Prison is hardly thought of as a breeding ground for advertising and marketing creativity, yet viewers of June 11 webinar presented by Westfair Communications learned the story of just such a phenomenon.
Moderator Kris Ruby of the Ruby Media Group based in White Plains interviewed two guests who provided insights about how creativity can be unleashed when people are given opportunities and encouragement.
Vincent Bragg, a co-founder and CEO of ConCreates, told how the creative agency founded by ex-convicts works directly with clients or as an extension of an existing ad agency to develop ideas for reaching otherwise overlooked audiences.
Bragg came up with the idea for ConCreates while he was incarcerated for drug dealing. He started thinking about how he could help eliminate the stigma and change the narrative associated with how society views people with criminal histories and how they view themselves. The organization is located in Palmdale, California.
Also appearing was Marcus Glover, a Westchester native whose career includes 15 years in the advertising business as an executive and creative director for several agencies. He also is the founding partner of the private equity firm M. Glover Capital and board chair of Defy Ventures. Glover seeks to bring about change through social-impact investment and criminal justice reform. M. Glover Capital is a bond-backed private equity firm providing strategic growth capital to middle-market enterprises, as well as investments in high-growth real estate projects.
Ruby set the stage by pointing out that some advertisers attempt to make impressions as activists for various causes designed to benefit society but then fail to follow through with meaningful action after they’ve taken public positions on social media or elsewhere.
“The interesting thing, especially coming from incarceration, is to really kind of look at brands who have this kind of built-in to the fabric of their company,” Bragg said. “You have these brands actually making these claims, so, ‘Hey, we stand with the black community.’ I feel as if it’s impossible to really stand with the black community when we’re actually incarcerated at five times the rate of any other race.”
Bragg said that most companies do not have a plan of action to actually do something about the claims they make of being socially aware and active.
Bragg did credit ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s with standing for criminal reform. “It’s a part of the fabric of their company,” he said.
Glover said that many people are, for the first time, discovering what it means to be anti-racist and what the term “white privilege” means.
“Although we know black people are 13% of the population, we are 30% of the incarcerated and more. The majority of people behind bars are not violent felons,” Glover said. “It burns my soul that we uphold such liberal values and believe in an unbiased society yet there’s this little poison at the bottom of job applications and PPP loan applications called the black box which is, ‘Do you have a prior felony.’ And, if you check ‘yes,’ then your application is immediately thrown out.”
“These are words that are thrown around and many people are hearing these things for the first time,” Glover said. “We all grew up walking the same streets and yet we can have such different experiences. Part of this whole period that we’re in is really learning what it means to be in someone else’s shoes.”
Glover said that the most effective brands are those that know how to speak to peoples’ uniqueness. “Brands are really not by-in-large doing a really great job of understanding these issues of systemic racism, over-policing in communities of color and the effects of privilege on communities of color,” he said.
Glover praised Jack Dorsey, the CEO of both Twitter and mobile payments company Square, pointing out that he is making changes in his organization such as treating Juneteenth, June 19, as it if is a national holiday. Juneteenth is marked by African Americans as the day plantation slavery ended. Glover also said that he hears that makeup and beauty brands are overlooking their black and brown customers and still are not “getting it” even in this moment of adversity and crisis.
Bragg said that there are about 3,200 brands that benefit from prison labor. He said the prisoners typically are paid 17 cents per hour. He said there’s an inherent conflict if a business says it supports the black community while at the same time profiting through the use of prison laborers, most of whom are black.
“Here in California, these individuals fight fires,” Bragg said. “Those are incarcerated people fighting those fires and then when they get out of prison they can’t even be firemen.”
Glover said that some of the masks now being worn by people seeking to protect against COVID-19 have been made by prison labor. “If you’ve ever set foot in a state office building, if you’ve ever gone to a DMV, seen the countertops, the desks, the chairs, the cabinets, it’s all prison labor. That is all made by the hands of incarcerated people. That’s not IKEA furniture.”
Bragg said that it’s the belief of ConCreates that creativity without opportunity leads to criminality. The organization seeks to channel into lawful activities the kind of creativity that a bank robber or drug dealer uses to create their schemes. When ConCreates has a client looking for a marketing plan, for example, it will send a brief to the people in its network who, in turn, submit their ideas for consideration.
Bragg said that after a concept is accepted, ConCreates wants to be in a position to help with the execution.
“I can’t just give you an idea and tell you go out and run with it and not expect you to get in trouble,” Bragg said. “I need to be the person that is overseeing and actually seeing that the brand is executing and delivering on their promise.”
“We know that in America, 95% of people will release out of jail. They don’t serve until their last breath,” Glover said. “So, 95% of the 2.5 million people behind bars will release out. Yet, 70% of them are likely to go back for one of two reasons — either lack of stable housing or lack of a job. One of the things that we’re asking for is open hiring practices, bringing into the economy people who have served their debt to society. Give them a second chance and in some cases the first legitimate chance they’ve ever had.”
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