Linkit.Black champions the power of the collective to shine a spotlight on Black talent

A new tool from a team of creatives demonstrates the power of using a platform for good to ensure that everyone is given a fair chance to be hired into the creative industries.

Izzy Ashton

Deputy Editor, BITE Creativebrief


Perhaps one of the most profound and positive shifts in behaviour that we’ve seen over the course of the coronavirus crisis is towards increased collaboration. There has seemingly been a realisation, even in the highly competitive creative industries, that one person’s or businesses’ success does not automatically equate to the failure of others. Collectively the industry can work to lift one another up, to build better, stronger businesses and, perhaps more vitally, to ensure that everyone is given a fair chance to be hired into the creative industries.

Linkit.Black aims to do just that by demonstrating the power of using a platform for good. It is a tool that people can use to celebrate and draw attention to creatives who would perhaps not otherwise be seen. It champions the power of a collective, of the creative community supporting one another.

It comes from a group of four creative friends: Mo Osunbor, Creative/Art Director at Facebook, Alex Reinoso, Associate Creative Director at Spotify, Nick Elliott, Creative Director at Havas and Vaibhav Bhanot, Experience Design (Innovation) at Wunderman Thompson. We speak across different time zones as each of us sits in a different city, in different countries to talk about why, as Osunbor says, “now is the time to actually do something.”

It’s the difference between an awareness campaign, for something everybody is already painful aware of, or launching something that has that extra bit of action baked into it.

Nick Elliott

Taking action

Reinoso reveals that each of them has dabbled in social good projects over the years but that Linkit.Black was born out of multiple conversations the group had been having over the years about their differing experiences in the advertising world. “Basically, it was just four friends talking about race and our personal experiences,” he explains.

Fundamentally, all four of them decided it needed to be a project with action at its heart. A lot of the time with projects, says Reinoso, “you just display the problem.” Or, as Osunbor says, in this industry, “you see the beautiful case studies…but no one is doing anything.”

Elliott elaborates that with Linkit.Black, “It’s the difference between an awareness campaign, for something everybody is already painful aware of, or launching something that has that extra bit of action baked into it.”

Linkit.Black invites people to use their own personal LinkedIn platforms and other portfolio spaces to highlight Black talent who may otherwise not get seen. It invites people to act to help shift the representation within the creative industries. It is, says Osunbor, “a tool for allies.”

Reinoso says that the group felt they needed to hold their peers, bosses and themselves accountable for the issue of representation. But holding them accountable is just one thing, he adds, “We had to take action within our own hands. And I think that’s just the climate in general.” Individuals operating as part of a collective by choosing to make a difference themselves, it is this that is the crux of Linkit.Black.

Bhanot adds that not having a brand attached to the project meant that, instead of the idea sitting “in pitch decks forever,” “this was a great way for us to have that conversation and start mobilising things without having those barriers.”

Levelling the playing field

“We’re getting tired of seeing the same type of people getting hired,” says Reinoso, as the conversation shifts to just how difficult it is to break into the creative industries. If you have certain advantages, explains Elliott, you can break in. And then, he adds, “When you’re in, you’re in. And then opportunity starts to flow. You’re away because you’re in. But if you’re not in and you didn’t have $30,000 to throw at an ad school then you’re not necessarily getting the same visibility and opportunity that the rest of us are.”

The first step for the four friends was acknowledging their privilege and, says Elliott, look at how “we could redirect that.” Osunbor laughs about the moment he had to convince his Nigerian parents, desperate for him to become a doctor, to co-sign on a loan that would send him to advertising school. “That level of entry I feel needs to be taken down because there’s probably a lot of people that can do it even better than we can, and [they’re] stopped before [they] even start,” he adds.

“We see the same people shifting over and over,” says Reinoso. Instead, the industry should be “levelling the playing field and making sure everybody can join.” He points to the importance, particularly at the moment as we exist as companies almost solely online, to check in with new joiners and junior staff. To have a virtual beer and recapture that freedom of conversation made so easy by being in the same room as one another.

That now needs to be almost manufactured now in a virtual setting to help people, particularly young talent, feel connected. “Within the industry right now, there’s a lot of young talent that needs to be nurtured,” he adds. And it’s beholden on each of us, he adds, “to take the time individually to help others.”

Advertising as a whole needs a totally new perspective and that’s what we are trying to say.

Vaibhav Bhanot

The right time for these conversations

“It took another killing and all of a sudden everyone is finally talking about diversity in advertising,” says Elliott. “It is the right conversation to be having. It’s a shame that it took us so long,” he adds. He feels that this time is different, and that people should take advantage of that shift. “People are looking everyday right now for ways to connect with young talent. If you knock on somebody’s door, there’s a pretty good chance they might open it,” he explains.

