Some 20+ years ago I was leading a project that was close to my heart. Most people wouldn’t get too excited about an employee credit card at a bank, but for me, it was the first new product idea I’d conceived, pitched to senior management, got a buy-in along with a good-sized budget, and then led to a staggering 33% response rate and an Echo Award nomination for our work.
It had all started while at lunch with co-workers and I noticed when the bill came, we each pulled out credit cards from other banks. I immediately thought We work for a bank that issues credit cards so why don’t we create one for our employees?
At the time I was a product manager in the bank’s marketing department so the next day I pitched the idea to my VP and she loved it. She and I worked together on refining the concept and I was ecstatic when I got the approval. I threw myself into the project with gusto. It was a complex year-long corporate-wide project that involved legal, human resources, risk management and, of course, our advertising agency.
After the concept meeting with our agency of record, I was excited to see what they would create for us. After all, we were several thousand employees spread all over the US and the initial buzz was positive.
A few weeks later the agency came back and pitched their campaign. I rejected their initial design concept because the people images were all white, mostly male, and not at all a reflection of the bank’s diverse workforce. I remember taking them on a walk around our offices on the floors we occupied in the building and making it a point to show them why it was so important that their materials be more inclusive.
My VP had been out sick that day and when she returned I gave her my update. You should have seen the horrified look on her face! She told me I didn’t have the authority to reject it on my own and that the agency was top in their field and I should have known better.
I remember leaving her office feeling so confused, but I defended my position and ultimately, she reluctantly agreed that I’d been right (after all, as a female VP she herself was a picture of diversity at the senior level) and that, as is, the campaign would be offensive to the bank’s diverse employees and fail.
Fast forward a couple more weeks and the agency came back with a beautifully designed and executed concept that we all loved. (Of course, this time, my VP made sure she was at the meeting!) They created a theme around sports teams using a diverse looking group of people which played perfectly into the ‘team’ concept.
They also created several mock-ups of what the actual credit card would look like. We conducted internal focus groups and employees voted on their favorites. I remember setting up a long table at the entrance to the corporate cafeteria and tallying votes by hand. We were truly inclusive and used the winning design.
When it finally launched, we were all so proud. It was a remarkably difficult year-long project to lead, which made it that much more rewarding when we got the good news about being nominated for an award. We didn’t win that year (Pepsi did), but we celebrated anyway because we’d all done such a good job and, most of all, my vision was realized when employees were proud to carry a credit card they’d help design and be a part of.
I stood up for my beliefs and the project reflected them.
Last week I took a deeper dive into this subject and completed a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Marketers course. I learned even more about how I can help my clients get this right too. All these years later, it’s still something we need to work on.