Stop monocultural workshopping. It’s time to Wokeshop.

“Why is everyone white, Dad?” my inquisitive then seven-year-old son asked some time last year when he walked into the agency where I used to work.

It dawned on me that I had grown a little too used to questions like this from him, and after leaving the office that day, I couldn’t get this one out of my head.

Having suffered the death of his mum - the daughter of Jamaican parents - when he was just two, I realised how easy it is for a motherless, mixed race child to feel like the odd one out. Once, he told me he didn’t want to visit my friend’s house because he would be the only kid there that wasn’t white; he (quite rightly) gets really cross when strangers touch his striking curly hair; he constantly interrogates the world around him to try to understand why the lives of black and white people in southeast London (where we live) appear to be so different.

With one simple question, I knew I had to something to try to make my son - and others like him - feel included.

I’ve worked in PR and marketing for two decades, and so I spent some time trying to remember all of the people I have met around the ‘integrated table’ as both a creative and strategy director over the years. I realised I couldn’t think of more than a couple of senior bodies I had met in either role - across all marketing disciplines - who could be defined as anything other than ‘white’.

This got me thinking about how the lack of cultural diversity in the marketing industry - and so through the planning and creative process - permeates almost everything we see: tone deaf products like ‘jerk rice’ coming to market, racial tensions defused by celebrities handing out fizzy drinks, kids wearing offensive clothes in fashion shoots.

As the former MD of a PR agency representing many well-known brands, I had been party to my teams picking up too many news crises created by culturally out-of-step ad campaigns, too. Massive, damaging blunders that could all be avoided by brands and marketers inviting the right people to join the planning process at the start.

What I have realised, though, is that little is ever achieved from complaining or eye-rolling from the sidelines. And that’s why a colleague and I have decided to partner up and take steps to do something about it. It’s time to help brands to stop sleepwalking into these cultural crises.

Asad Dhunna is the founder of The Unmistakables, a marketing and communications consultancy made up of minorities. We first met years ago, but have recently started collaborating on marketing initiatives that require real cultural sensitivity and input from the types of people they represent or affect.

We are now building on our current client work and taking this a step further by launching ‘Wokeshop’ - a service to help brands and senior marketers avoid the reputational damage of tone deaf brands and campaigns

Following successful initiatives created for existing clients, we are now offering ‘wokeshops’ to help other brands and marketers broaden their understanding of the societal and cultural context of the products and campaigns they want to bring to market. 

Through The Unmistakables, we are building a network of collaborators that truly represent the cultural diversity of the UK. Each session we run is tailored to the specific needs of the client, with collaborators from the network invited to contribute or contradict, accelerate or antagonise the process, quickly dragging clients out of their echo chambers.

Asad comments, “Running a consultancy made up of minorities has opened my eyes and ears to the opinions and views that were shut out of the agencies I was used to being in. It was a relief when talking to Ben that I wasn’t alone and I’m sure we’re not the only ones who’ve felt tired by the monocultural agency scene in London.

“The ‘wokeshops’ we have run so far have been incredibly fulfilling in terms of bringing together our personal and professional experiences, and delivering something of incredible value to our clients. I’m looking forward to working with more marketers who want to change the way things are done, actively avoiding sleepwalking into their next crisis.”

To find out more visit www.theunmistakables.com/wokeshop

By Ben Brooks-Dutton - Strategic Consultant, Writer and Campaigner

Asad Dhunna