The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

If You Are Uncomfortable Talking About Race, It Means You Are Comfortable With Racism And Are A Shit Planner …

So last week, I was invited to talk at GroupThink’s planning conference.

I like the people there and said yes.

Originally I was going to take people through an old presentation because I didn’t really have much time to write something specific for you. They were OK with it and so wrote it into their program.

Then the situation with George Floyd happened.

Following so shortly on the heels of other racist motivated murders, like Ahmaud Arbery – who was murdered in cold blood by a father and son while out jogging.

At this point, quite frankly, the idea of doing a presentation on strategy seemed so utterly pointless.

So 2 days before the day of the event, I wrote something new.

Something that was about why Black Lives Matters is the only thing that really matters to me right now.

How the ad industry HAS to change.

How the ad industry may talk a lot about diversity and inclusivity but its actions are racist.

I’m not saying that is their intention or that they even realise it, but it’s racist.

And I’ve been complicit in that.

Again, not intentionally, but still done it.

Anyone who is white has … because we’ve let our privilidge create a gap between our actions and our self awareness.

Finally, I talked about 6 things people could do TODAY to make a positive difference to any person of colour … whether that’s through education, responsibility, judgement or action.

Now I must admit I was scared to write this presentation.

Not because I was worried it would make people feel uncomfortable, but because I’m a white male who has had every privilege going and the last thing I wanted to do was come across as if I was claiming to be an expert on this matter or whitesplaining anything.

Which is why I didn’t write the presentation.

I co-wrote it.

In addition to capturing some of the lessons I learned from the brilliant people of colour I’ve worked with and known over the years [which is a lot given how long I spent in China and Asia], the main bulk of the presentation was put together – after seeking their permission – with the irrepressible, wonderful and take-no-shit-from-anyone-especially-me … Maya Thompson, Breanna Jones and Chelsea Curry.

I’ve written and talked about them a lot.

They changed my life.


I genuinely believe I can never thank them enough, but one way I try is to take on the issues I should have taken on years ago but thought not being racist was enough.

It isn’t.

So here it is … it’s my usual picture rubbish, but hopefully the bits that are there will make sense to everyone.

The real presentation starts at page 28, the previous slides were linked to the talk I was going to give so I could lull people into a false sense of security so they would get comfortable before I talked openly, emotionally and plainly about an issue that should be the focus of every human right now, but isn’t for a whole host of unimportant or self-serving reasons.

Should anyone want to know more about the presentation, please get in touch.

But most importantly, please act.

Black. Lives. Matter.

Slides 1-5: Just introducing me and why I am happy to be invited to present.

Slides 6-10: How the standard of work being created is generally very poor and how we are all contributing to it in terms of the things we are talking about. Which isn’t the standard of the work and sounds more like us trying to be clients than people valuable to clients.

Slides 11-23: Insights matter because people matter and if you want to make work that is intriguing, interesting, provocative and fresh, you have to care about people, culture and subculture or you’ll get nowhere.

Slides 24-27: I talk about how I was going to talk about the wonderfully crazy project we’ve recently done in China and how understanding sub-culture made building something specifically designed to look like ‘future Mars’ was perfectly sensible but ….

Slide 28: I need to pause the topic of the talk because frankly, the events of the past week have really upset me – specifically the reaction of many agency leaders – and I want to talk about something that matters more to me.

Slides 29-31: Black Lives Matter. There’s many lives that matter, but right now – for me – Black Lives Matter is the only one that matters.

Slides 32-34: Lived around the World, eventually moved to America and then met 3 brilliant women who changed my life. Maya Thompson. Chelsea Curry. Breanna Jones.

Slides 34-39: This is how they fundamentally changed my life for the better by helping me see how blind, stupid and complicit I’d been and then [with some values my Mum taught me] the journey we went on – and still go on – together.

Slides 40-49: Announce this deck has actually all been co-written by Maya, Breanna and Chelsea. Three main reasons for this. I don’t have credibility, I don’t want to come across as whitesplaining and I want any advice I give to be genuinely valuable to people of colour, not a white persons interpretation of what is valuable.

Slide 50: How my industry is racist. Doesn’t want to be. But is. And I use a recent ‘challenge’ put out by Cannes as an example. For the record, they launched a competition on how to attract more diversity into the industry and gave a media budget of £100,000. That’s right they were committing an amount of money most agencies would spend for dinners during Cannes for a topic that they claim is hugely important to them. They don’t intend to be racist but they – like the whole industry – is acting in ways that are.

Slides 51-58: What we have to do to stop being a racist industry including letting go of everything we thought we knew and starting again.

