Bennett D. Bennett: Meet the NYC Writer Questioning What It Means to Drive Change

In this interview, Writer Bennett D. Bennett, who’s worked agency-side and as a journalist, tells us what he really thinks about the term change-maker - why the creative industries needs to tackle its diversity problem, and what we need to do, collectively, to make a difference in the world.

Though his professional background spans journalism, copywriting, voice-over acting, fiction writing, as well as naming academic institutions (more on that later), when asked to describe his career, Bennett Bennett’s response: a tightrope walker.

You may think this is an allusion to the media or creative industry being an absolute circus, but as it turns out, his choice of words is much more cerebral than that. Literally—the tightrope he speaks of is his mind.  

A native New Yorker, Bennett is equally interested—and educated—in science as he is in language. “There’s always been this right brain versus left brain; this logic versus pure emotion,” he explains.

“There’s that line in between and I’ve always felt like I’m working with that line, trying to bring a balance.”

This kind of critical thinking is, well, critical especially given our social and political climate. And it’s this alchemy of analytics and awareness that makes him a genuine voice in the creative industry and the kind of change-maker who will actually do just that—make change happen.

“I think about the term change-maker a lot,” Bennett says. “Partly because I was working in advertising as a person of color, so I got myself embedded in all these different initiatives filled with people who want to change the industry: add more women, add more people of color. Being immersed in these organizations helped me realize that change-making is important—but not everybody’s good at it, because not everybody knows how to create tangible change.”

While it’s true that Bennett joined BBDO through the agency’s D&I program called the Creative Residency, in many ways it didn’t nurture his career and actual interests, even if it had the best intentions at heart. He explains:

“There are a lot of people putting a lot of energy into diversity & inclusion, but there’s so much more friction and resistance that’s holding it back. And the leaders of industry are maybe just getting on it right now and realizing we probably need to—physics brain comes out—lubricate everything that’s friction by providing opportunities to relieve that friction.
Not just keep the door wide open for entry level talent, but make sure that it doesn’t turn into a bottleneck once they come in, because that’s our problem right now. It’s not finding the talent. People are continuing to say, ‘we can’t find talent,’ but the add-on now is, ‘we can’t find talent that wants to stay.’ Give them reasons to stay.”

The formula for this is straightforward. Employers need to invest time and resources into creating policies and cultivating workplace cultures that allow all employees opportunities to thrive and succeed—regardless of their culture, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, lifestyle, or disability. The seats at the table—whether the table is at an agency, a newsroom, Hollywood, or in the halls of Congress—need to be representative of the diversity of perspectives and experiences of which our world is comprised. And those seats need to be filled with compassionate change-makers.

As Bennett observes, “Change-making has to come from a solution standpoint, more than a just-talking-about-the-problem standpoint. It’s like Teddy Roosevelt’s phrase, ‘speak softly and carry a big stick.’ It’s being able to be in those conversations, listening to what’s going on, also bringing your questions and your own thoughts, but following that up with action.”

Speaking of action, Bennett’s been quite busy since stepping down from his editorial position with The Drum in early November. He recently moderated a panel at the 3% Conference in Chicago titled, “GrADitude: How Kindness is Power.”

Photo courtesy of 3% Conference

In fact, he’s always been busy trying to move the needle in the industry: an alumnus of the 4A’s MAIP(Multicultural Advertising Intern Program); previous member of the Adcolor Advisory Board; and of course, beating out various creative directors to name New York City’s first early college high school devoted to advertising, MECA (Manhattan Early College School for Advertising).

As for what’s next:

“The goal while I’m in this industry is to build my own agency. Brands are in more of a position than ever to inspire change, but they don’t know how.” Sounds like he’s ready to light the way.

Written by Hannah Munger, The Humblebrag’s NYC-based bragger.

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