Charlotte Williams founded her agency, SevenSix, after being tired of the lack of diversity she found within the influencer marketing sphere. Having worked in marketing for the likes of Boucleme, Beautystack and Label/Mix, and being a micro-influencer herself, her professional and personal experience makes her more than qualified to be spearheading this conversation. But for Charlotte, entrepreneurship was never her part of her career trajectory. "The thought of being a business owner still petrifies me to this day," said Charlotte from her living room, as she spoke over Zoom from her, and Carmen Bellot's respective homes. "I sometimes sit here and think ‘why am I doing this, it’s so much work’, but it came from the lack of diversity within the influencer space."

Having only launched last year, SevenSix has quickly built a reputation for being a marketing agency as well as a diversity consultant, with no inkling of that changing anytime soon. Read the interview below to learn more of Charlottes opinions of diversity and inclusivity, and what needs to be done for there to be real change.

How did you start your agency and what drove you to start it?
The agency started last year in February, and it’s funny, as I always said I never wanted to run my own business. The thought of being a business owner still petrifies me to this day. I sometimes sit here and think ‘why am I doing this, it’s so much work’, but it came from the lack of diversity within the influencer space. I've worked in influencer marketing for coming up to a decade now, both as an influencer and a marketer. And then when I'd go to events or be put on a campaign myself, and I'd be the one person of color in the room or the one black person, the one person that's representing the other. And I would ask, ‘how have you not found any more people?’. There's so many people that I could suggest from the top of my head, how have they not found those people? I would always ask the PR teams about how they found me and, in the best way I could, ask why there were no other black women or people of color in the room, and the answer was almost identical every time. They'd always say ‘I didn't have access’ or ‘we don't have access to those types of influencers’. The words that I was getting from them were access and those types. It was the idea that people of color who are influencers, are separate to white influencers, and they made that really clear. I didn't want to start a company, but I just kept getting the same comments. Then I had friends crying and calling me up about being upset with brands who had grabbed their Afros or just making them feel really uncomfortable at events. There was a summer in 2018 where everyone just kept saying how tired they were. I just thought, I'll try and do something that kind of sparks that change.

You were saying about how the terminology that PR and marketing agencies would use about not having access to those types of influencers. Do you think this is more of an issue where people aren't purposely looking in the right direction or it is that thing where people are so consumed by their own bubble? 
I think it's a few things, the first being the marketing and PR teams and agencies, the IPA released a report in January, which showed that in the Creative suite of an agency, less than 6% are people that identify as BAME. If we think about how many people there are in the Creative suite of an agency, that’s like three people! Then in the junior levels, we're looking at about 13% of people of color. Those numbers are really low considering the sizes of teams. These agencies aren't made of teams of 200/300 people, it’s 50 at most, so these numbers are realistically, one person. Most marketing teams that I've worked with, bar three companies, are white PR teams or agencies. If they don't have the experience of being around people who aren't like them, because that office looks exactly like them, then they're not going to look outside of that because that's their norm.

And then, we also have a problem with tokenism, in that there are a few black women and a few, trans women and a few lesbian; a handful of different types of women who are always on rotation. One brand uses them, then another brand will use them and they get loads of work, which is amazing for them. But as a black woman, when I look at campaign and I see one of the five black women who are considered the ‘chosen ones’, that are again being used for something, then it seems that the representation of our whole community comes from these women, just because the PR’s and agencies can’t be bothered to find anyone else. And that's an issue as well: they're just looking at whose within easy access and there's not a lot of creativity.

Some of it is also to do with our natural unconscious bias. That does come into it, but I feel like as marketers, we don't really have the luxury to have that bias because that's not the job. We need to make sure that we're doing the best job so that the client or the brand that we worked for gets the best results. I always think, if you're diversifying your campaigns you're diversifying your reach, which generally will make you more money because you're hitting different audiences. If you have different people with different attributes and different stories to tell, then you're likely to get different answers and different results. When I work with brands, I explain that we work with lots of different types of influencers, and we don't always look at numbers. We look at reach rather than their follow account because, for example, we have one influencer that we manage that has around 4,000 followers, but he gets 20,000 views on his videos. I have 30,000 followers, but only get two and half thousand views on my videos. We shouldn't be looking at the numbers, we need to look at the people that are following him and why. 