Bhanot adds, “Advertising as a whole needs a totally new perspective and that’s what we are trying to say.” All four agree that up to this point, advertising hasn’t been representative of the communities that brands are attempting to sell too.

Elliott explains: “Having agencies that are actually inclusive and actually elevating diverse voices and black voices is going to make our work authentic. It hasn’t been authentic. We haven’t done a good job of representing what’s really going on in communities. We’re probably guilty of ticking boxes as opposed to actually talking to the people who would know the answers.”

Less me more we

“What we are trying to do is just reconnect people in a way that has never been done before,” says Bhanot. He points to the idea of “ethical networking; if you’re networking for the right reasons.” That’s where he believes Linkit.Black sits, “redirecting to the right people and redirecting to the right talent” so we can ensure that diverse culture is on the table when creative conversations are happening.

Osunbor says the most incredible thing about the launch of Linkit.Black was how many people from across the industry sent messages thanking the team for developing this kind of tool. Over and over again people kept saying that they hadn’t even realised these lists of underrepresented talent events existed. “Sometimes they just don’t know where to look,” Osunbor adds. And that’s why Linkit.Black is so vital to simply point people in the right direction.

Elliott adds that of course first off people should ensure they themselves have a job, “but that’s not the only thing these platforms are for,” he says. “What if we lift each other up a little bit? Less me more we.”

Reinoso believes that the industry is at a critical point when it comes to thinking about restructuring its set up. “This is an exciting time to do something different. To not just wear one hat; wear many hats,” he says, something he points out the younger generations are pretty good at. “They don’t see themselves or identify themselves as one role. That’s a beautiful thing,” he adds.

As a creative in general, stop waiting for things to come to you. Just go do them.

Alex Reinoso

Keep the momentum

What the four friends recognise is vital to progression is to keep the conversation about representation and diverse hiring going. To ensure that it’s not simply, as Elliott says, done “for the Cannes case study.” It’s not about creating a forgettable campaign. He explains: “We tend to make work that’s a bit flash in the pan, a bit disposable. It’s kind of the nature of the business. But when you’re talking about an issue this important, you have to keep at it every morning.”

“With this project, we don’t see it as an end sight,” says Reinoso. They’re not interested in working for an award or hitting specific targets, something that he acknowledges people within the creative industries are set up to do, to continually strive for the next step. But with Linkit.Black, he believes, “it becomes more here’s a way we can all take action ourselves.”

“We don’t want to be the gatekeepers,” adds Bhanot. “You take this idea and make it your own,” he adds because fundamentally it comes down to an individual when decisions are made about hiring diverse people and creating vital policies. With each individual taking the tool and using it, says Bhanot, the idea still remains the same: “we want more diverse perspectives.”

Things are a little lawless

“Take the idea and make it your own. That sentence has make in it,” explains Osunbor. “We’re past a stage where we’ve seen everyone talk about it. We’ve seen the black square…so now it’s time for action.”

Reinoso offers his advice to talent looking to be hired or feeling constrained by the current crisis: “As a creative in general, stop waiting for things to come to you. Just go do them. Within that it’s pretty freeing. There’s no brief, no brand. Break those chains and those structures to get something done.”

Elliott says that, “COVID has been creatively stifling. But it actually is a good time for side projects. Because everybody’s shut in and looking for different ways to express themselves.” Reinoso points out that creatives shouldn’t see money as a barrier to a great idea. Find what’s accessible and go from there. Osunbor laughs as he adds that, “Alex [Reinoso] has done some of his best work under $50.”

Each of them believes in the power of simply giving yourself a brief and running with it, of having conversations with those around you too, because, as Bhanot says, “an idea you might have can lead to a place which you might not be able to see,” without talking to others about it.

Reinoso says that he feels, “things are a little lawless,” right now in the industry. Not that he’s trying to promote lawlessness, he adds but rather explore the opportunities this presents. Osunbor adds that “there’s creativity in constraint.” As COVID restrictions look set to be in place for months, if not years to come and people set about navigating an ever-changing world, Osunbor wants people to ask themselves, “what can we do now with these limitations?” 

Because it is when you stretch the limits of your creativity that you can bring about real change. This is the only way the creative industries will improve their representation and their hiring systems, if each and every person within it uses their own platforms to lift up those around them and to give space to those who have, for so long, been shut out.

Visit Linkit.Black’s website to find out more.