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Equity reaches the core of everything we do: Black-owned agency founder on relaunching amid advertisings lagging diversity stats

At the height of the 2020 social justice movement, minority-owned agencies reported seeing a spike in work and client interest as advertisers looked to create good on diversity promises. Although some agencies have grappled with the influx plus some took on one-off work with diversity projects, fully-remote agency AB is leaning in and leveraging its predominately Black staff to push for social impact.

The four-year-old independent agency, which recently changed its name from A/B Partners to AB and beefed up its capabilities within a relaunch, is Black-owned with 100% BIPOC senior management and 76% BIPOC staff. For reference, Black people represent just 24% of staff in the market overall, up from 22% this past year, based on the 4As Diversity Metrics report. The agency has always offered services in growth, experience, research, creative and strategy. Within the relaunch, AB added a complete media campaigns team to control channel strategy, earned media, paid media and media partnerships.

Digiday swept up with Andre Banks, founder and CEO at AB, to speak about the agencys relaunch and where in fact the advertising industry stands on diversity in 2022.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Why did you choose to relaunch your agency? What does it change?

After 2020, you saw plenty of folks discussing equity, diversity [and] making new commitments, but we arrived of the box in 2018 already telling that story. We were a diverse team from the interns to the executive class. Equity reaches the core of everything we do, how exactly we solve problems, projects we undertake and vendors we use.The relaunch has been in a position to show that that vision went from aspiration and idea to scale. As more and bigger organizations are considering these questions, AB is currently in a location where we are able to, with 50 [employees in the company], meet that require.

We didnt stop operations. We kept going, kept moving. For all of us, it was concerning the expansion of the services and clarifying the offering.This is us saying, this is really a united practice that may go from, theres an issue to resolve to were reaching thousands of people each day communicating this. Putting those pieces together, relaunching because the total package was what [was] behind putting ourselves back on the market.

Youre a shop owned by folks of color. Whats the significance of this?

We have been 79% folks of color over the firm. A lot more than 50% of individuals of color are Black. Our entire leadership team is folks of color. Seventy-five percent of the leadership team is Black. Those numbers have continued throughout at every level at the business. And thats been pretty consistent from day one.Weve all had the knowledge of employed in places where we havent had the opportunity showing up as our full selves. We havent had the opportunity to create powerful stories. You want to leverage that at AB. You want to go deeper into other peoples stories, and center our work in peoples stories, how they relate with identity, how they arrive on the planet.Consequently, the practice has really evolved to be centered on that. Thats where we start any issue solving.

Given advertisings history and slow adoption of authentic diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, what does the continuing future of DE&I appear to be for you at AB?

Were moving to a location where folks are going from needing support and help thats fundamentally about creating a practice thats about representationand elevating that right into a practice.Its not only that we are in need of more Black and brown people in the area. Its that people actually need to comprehend their experiences, their perspectives to get the fuel to resolve these problems in new and various ways.

Where does the newly launched AB agency match the DE&I conversation?

We dont think about ourselves as DE&I or doing DE&I work. What we often tell folks is, This is actually the issue that youre focusing on. Were likely to discover the most nuanced knowledge of people youre dealing with. Usually, you can find folks of color or a significant segment of this. Were likely to look at that community beyond the demographics, really make an effort to understand it.

So what can other agencies study from your approach?

Its doable. We didnt focus on lots of money. I didnt have any big startup funds. Weve had the opportunity to get this done because weve had a mission that aligns to the values of the diverse group of color.Weve got lots of Black people on we, many people of color. But honestly, Ive never caused a far more diverse team. Not only with regards to the truth that there are many Black and brown people, but everybodys so different.

Does diverse leadership impact how AB pitches clients? Will there be an edge to ABs diversity?

Definitely. Folks are considering the makeup of we. Theyre considering whos likely to be turning up in your client meeting. [Potential clients] are like, You want to ensure that people that show up are likely to look representative of the communities which were in, show and reflect the values which were bringing in to the project.

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