Queer Ad Folk: Don’t say nothing for fear of getting it wrong

Adam Patel, head of account management at Adam & Eve/DDB, on how to drive change in agencies and why queer-focused work should not be confined to June.

Queer Ad Folk: Don’t say nothing for fear of getting it wrong

Queer Ad Folk is a project with a mission to showcase LGBTQ+ talent thriving in adland so everyone can see people like themselves in the boardroom and beyond.

This week, Queer Ad Folk founders John Osborne and Oli Rimoldi talk with Adam Patel, head of account management at Adam & Eve/DDB. 

Have you always been ‘out’ at work? 

In short, yes. It’s not something I’ve ever hidden by adapting my answers to casual questions like "Have you got a girlfriend?" or "Where do you normally go out?" But, equally, it’s not information I have ever actively offered up unless it’s relevant... like in response to a specific brief. This might partially be because I’m waiting to get to know people better and assess how they’re going to respond before offering up the information to safeguard myself or because I’m subconsciously countering the stereotype that "all gay people do is talk about being gay". But I think it’s mainly because my sexuality has always been just one facet of my identity and so, a lot of the time, "coming out" feels as relevant as immediately telling people I’m mixed race or that I grew up in the south west. 

Do you think being LGBTQ helps in your job? 

Growing up gay and being "othered" at various points in my life has definitely given me a deeper appreciation for the importance of lived experience and the danger of assuming you immediately know where people are coming from or what makes them tick. Aside from obviously being useful when reviewing strategy or creative work, it has also made me more conscious, in my interactions with people, of creating an environment in which they feel open and safe enough to speak their minds so I can get to the heart of whatever’s bothering them quicker. I also think being gay definitely helped instil a sense of "self" in me much earlier than I would have achieved otherwise, and it gave me confidence in my voice and opinions without needing to look too much to others for affirmation. 

Have you ever seen someone like yourself in management? 

The first person I encountered in management who was out in the workplace was Matt Craigie, head of production at Adam & Eve/DDB, when I joined, and I know you interviewed earlier in the series. He said in his interview that he felt he should probably be doing more in the space of representation – but simply being there and doing his job brilliantly gave me the confidence not to hide who I was at the agency, and also that there were no barriers to my progression if I put in the work, which has inevitably been the case. 

Would you say that advertising is open minded? 

It’s definitely open minded and has the right intentions, but there’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of taking that open mindedness and translating it into effective ways of driving change. For me, the key is that agency workforces house a diverse range of queer voices, but that there are also the right processes in place for these voices to be given a platform to influence the multitude of daily conversations where their perspective would be valuable – from strategy to casting to parental-leave policies. This isn’t to say that there aren’t many brilliant allies that support the creation of more inclusive work and environments but, sometimes, there isn’t a substitute for lived experience to ensure things aren’t overlooked or missed, especially when we’re time poor.

I also think it’s important for agencies to identify the challenges they’re facing and address them with focus rather than trying to do everything all at once at the risk of not doing anything meaningfully. 

What’s the best way for colleagues to be good allies? 

Don’t say nothing for fear of getting it wrong. I know conversations around diversity and inclusion can sometimes feel like a minefield for people who don’t directly identify with a community or marginalised group. However, if a question or suggestion comes from a place of wanting to improve things, the fact that it has been tabled and space has been created for the discussion (even if it’s not right) can be enough in the first instance. 

Have you experienced LGBTQ-phobia in the workplace? 

Thankfully, I haven’t ever experienced any direct homophobia in the workplace, and I hope that continues to be the case. There was once an occasion where I overheard someone using the word "gay" in a derogatory manner at the pub, but knew that this came from a place of miseducation, rather than conscious malice. I called it out, they apologised profusely, and we all moved on, better off for the conversation. I know many LGBTQ people may not feel as empowered to act in this way, and this is another example of where colleagues could definitely be more active allies on a day-to-day basis. 

Any LGBTQ-inclusive ads that you think are great? 

It’s probably cheating to talk about your own agency’s work but, for me, the 2021 instalment of the "Given the rainbow" campaign, where Skittles recoloured Pride images from the LGBTQ+ archive, was a good example of a campaign that contributed back to the community in a way that was more than just financial. It surfaced the history of Pride in a way that would engage and help educate a younger generation on its importance. 

I also remember being really moved by a piece of content produced by Kodak in 2016 called "Understanding". Aside from being a tear-jerker of a film about a father’s acceptance of his son’s relationship, it was all the more impactful for being released outside of Pride month during the Christmas period.

I think as an industry we probably need to work harder with our clients to feature authentic queer narratives outside of June; a recent 2023 GLAAD survey found that 75% of non-LGBTQ adults were comfortable seeing queer representation in ads and so, when we’re faced with conversations around risk or alienating core audiences, let’s make sure we have the facts to hand. 

Any words of wisdom for queer newcomers to the industry? 

Just remember that your perspective is incredibly valuable to agencies, so be unapologetically yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask the questions in your interviews that give you the information you need to decide whether it’s the right home for you – they need to impress you, just as much as you need to impress them. Being brilliant at your job will earn you all the trust and respect you need, and if the frustrations and obstacles are still there after all that, they don’t deserve you. Leave.

John Osborne is group creative director at Cossette in Canada and Oli Rimoldi is creative director at Mother London

Campaign UK

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