Why the DE&I efforts of one agency became the deciding factor in it winning new business

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There’s been a lot of talk, and quite a bit of activity, across the agency landscape when it comes to progress on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. While there’s legitimate debate about whether it’s enough, one recent example in North Carolina proves it is literally good for landing new winning business.  

Discover Durham, a regional tourism effort backed by the city and county of Durham, N.C., was looking to expand on a campaign that had run in the spring, while at the same time delving internally into ensuring its own staff reflected the diversity of the Durham community, said Jonathan Lee, creative director of Discovery Durham.

According to the latest census report, the Durham county community is about 37 percent African-American

In the responses Discover Durham received to its RFP, one local agency stood out among the others, said Lee. Walk West, a full-service agency in next-door Raleigh, had recently launched an offshoot called The Diversity Movement, which aims to educate and train clients on all matters around DEI, and caught the Discover Durham team’s eye and attention. 

“It fed into where we’re looking to head as an organization, and the ways we want to be working with partners who are more conscientious, more equipped, more understanding of both what’s going on in society with DEI,” said Lee, “but to also have that empathy and understanding of what’s happening in Durham.”

But Walk West also has strived to ensure its internal makeup reflects a diversity of not only race, but age, gender and experience. “Diversity attracts diversity,” said Abha Bowers, Walk West’s senior vp. “You have to live it and learn it. How do we live it? We start with our people. You have to look at age, educational status, social status — it goes beyond skillset. And when you combine all those things into one — it’s not common in a marketing agency — you provide innovative, unique work and prospects for your client.” 

The learning part fell under what The Diversity Movement had been doing with and for Walk West, whose chairman and former CEO Donald Thompson is also CEO of The Diversity Movement and an African-American entrepreneur. Bowers said employees are undergoing training and education with TDM, up and down the ranks of the agency. “It’s taking that moment in time to appreciate and respect what you have and what others may have,” said Bowers. “And it isn’t that much of a commitment but the value you get out of it is tenfold.”

The campaign launched last week, running through the fall, and its aim is to attract overnight and weekend visitors to the Durham area. Walk West is trying different elements, including putting the client into Pinterest, beyond the usual travel-related social and search platforms, said Mike Manganillo, vp of marketing who oversees the media and data work for Walk West. He said he’s also trying to play up the local foodie scene as well as unique landmarks including Durham’s minor league baseball club and field (modeled after the 1988 film Bull Durham). 

“It’s about being authentic, bold and diverse,” said Manganillo. “When we met with them it became clear that we were more of a marketing arm for them versus just a paying vendor that would not work with them again.”  

“Being able to work with an organization that both had a diverse founding story and also this ongoing tangible work they were doing in terms of having those trainings and partnerships, that was very attractive to us,” added Discover Durham’s Lee.

“It’s becoming more common to see agencies win business on the strength of their internal and external DE&I efforts,” said Simon Fenwick, executive vp of talent, equity and inclusion at the 4A’s, who noted that more RFPs commonly incorporate DEI needs. “[It] plays a role in determining an alignment of values between the potential client and the agency.

“In addition to Walk West’s win, for example, WPP/Mindshare was noted as retaining the Unilever business partially due to Mindshare’s new positioning of ‘Good Growth’ and its direct alignment of purpose with the marketer,” Fenwick added.


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