Act with Urgency: Denise Roberson, Chief Purpose Officer, TBWA\Chiat\Day LA

The most powerful type of purpose is when personal purpose and corporate purpose are combined.


Denise Roberson
Chief Purpose Officer TBWA\Chiat\Day LA
TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles
Full Service
Los Angeles, United States
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What’s your agency ethos and what impact does it have on creative output?  

On the front of the building of TBWA\Chiat\Day LA, in giant lettering, it reads… “Be more human (and if in doubt) be more dog.”  I think this ethos could be heard at one point echoing throughout the giant physical space, and now, it lives metaphorically in the minds of every employee.  We are the gatekeepers of this mentality to lead with kindness and always put people first.  It impacts all disciplines at CDLA, but the creative output is where it lives and breathes.  This is the physical manifestation of the words we all live by. 


How can brands engage different causes authentically without coming off as an opportunist?

It is very possible for brands to engage authentically in different causes, but it must be done with authenticity, accountability, and action.  It is of critical importance to understand your own organization’s values, and once you’re able to articulate and live them consistently, you can leverage that to various causes.  However, that also means that in some instances, no matter how compelled you feel to speak out, if it doesn’t align with your corporate values, it’s best to say nothing at all.  You don’t want to add noise to a cluttered market, you should aspire to add value.


How do you advise your clients to address social and racial justice issues?

Social and racial justice issues need to be addressed with much care.  Regardless of background, I always suggest that the first step be to honestly listen.  Try to remove any of your preconceived filters or notions, and truly listen.  When you’re ready, if it’s in alignment with your values, apply the 80/20 rule.  It’s 20% what you say, but 80% of what you actually DO!  If you’re going to speak about a social or racial justice issue, you must be prepared to act with urgency.


Are there any specific causes you hold near and dear? What have you been able to do fight for them?

Climate justice is very near and dear to my heart.  It encompasses so many elements, from the SDGs to the people so profoundly affected by natural disasters who many times did absolutely nothing to cause them, to the myriad of ways humans are damaging our planet beyond repair.  I’m currently one of the founding members of a global initiative to try and solve for these issues - Music4ClimateJustice.  It’s an international group of people from a large cross-section of industries that all come together under the ideals of radical collaboration and transparency, and the power of one person times a billion.  We’re all in the perfect storm, with COVID-19 unleashing a global pandemic that is destroying lives and markets, social unrest the likes of which we’ve never seen, and now our planet is literally on fire.  We need to act with urgency and we need to do so now. 


What do you say to critics that believe brand purpose is just another trend?

For the critics that believe that brand purpose is just another trend, I always say look to the research, data, and literature.  The trend line around purpose has been growing for more than ten years now.  It has been rigorously researched in academic milieu from some of the best institutions in the world, by all of the Big Four consulting firms, and major news publications. We can also see this emerging in the major financial markets in the form of ESG, which yields the fastest-growing funds, and the top performance.  Finally, we can track the performance of purpose-led companies and they are significantly outperforming their competitors.  That’s a lot of qualitative and quantitative data to ignore.  


Is there any advice you have for creatives in the industry or even within your agency, who are passionate about an issue but aren’t sure what they can do to help?

I think as people in the creative industry, we have an obligation to be custodians of culture and to care for it and progress it with care. The most powerful type of purpose is when personal purpose and corporate purpose are combined.  Use your passion, values, and voice to try and inspire people, then seek the support of your leadership team to unleash it.


Can you give some examples of clients that have adopted a responsible approach? How have they used creativity to help spread their message?

If we look at purpose as a journey, and never a light switch that can just be flipped on, we can see each client is on a different part of the path towards a purpose.  Unlocks happen at different times for different reasons, and the various crises we find ourselves in today, though incredibly difficult, can also offer value creation and growth opportunities.  QuickBooks is doing an excellent job utilizing their PPP offering as a springboard to creatively show their small business clients that they have already saved over 100k small business jobs. 


Is there a specific campaign for a good cause you worked on that you’re most proud of? Or a favorite campaign from another agency.

One of my favorite campaigns in recent months that TBWA\Chiat\Day LA produced for good, is a spot called pet-to-pet, for Best Friends Animal Society.  While we were seeing a big surge in animals in shelters due to the pandemic, the agency flipped the script and used humor, through the pets communicating with each other, to raise awareness and money through donations.  It was fresh, funny, and motivated people.