In terms of the brands that you work with for the agency and even, yourself as being an influencer, have you ever found that sometimes they can't quite see the same inclusive and diverse vision that you do? And how difficult it is to manage that?
We're quite lucky because by the time they get to us, they've done all of that. So they've come to us specifically because they want to work with black and brown content creators. They've already had their internal conversations, talking about the pluses and negatives of working with black and brown content creators and why it's needed. Then they come to us and then they're like, ‘we've discussed internally that we need to diversify our theme, can you help?’ We're quite lucky in that sense that we don't normally have to go through any of those awkward conversations. But there are still surprises. In the beauty industry, black women spend 60% more on cosmetics and beauty, when compared to their white counterparts. And then haircare is something like 80%. These are stats that we hear all the time, but I've said these before to beauty brands and they've never heard them.

And when we talk about things like foundation shades, and they're really excited about their 12 new shades that they've got, and I always laugh cause I just think, we would never work with you. And they're like, what? We won't work with anyone who has less than 30, but we'll work with you on your other products. But we would never promote the 12 shade foundation because there's more than 12 shades. Even with white people, there's more than 12 shades. So with darker skintones, who are you going to hit?

My dad raised me to be polite, but I talk very frankly about diversity. I don't think it should be something that we have to pussy foot around. We shouldn't be whispering terms and we should be confident in the words that we use. I find language really important and how we say things really important. And there's lots of terms that we don't use as a company because I don't agree with them. It's quite interesting though, the conversations that we do have. There's some that I never thought I would have, looking back to before I did diversity focused stuff. It's like, Oh wow. This is my job.

With foundation shades, I think it's a really good example of brands jumping on the diversity and inclusion topic, where they try to promote themselves as better than they actually are rather than doing the work to be better. In terms of the word, trend, I think in loads of different categories, if you talk about sustainability, inclusivity, diversity, it can be seen as quite a negative term. Obviously, jumping on a trend because of its relevance rather than the cause isn’t positive, but if it opens up your viewpoint, if it's the start of you changing your opinions on something, then that's a positive thing from a negative action. How do you feel about the topic?
I totally agree with you on that. I think I always talk about tick boxing, saying how sometimes you have to do it to get to where you need to be. My positive side would be, that everything we're talking about now, everything that’s on social media, all of this education that's been thrown at us by so many different channels over the last six or so months, has been amazing and I know so many other people who are Diversity and Inclusion consultants who are going into companies and are training them up, helping shift mindsets, and then giving them the tools so they can do better in the future. And we always say at the beginning that it’s awkward, having to do that breakdown is actually a bit inconvenient and adds extra time. But as time goes on, it becomes second nature. And then that's just your job, you know how to do it and it becomes innate in you and it will result in your campaigns or your creative projects being inclusive because you've naturally just added in those steps. And then when you move companies, you'll probably take that into a new job and then train your new team to do that, and it just becomes the norm and that's what we hope for. 

But then on the other side of that, unfortunately I do see this as a trend. If we look at the stats, like the company's website, if we look at how many people hit our website in June, and because we were the only diversity focused influencer agency out there, and if we look at Google trends and who was looking for black content creators in June, and compare that to now, the numbers have completely plateaued and they're back to normal. And that's fine if we think that everyone got what they needed in June and July and are now doing the work, but we know that they're not. So unfortunately, that was a trend. And I think it's going to take another spike for something to make it go back up. It’s something that I do worry about as a company: when we first launched, we didn't get that much bite for the diversity side. We kind of stopped shouting about the diversity side, just because we became such a normal marketing agency. And then during lockdown, after the BLM resurgence, people had an interest. And now we're just inundated with work around diversifying people's feeds and strategy. In terms of the amount of people that are coming to us, it is a trend and it is going to stop. It's going to take people who have an active interest in making change to just make sure it continues. It's an uncomfortable truth, but I am very aware that it is there.

Do you think that will be a way of stopping it from ever being a trend, that's obviously the goal, but how long do you think that will be?
I worked quite closely with the Advertising Association, a charity called Media Smart and also within Instagram and Facebook, and we talk about this all the time. If we take it into industry by industry, it's to do with rules and regulations. I know that there was a letter in the advertising industry that was sent around that you need to have signs to ensure that you were as diverse as possible and you followed this certain bunch of guidelines. I think it's going to take that and it's going to take lots of regulators to come in to set rules, set guidelines and steer people in the right direction. Like what I was saying about adding objectives and KPIs and percentages, I think everyone needs that. And I would love to ask what diversity looks like in all senses of the word within advertising agencies, but I would love to know more than that. How many people this year have had diversity and inclusion training? How many people have had someone come in to talk about how to create an inclusive marketing strategy? The ways that they can improve their company, internally and externally, and all these different things. I'd love to know how many people actually did take action, because there are lots of individuals within companies that are doing really great things, but as a whole, what are companies actually doing?

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