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Brand Purpose VMLY&R Work & Wellbeing

Why VMLY&R is expanding its inclusion experience to clients in the UK


By Ellen Ormesher, Senior Reporter

May 26, 2022 | 5 min read

VMLY&R is expanding its unit committed to helping brands accelerate their DE&I efforts. The Drum questioned Debbie Ellison, global chief digital officer at VMLY&R Commerce, who is leading The Inclusion Experience practice and bringing its expertise to clients.


The team behind the UK branch of VMLY&R’s latest inclusion offering / Image via VMLY&R

Recent research saw that businesses that actively confront inequity and racism with practical measures can expect to see an improvement in their employees’ job satisfaction, loyalty, creativity and, ultimately, value. This is also reflected in consumer spending, with “83% of millennials saying they want brands to align with them on values.” Many believe that the importance of that aspect of purchase decisions is only growing.

“We really see [the Inclusion Experience] as a framework that will not only help organizations structure their diversity, equity and inclusion offerings, but tap into the macro trends around consumer demand for brands that are really living up to their purpose,” Ellison tells The Drum.

The Inclusion Experience practice, which launches today (May 26), builds on VMLY&R’s efforts in facilitating internal cultural change (the commerce branch was named Diversity and Inclusion Company of the Year by The Drum in 2021). Now it wants to enable other companies to accelerate their own DE&I offerings, as well as across their products and services.

The practice was originated by Myron King, global practice lead and chief integration officer, over in the US, where it secured high-profile clients including Target, Ford, Hallmark, L’Oréal and ADT.

King will work closely with the UK team: Rachel Ayeh-Datey, senior analyst; Bonnie Boodram, managing director, content operations; Jamie June Hill, creative inclusivity director; Eleanor Lloyd-Malcolm, consultancy partner; and Emmanuel Xirogiannis, digital and social commerce strategy director.

After the murder of George Floyd in 2020 sparked a wave of brand and business commitments to fight against racial injustice, Ellison says it became clear to many that corporate intent has often failed to match up with purpose.

“I genuinely feel like it’s difficult for organizations to know where to start,” she says. “So one of the fundamental things Myron developed was the Inclusion Experience framework, which consists of eight pillars across the organizational structure in order to really systemically change how a company functions.”

The framework covers everything from corporate communications and marketing to tools and methodologies, employee acquisition and retention models to the processes around measurement and reporting. “It enables us to really work with our clients and ensure there is a pathway and a north star that is right and authentic for them.”

However, Ellison explains that the framework has served as a “blueprint” for the transition from the US to UK market and emphasizes it is not one size fits all.

“When it comes to the UK v the US, we have a different heritage and a different history, and so there are cultural nuances that meant the framework had to be amended or changed slightly to ensure the tone was right for the UK market.”

She also adds that cultural sensitivity will be of utmost importance if the agency is to realize its ambition of rolling out the practice across its markets. “For instance, in the UK we have chosen to focus on racial equity, gender equity and the fight for LGBTQ+ equity because we felt those are the biggest challenges faced by this market. However, in the Middle East, where they have a much higher migrant population, it will be a different challenge.

“The framework is there to ensure we are focusing on the right areas within the business’ drive for transformation,” because Ellison acknowledges “while we really respect the trust consumers have in brands and that they want them to make a positive difference in the world, I also acknowledge and respect that there is a business imperative and consumer demand driving this action.”

Ellison concludes: “Frankly, if brands don’t take responsibility people just won’t buy their products.”

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