Marketing Must Lead In Building A More Human Workforce

Ashish (Ash) Prashar serves as the Global Chief Marketing Officer at R/GA. Overseeing worldwide marketing, Ash is responsible for the creative powerhouse’s strategy, brand, and corporate communications. 

R/GA, headquartered in New York City boasts 16 offices with thousands of employees across the globe, consults with household brands leaning into digital practices – including Nike, Sephora and Verizon.  Previous to his role as a Global CMO, Ash enjoyed a lengthy career in politics in the UK and US – however it was a year spent in prison in his youth that makes his point of view on social justice especially poignant. 

Ash Prashar: “It is not a secret that I’m formerly incarcerated. As a 17-year-old, being sentenced to a year in a brutal prison for some minor thefts was obviously not ideal. However, my life went in a different direction after my grandparents and other family intervened. They went to the U.K. Justice Department and fought for me to get books provided to me to pass my A-levels, which is similar to the SATs in the U.S. I owe them everything. Once I got out, I got a break to work at News Corp at the age of 19. It was an amazing experience. No one asked me about my past and I had a mentor in an editor. I am blessed to have had family members with means and had a prospective employer willing to give me that first chance.”

Second chance hiring 

Ash’s experiences have ignited his passion for prison reform and civil rights activism – two areas where he feels marketing leaders have a responsibility to contribute more as we move into 2022. As the U.S. labor shortage only continues to grow, creative agencies can lean into second chance hiring to combat this crisis; according to Ash, many formerly incarcerated individuals are not afforded the same opportunities he was, but could be: 

“Building a more human workforce means accepting individuals for who they are – their past, present, and potential future. I believe this is especially needed for formerly incarcerated individuals, where the economic toll of a conviction record can be especially devastating for Black and Brown people in my experience. I believe we must create an environment where more people can tell a story like mine. Former incarcerated individuals are not a separate population; they are members of our society. I know that it will take one small step at a time to help those currently in or leaving prison re-enter society with a clean slate. That being said, I feel like we could all do with a fresh start after COVID-19 – in the workplace and beyond.” observes Ash. 

Using this methodology, Ash has begun to affect real change in the hiring practices in his own company and he believes this approach can also help the wider marketing industry. 

Building a more human workforce

When hiring Ash, Sean Lyons, Global Chief Executive Officer of R/GA, empowered him with carte blanche to do R/GA’s marketing and campaigns his way: “Ultimately, our belief that people want to be talked to like people – and this is what sparked the concept of building a more human workforce.” 

For Ash and his team, this wasn’t just a tagline that came up because of the pandemic – it was a way to actively influence R/GA’s clients to implement policies built around people. 

“Our whole industry – and in particular major tech brands – often build their entire story around how amazing the founder is, their origin story, and how they disrupted the industry. What they typically don’t do is connect that story to their people or their customers. There’s often no brand loyalty due to the lack of personal connection between modern brands and consumers.”

As marketing leaders focus on helping their companies and team members recover from the pandemic, Ash is convinced the key for brands is to understand that things have changed – that the pandemic has accelerated a need to remember what makes us human:  “The reason customers are influenced by great leaders, politicians and people online is because it’s ‘real talk.’”

Ash reflects further on the success that businesses and brands who have acted in this way. “Think about what Ben and Jerry’s and Patagonia have done the last couple of years. They’ve dived into issues and made it personal – and they’re willing to lose some people for what they stand for. Brands need to be clear on how their offerings transform their customers’ lives and the why it matters. That’s how brands will succeed.” 

Elevating your own teams’ stories

Recognizing that marketing has a huge impact on culture and how consumers perceive things, Ash believes there is so much potential to harness the talents and people in marketing to help facilitate positive change – starting with their own team culture and expectations.  

“I’ve built our whole marketing operation around elevating the stories of people behind the scenes. We’ve created a whole new brand system that is fully ‘us’ and reflects the entire R/GA’s team diversity. I can’t wait to show that off to the world. The color, the energy, the people behind the work you see all the time. Telling these human stories.”

A direct ask to marketing leaders – use your resources to help

R/GA are also putting its own resources behind effecting social change and Ash wants to see more marketing leaders to do the same. For example, Ash and his team also led the development of Welcome.US in response to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Developed in collaboration with the White House and State Department, this online program empowers American citizens to support Afghan refugee’s resettlement efforts after they arrive in the U.S. Ash notes “We built a community to welcome all the refugees into the United States and help get paid work. Tens of thousands of people need a home and need a resource where they can go and get connected. It didn’t exist before so we built it as part of designing a more human future – actually trying to help people when it really mattered.”

In doing so R/GA became one of the first companies to do their part to welcome Afghan refugees and take a stand that aligns and reflects the company’s vision, values, and impact on society. “I’d encourage all other marketing leaders reading this to find ways for their brands to proactively look internally at their own brand culture and make the conversations with their customers a truer reflection of the world we find ourselves in.” Ash urges other marketing leaders. 

It is clear the marketing world can significantly help advocate for all kinds of social causes.  Adopting a ‘purpose-driven’ approach to marketing will hopefully mean – as Ash says – a more ‘human future’ for brands. Ultimately it will be brands that focus on building close, personal relationships with consumers and their products and services who will win in a post-pandemic world.

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