[Please note slide 54: Lots of people say they’re ‘colour blind’. By which they mean they claim they treat everyone the same. The point of this slide is that while we should absolutely treat and value everyone the same, we should do this in a way that acknowledges individual backgrounds and beliefs. Not doing this can result in one of 3 things. [1] We treat everyone the same but based on our definition of what ‘same is’. Which is often white, which means we expect people of colour to adapt to us and our standards. [2] We generalise groups for our convenience, so we call [for example] everyone who is black, “black” … ignoring the vast range of backgrounds, beliefs and nuances they could have BECAUSE PEOPLE OF COLOUR DO NOT ALL COME FROM THE SAME PLACE!!! Or [3] because of being ‘colour blind’, you see everyone the same [which we don’t, let’s be clear on that] so you end up making the same work for everyone thinking it will be resonant with everyone. It isn’t. See how Rihanna highlighted this when she launched her Fenty cosmetics and simply added colours for African American skin, fucking up the big cosmetic companies who had ignored this for decades]

Slide 59-60: Highlighting when you start from scratch it can work, because my son Otis is living proof of it. He has lived in 3 countries and loves them all equally, while accepting and respecting their individual differences.

Slide 61: If you need a commercial reason for why Black Lives Matter [and if you do, you’re a prick] it’s because people of colour can make this industry great again because on top of all influential culture being born from black culture, people of colour understand nuance, values, struggles and humanity better than anyone as they have to deal with this shit every day.

Slide 62-63: Thank you to all the people of colour who helped co-write this presentation – especially Maya, Chelsea and Breanna – and justice for George Floyd.

38 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Nice one Rob. Love what you did and how you did it. Good presentation too. Guessing it was in keynote because I recognise a few gifs in there.
Did it go down well or were people shocked you were talking about it?

Comment by Bazza

Rob is a great presenter talking about an important subject to, I assume, planners. He would be just fine. Love how he made it about his relationship with Maya, Chelsea and Breanna rather than claim expertise on the issue. That is a level of presenting self awareness few have. See the democrats on Capitol Hill today as an example.

Comment by Pete

Yes. Symbolism is not as important as legislation change.

Comment by George

Exactly George.

Comment by DH

It was the most nervous I’ve ever been in a presentation.

I was highly stressed because I absolutely didn’t want to come across as claiming I was an expert or superior.

I also know I presented very quickly and emotionally … but I believe it went down well, but mainly because Maya, Chelsea and Bree [and all the people of colour who have guided me – and kicked my arse – along the way] co-authored it and I acknowledged my failings and journey.

I hope it helps. It was arguably the most important presentation I’ve ever given. I really feel that.

And yes, it was in keynote. It was a gif extravaganza … which is why some of the slides in the .pdf don’t quite capture the points I was making because the animation was chosen to contribute to the story rather than just be a design thing.

Comment by Rob

Nice one.

Comment by Bazza

This is brilliant Robert. Well done. I particularly love how you credit Maya, Breanna and Chelsea as co-authors. There are things in the presentation we can all learn from, the biggest being bringing this issue to the fore.

Comment by George

Of course, it’s their work.

Hell, I’m their work.

And I will work hard to always honour that and show that in all I do. They made that much of a difference to me and are that important to me.

Comment by Rob

Thank you Robert, Breanna, Maya and Chelsea for doing this. Did anyone else talk about BLM and why action is so important? I hope people took on what you were saying and appreciated you changing your presentation to reflect much more important issues.

Comment by Mary Bryant

To be honest Mary, I don’t know – I was only there really for my presentation as I was in meetings all day. I am sure others talked about it.

What really set this off for me was when the George Floyd situation happened. On twitter were all these white agency leaders talking about how upsetting the situation was for people of colour. And I just got angry.

Not because they were wrong, but the way they were talking sounded like they didn’t realise this shit happens to people of colour EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Nothing shows privilege like the ability to decide when this issue bothers you or not.

Comment by Rob

We are seeing an even more offensive reaction here. White people reacting negatively to BLM because the demonstrations are affecting their shopping routines and sleep. Disgusting.

Comment by Mary Bryant

What is tragic is a lot is coming from educated white people who are letting their white fragility reveal the people they really are, not the people they claim to be.

Comment by DH

I sincerely hope more leaders follow your lead Robert.
A brilliant presentation with great, practical advice.
Thank you to Breanna, Chelsea and Maya.

Comment by Lee Hill

Great to see you back Lee, even if temporary.

Comment by Pete

Hello Lee.

Comment by George

Hello Lee. Miss you. Hope you are surviving and hope we see you on here more often soon.

