Beyond the black tile: why our agency made an anti-racism pledge
A view from Brett Booth

Beyond the black tile: why our agency made an anti-racism pledge

Nerds' Brett Booth on changing the agency's name, structure and output.

Let’s not skirt around it. Many shared a black tile, many added a hashtag. Some shared links, some reposted social content. But the feeling is that many agencies and brands won’t really act on the issue of racism. This is not always because their commitment stops at a share. There is a surfacing sentiment that it’s difficult to know what to do and what to say. There’s a fear of getting it wrong, the fear of a backlash and the complexities of sign-off that come from large, archaic organisational structures.

So when Campaign asked how Nerds had approached the development and delivery of our own anti-racism pledge, we agreed to share a few thoughts on the "why" – why we removed "Urban" from our brand, why we pledged and some of the actions we have and will continue to take.

To drop or not to drop 'urban'?

The truth is, the debate around the use of "urban", particularly in music, is not new. Some argue that "urban" has a proud place and ownership among a majority black artist base – for example, specific "urban" categories in the Grammy Awards structure were successfully lobbied for by black music executives in the US.

But there's another side – the side more recently addressed by senior black figures in the UK music industry, who see it as a problematic term. It is felt that, in the context of the UK music industry, "urban" is a term that has and can be used to stereotype or discriminate against black creators. While we feel that the term "urban" did encapsulate the landscape Nerds started in, we think it is important to drop the use of "urban" from our brand to not feed the undue stereotyping of the sounds and cultural expressions we are rooted in and subscribe to. 

To pledge or not to pledge? 

From where we stand, a pledge serves two important purposes. First and most importantly, we should all be committed to anti-racism and we understand, particularly among our network, that a pledge sends an important message that you are not silent on the issue, that you support the anti-racism movement and that you are committed to actions that will combat racism in all aspects of your business.

Secondly, if you are in this industry, it is very likely that you are white, and we feel it is the responsibility of white people to encourage action among majority white-owned businesses.

Based on these factors alone, Nerds believed that, for us, a pledge was the right step into the next chapter of our efforts in this space. Of course, this is easier to implement for smaller-scale operations, but there is plenty of help at hand for those with intent, belief and the willingness to take action financially, structurally and societally. 

We split our pledge out across "now", "next", "soon" and "long term", because we know that only concrete, time-bound actions can support change.

Financial commitment

Nerds has committed to donating 5% of monthly profits to select organisations specifically working to create change in areas that directly affect the black community in the UK, because we feel strongly that the fight against racism requires funding and the support of commercial entities, in the very same way that other pro-social causes have been prioritised in the past.

Structural change

Financial gestures are a good start, but they are not enough. For this issue to be truly combated from within every organisation, we must see greater structural change. We’re talking about diversity at every strata of every organisation, not reinforcing the glass ceilings that are so visibly present in industry.

Nerds has committed to creating an opening for a non-executive director from the black community to directly address this need for diversity of thought, experience and perspective at the very top of our organisation.

Society and community 

Doing what you can internally is a must. We must all start inside and work outwards, otherwise our efforts and claims are hypocritical and insincere. But while we put our respective houses in order, working from top to bottom we should also consider the outside. This is why Nerds believes it is also important to make industry-wide commitments to offer help, share experiences and commit time where it can be used to cultivate necessary change.

Brett Booth is a partner at Nerds