08.23.2021

A Company Evolves

Diversity, equity and inclusion at COHN

Change doesn’t happen overnight; it usually occurs slowly—one small movement at a time—until, one day you wake up and everything is different. That’s how transformation usually happens, but the last few years have ushered in several moments of true metamorphosis in our industry, and our country. It’s been an era of reckoning, wake-up calls and flashes of clarity that have fundamentally changed how we operate as businesses, and human beings.

One area where we’ve experienced these fundamental changes is in diversity, inclusion and equity at COHN. It’s always been important to us to recruit and retain diverse talent, and throughout the years we’ve done a great job of maintaining a diverse team with diverse perspectives. We have not always been as racially diverse as we’d like, but our market has been a challenge. I spent most of my career in areas of our country that are much more racially diverse than Denver, where recruiting for a racially diverse workforce was just plain easier. The truth is, though, the last year woke me up to understand we could be doing a lot more—that COHN as a leader in the community could be doing a lot more.

Our entire team felt the same way, and last year we spent countless hours on Zoom talking through DEI, what it means to us, how it can help our clients and areas in which COHN might be able to make a tangible difference. This work led us to Nikki McCord of the McCord Consulting Group. Nikki is a process-driven superstar who helped us get out of our own way in developing a real strategy and action plan around diversity, equity and inclusion at COHN. Nikki’s process is proprietary, but in general terms, she took our small company through a four-month journey of training, reflection and honest conversations that helped us develop a clear vision for DEI at COHN. One outcome was an official diversity statement, which gives our team focus moving forward:

Our Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
At COHN, we cultivate open-mindedness in every interaction – with our people, our clients and our partners. Diversity fuels creativity, so we intentionally elevate varied voices to connect with all audiences. When we remain committed to fostering diverse and inclusive perspectives in everything we do, there’s no limit to what we can achieve together.

Every member of the COHN team contributed to this vision, and we take our commitment very seriously.

Next, we developed short-, intermediate- and long-term plans to put this diversity statement into action. We immediately audited our existing internal processes and creative brief templates to make sure anything we create has been scrutinized for bias and blind spots. This helps our output (work for clients) be as inclusive as possible and reflective of our diversity statement’s commitment to varied perspectives. We also examined our vendors and are discovering new partners and freelancers to help bring a more racially diverse perspective to our work. Again, this isn’t a full or adequate solution for our lack of racial diversity at COHN today, but it’s a start. We are also evaluating all of our hiring practices to ensure they are equitable, as well as nurturing a work environment that is respectful of a diverse workforce. To that end, we also now proactively post job opportunities in areas we didn’t even know existed to be more intentional with the net that we cast when hiring.

But what Nikki helped us with most is identifying a strategy to usher in more diverse and inclusive perspectives into the advertising industry as a whole, by starting with the youth. We’re still ironing out the details of what this program will look like—and potential partners here in Colorado—but our aim is to educate middle and high school aged youth about the creative industry and help mentor those who are interested in becoming marketers. There’s still a lot to be figured out, but I can tell you that there is real enthusiasm and energy behind this idea. We want to help bring more people of all backgrounds into the creative sector.

Obviously, addressing historical inequities can feel like an overwhelming subject, but these short-, intermediate- and long-term strategies have empowered the team and given us direction. We are firmly committed to the present and the future.

There’s also still a lot for us to learn. A partner of ours recently shared a video that talked about “The Dog Test.” In short, the narrator of the video states, “If your website has photos of dogs before its Black employees, that’s a problem.” After an initial reaction of defensiveness for our dog-friendly culture, we all agreed with the creator of the video. We’re grateful someone brought The Dog Test to our attention, and we want to do better.

As we progress as an agency, we will be sharing updates here on our blog, but we also respect that change usually doesn’t happen overnight. In time, however, we want our efforts to be transformative.

Jeff Cohn
Founder & CEO

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