Comment by Rob


Comment by Jemma King

I know your time in America wasn’t what you hoped it would be. But it seemed it had a huge impact on you. You know more and speak more about institutionalised racism than people who have lived here all their life. I know you will credit Maya, Chelsea and Breanna, but you must have shown them something that encouraged them to not view you as a lost cause. I’m very happy you all met. Keep doing what you’re doing Rob.

Comment by Pete

Excellent point. What is your view Robert?

Comment by George

I did. Though to be fair, my disappointment with America was less about America than certain professional issues. But I came out of it a better human for it. I really feel that. All down to the people I met and the people who gave me time.

As for why Maya, Bree and Chelsea gave me time? Well you would have to ask them that. For me, I think part of it was because we worked together every day. Part of it was because I was British and so they didn’t expect me to know all the context of what was going on as I was new to it. But – and I hope this is the case – part of it is because they could tell I wanted to learn. To grow. To make things better for them through my actions and behaviours.

I know for a fact they were suspicious at the beginning. Because even though I was British and had worked in countries where I was a minority [but lets face it, being white in Asian countries is nothing like being a minority in other countries, there’s inherent privilege built-in] I was still a white. bald headed guy.

At first I was disappointed they were holding themselves back … I could literally feel it … then I realised that was my ego speaking.

Why should they believe me? They’ve had shit from people who look and act like me all their life. And once I worked that out, we started to connect and they took me on a journey that fundamentally changed my life and I will love them for that and who they are forever.

Comment by Rob

There’s more learnings in this comment than I’ve heard from most companies.

Comment by Pete

I want this comment as a tattoo

Comment by Justin Lines

I hope and expect that you’re going to be making this presentation in front of real-life audiences in the future.

Given that a lot of the discussion I see online ranges between “read these books” (books that people should have read years ago if they had any interest in culture) and a bizarre questioning of whether advertising and business should even be political, it is going to be needed.

Comment by John

I hope so. But I would rather do it with the co-authors than just me.

Comment by Rob

Fantastic post and presentation Rob. I’ve been a reader since your W&K days, but this is first time I’ve felt compelled to comment. You’ve spoken about empathy at length in previous posts and work, but I think this presentation really brings that empathy to life through the co-authoring of the presentation and how you’ve collectively articulated this. Credit to all of you.

Comment by Andrew Ryder

Thank you so much Andrew, this is lovely to hear, but – as I said – that’s because of the influence of Maya, Chelsea and Bree. Let’s hope I can manage a post on my own to get you to comment again before another 14 years pass.

Comment by Rob

alright campbell, this is fucking good. but then its not your fucking work is it. story of your life.

Comment by andy@cynic

True. Ha

Comment by Rob

its important a white person fucking kicks other white peoples asses for the shit they have to do. but what do people of colour think of it? i know your friends cowrote it but do they buy it or do they see it as more whitepersonsaving?

Comment by andy@cynic

not saying you are that before you fucking get your panties in a twist. its a fucking question campbell.

Comment by andy@cynic

Generally it has been well received. Or should I say, received in the spirit it was meant.

There is someone who has given me a mountain of abuse today – they didn’t hear the presentation, they’re going by the deck that they have strong opinions on and obviously the prejudice they deal with every day – but I’m still glad I did it.

The reality is it was just to open a real conversation about racism and the need to do things rather than talk around them, And that all this is on white people to deal with rather than add another burden to the shit we continually give people of colour.

Comment by Rob

well you dont give a fuck upsetting a few people if youre trying to do the right thing for the many so good on you campbell. and i dont say that very fucking often.

Comment by andy@cynic

Yeah … and there’s 2 things.

1. The person in question is someone who is disappointed about something I tried to help them with but it just didn’t come off.

2. Why should people trust me? I’m a white, old, bald man. The sort of person who has said a lot and then let people down left, right and centre.

The emphasis is on me to prove it, not on others to believe it.

Comment by Rob

I saw the comments. They are very angry and get very personal but not only is it obvious they don’t know you, their anger is aimed at you but not about you.

You did great, don’t let him put you off what you’re forcing people to take responsibility for.

Comment by Pete

If they are angry at you, they should be furious at everyone else in the industry.

Comment by DH

Pete showed me the comments. Not cool. Look after yourself big man, you did something important and you did it the right way.

Comment by George

Bravo Robert.

Comment by Katerina

Just seen you have stopped comments on your second great post dealing with racism in the workplace. I hope it is not because of what you experienced on Linkedin yesterday. There is obviously a lot of anger and hurt on his side which he has directed towards you. He wanted to fight and he looked for anything to justify his point of view, even though you were in violent agreement. You handed it very well and you are doing a very good thing. Keep it up Robert.

Comment by George

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