We’re Here For the Long Game: Hannah Smith, CULT

Cult
London, United Kingdom
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Hannah Smith
Senior Art Director Cult
 


Tell us about yourself. Who or what inspired you to get into advertising and marketing communications?

Hannah Smith, Senior Art Director at Cult LDN + NYC. When I was younger, I was obsessed with the ads in Vogue. Always so beautiful, opulent and conceptual, but I never understood how they were made or who made them until I did my Art Foundation at college. One of our modules was to advertise a made-up product where the TA on the course told me a little of what he knew about the industry. My dad then saw I had a talent for it and encouraged me to go to uni (the first in my family) to study creative advertising. 

 

What is your opinion on the current state of diversity in the industry? Have you seen a significant change since the start of your career?      

Better, but there’s such a long way to go. We need to work harder as creatives and as an industry to really check our influence and consider the multi-levels of diversity in our work and when thinking about the futures of our departments. Yes, of course, race & gender but also class, sexuality, geodiversity… all barriers to entry when it comes to diversifying the talent pool. I can only really talk bout the change I’ve experienced as a white woman and I do see more female voices being empowered. Looking back, a creative department full of white men felt normal to me because I’d been told throughout uni that that was just how it was and that it would be hard as a woman to succeed. Now, I think just because of the agency environment I’m in, I feel constantly empowered to succeed by the women around me, whereas before, I had some great bosses, but they were all men.  

 

Over the years, there’s been a rise of roles focused on Diversity & Inclusion, the introduction of quotas, and other possible solutions. What have you seen to be the most effective, and where have you seen these initiatives fall short?

I personally think that mentoring programs work the best, especially now that we are in a virtual environment. It means there are hardly any restrictions or barriers to entry. Having virtual mentoring programs is also a great way to find talent from outside the usual university flurry. Programs like D&AD New Blood Shift, BFS, and our program, Futures: Generation is really helping everyone, no matter who they are, breakthrough that London or NYC veil and gain exposure and a seat at the table. The ideal that you need to be in a major city to succeed in advertising is such a myth. Take our interns at the moment; one from Glasgow, the other who grew up in a small village just outside Derby. Pre-COVID, making meaningful connections in London was a real issue for many people not living on the commuter belt, meaning we may have never met these incredible talents. 

Internships that still “pay expenses” or nothing at all fall short. By not paying someone fairly, you immediately devalue their sense of worth but also limiting your internship reach to the same types of people already existing in our industry. 

 

Within your agency, what’s being done to increase/maintain the diversity of talent?

Last year we set up Futures:Generation, our first internal initiative to give back to up and coming talent during the lockdown. Now we are onto Cohort III globally, connecting incredible up and coming talent from across all disciplines with industry people - and have connected almost 250 mentees with mentors so far.  

We also have an incredible partnership with the Diversity Standards Collective and BAME Recruitment to make sure we are diversifying across our work, research, hiring and beyond. 

Our whole team has undertaken anti-bias training, and recently we undertook two significant workshops; one on raising awareness of neurodiversity, particularly pertinent to our creative team, and a Mental Health First Aid training course which the whole team was involved in.

 

Looking to the client-side, are there any brands you think should be commended for their efforts?     

What I’ve really enjoyed seeing is brands being accountable for their actions and taking responsibility for the change they need to be a part of creating. For example, Sally Hansen’s response to BLM saw them releasing content statistics via Instagram, as well as spotlighting Black talent and Black-owned nail brands across their channels.

The beauty industry has had a powerful push from the Pull Up For Change campaign driven by Uoma Beauty’s founder Sharon Chuter. She’s recently launched the Make It Black campaign tied to Black History Month aimed at shifting perceptions around what it means to be Black. 

Brands have realized how important and vital their behavior on and offline is to validating their commitments and responding to their consumers' calls for action. 

 

What do you think can be done at a grassroots level to open opportunities to create a more inclusive future in the advertising world?

Just taking the time to email people back, answer DMs on your LinkedIn, or whatever it might be. Just giving up 10 minutes a day or 30 mins a week really really can make a difference to someone not knowing what their path is next. 

 

Following one of the largest movements in history for racial justice, what was your agency's response? Have you launched or participated in any initiatives?  

The BLM movement prompted our agency to immediately talk about what was going on - not just through the lens of our work, but our internal culture, team makeup, and what could be done looking forward. Many of our team were involved in the marches and protests in London, NYC, and DC and our leadership openly spoke to us all, inviting our feedback and suggestions. 

We were all involved in writing our statement to the industry and signed up for several letters of intent. As a creative team, we worked together to re-concept our department's vision in the context of racial equality. However, we knew that action was needed alongside this - which is where Futures: Generation came in. It was directly connected to leveling the playing field for talent entering our industry and remains our commitment to improving diversity in the sector. 

Since this, we’ve continued with our anti-bias training, changing and improving our way of working on campaigns from casting through to hiring - which now takes place via diversifying.io We haven’t taken a performative approach which so much of our industry has suffered from, we’re here for the long game.