Agencies New Business Deloitte

Deloitte wants purpose unit Ethos to be ‘the number to call’ on sustainability and D&I


By Sam Bradley | Senior Reporter

November 1, 2021 | 7 min read

Sustainability and diversity and inclusion work has become a major pillar of many brands‘ marketing efforts – which is why Deloitte Digital has launched a dedicated business unit designed to meet their needs. Founding member Nathan Young explains how the division hopes to help clients.

nathan young of deloitte digital

Nathan Young, senior manager and head of strategy at Deloitte Consulting, unpacks its newest division Ethos

Today‘s brands are desperate to show the value of their character through good works. And today‘s marketing and advertising agencies are very happy to help them in that endeavor, which is why Deloitte Digital has launched a new business unit dubbed ‘Ethos,‘ the ancient Greek word for ‘character.‘

Ethos will focus on creating brand purpose strategies and cultural research, and help design sustainable products for its clients, which apparently include several Fortune 500 companies, though the list of its founding partners is under wraps.

Nathan Young, head of strategy for Ethos, is helping to build up the division alongside Stacy Kemp, who's leading the offering, and Julius Tapper, head of inclusive innovation.

Young, one of the co-founders of industry activist group 600 & Rising, tells The Drum how he talked his way into the job, and helped the consultancy build its new division from scratch.

”I had an opportunity call with the folks over at Deloitte where they wanted to do a D&I initiative with a client and wanted me to help. I gave them the pitch that [was], ‘yes, I‘d love to help you there, but I also think we can do something more.‘ Together, we evolved that pitch into what has become Ethos. I‘m really proud of the team that we built, but also the way in which we built it.”

That team, which ”operates at the intersection of ESG innovation and brand purpose,” is 50% people of color and 50% women, Young says. ”It has been developed from the bottom up with practitioners who really understand this space.” While it numbers just 12 individuals at the moment, he says Deloitte plans on tripling its numbers by the end of next year. ”The sky‘s the limit,” he says.

Purpose professionalized

The announcement marks a sea-change in the approach of agencies to social purpose work. Formerly, work that touched on diversity and inclusion, or sustainability, would have been handled on a campaign-by-campaign basis. Now agencies are building out entire business units designed to help brands engage with, and navigate the challenges of, consumer interest in social purpose.

”CMOs want to make an impact on purpose. They want to do something with sustainability, they want to do something with D&I. The challenge is that, even if you attended business school and got an MBA, these are the types of things you learned. It’s only recently these have been top of mind for leading businesses. The biggest barrier between them doing something isn’t money, it isn’t desire, it’s as simple as knowing to call.”

As Young puts it, Deloitte wants Ethos to be a kind of Ghostbusters for brand purpose. ”We want to be that one number to call, no matter what problem you have, no matter what challenge you have, no matter what your ambition is, you‘re going to get in contact with a team that has the scope, scale and expertise to help you reach your goals.”

First – but not last

Though Deloitte may be the first of the industry’s big names to unveil such an initiative, it‘s not the first in the industry. Just across the East River from Deloitte‘s Manhattan base, boutique agency Convicts has been touting its expertise as a ‘purpose agency of record‘ and works with clients as diverse as Sotheby’s, Bacardi, Nike, Unicef and the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Chief executive Pete Maiden tells The Drum the competition doesn’t bother him: ”Like-minded brands come to us because they see an affinity to our purpose and work, particularly when they want to go against the grain. For those looking to shake culture for a better world and color outside the lines of what is deemed ‘traditional,’ we might be a better fit. If you want big, possibly safer work, there might be alternatives that are more suitable.”

For Young‘s part, he theorizes a massive uptick in demand for brand purpose work is in the post, as the marketers with an eye for this kind of work graduate into senior positions in the industry in coming years. ”I think that there‘s definitely going to be rapid expansion. We are among the first of the major agencies and consultancies to do something like this, but we won’t be the last.

”Over time, folks are going to get more educated on these issues. It’s just a matter of how fast that happens. I‘ve noticed a completely different dynamic, a different feeling in the water, in terms of people’s appetite on these issues over the past two years. We‘re gonna see a really massive acceleration of innovation in this space, both on the education and commercial side.”

No judgement

It also comes as the pressure from those working in advertising for agencies to apply higher ethical standards to the work they produce and the clients they produce it for ratchets up. Last week Clean Creatives, a US campaign group that demands agencies stop working for fossil fuel producers, expanded its operations into the UK. Is there a brand Ethos wouldn’t try to fix?

Young tells The Drum that while Ethos has ”leeway” to pick and choose its client partners, it won’t be taking the high road.

”Ethos has the ability to choose which brands it works with and which brands it doesn’t. Our criteria for that is real simple – we ask the question, what’s your intention?”

He suggests agencies shouldn‘t be setting themselves up as moral arbiters. Instead, Young says: ”We‘re not going to sit here and judge where you‘ve been before. We‘re not going to make a paternalistic judgment on what type of company is the right type of company to work with.”

In fact, Young suggests the bigger and badder the reputation a company has for its impact on the world, the better a candidate it will be for Ethos’s turnaround service.

”Some of the companies who have historically had a more negative impact, there’s more opportunity for change,” he says. ”Those are the ones we should be working with if we want to make a material impact on the world.”

Agencies New Business Deloitte

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