as the default standard,” said Wolf. “We wanted to support stories that put women at the front of the narrative, whether that be in lifestyle content or news, to uplift publications that speak directly to women as multifaceted individuals.”

The Mindshare Intentional Media Library offers clients equitable options “no matter what the brief may look like.”

In a business landscape with scrutinized marketing budgets, Wolf is focused on shifting the conversation around inclusive media buying so brands no longer consider this strategy “an act of charity.”

“These investments are not just existing in the void,” she said, emphasizing that purpose-driven strategies do not come with a catch. “It’s about utilizing partners that have maybe gone under the radar and just a different way of thinking about our media-planning dollars.”

Mirroring like-minded colleagues  

Wolf is also working with other WPP employees on a pro bono brand marketing strategy and social framework for Hiki, a friendship and dating app for the autistic community.

Wolf, who has benefited from connecting with employees outside of her immediate team, said that volunteering for external initiatives has facilitated her professional development by solidifying areas of interest that go beyond the “traditional planning position” she originally held at Mindshare. 

“Meeting people at Mindshare who were outside of my day-to-day team was a huge game-changer for me,” she said. “Being willing to raise your hand for ad hoc projects are the moments that present you with a niche community and potential mentors to learn from.”

This story is part of Adweek’s Beyond the Transaction special feature, which spotlights the people and strategies driving business growth and brand awareness.

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This story first appeared in the August 2023 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.