Time To Do Your Community Service
Seven things we’ve learned about creating authentic community relationships in cycling and beyond
In last week’s email, we wrote that twenty percent of Millenials report they have no friends. This was incorrect.
It’s twenty-two percent.
This is a statistic that’s really stuck with us. Whether or not this seems like a big surprise is for another time. But what it does tell us is that the concept of community is more important now than ever.
It’s something that we’ve long believed. We know supporting communities in our outdoor cultures can be a trigger for much needed change in the places we love. But to do it right, it needs to be led by authenticity - you don’t need to pop your prescription lenses in to spot a community “relationship” built on selfish corporate gains, CEO-pleasing box ticking, and baseless promises. Shall we name names? We could…
It’s why authentic community relationships are a key focus in so much of the work we do. It’s why they were a key focus in our hugely successful Action Inspired event earlier this year. It’s why, as you’ll soon find out, they are a key focus in the internal TED talk-style monthly presentations we have with inspiring external speakers.
And it’s why we’ve written this - a rundown of some of the most important lessons we’ve learned about forging meaningful and authentic relationships with communities in our work. From future event considerations to the questions you need to ask (and receive), these are essential points that make for a community collaboration that makes a difference, for everybody.
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SHARE YOUR VALUES
The search for authentic connections begins, you’ll be very happy to know, with a screen break. Forget Google or sliding into any DMs - it starts with knowing your own values.
“Take Action To Inspire” is our agency statement of intent and purpose. It’s our benchmark, our direction, our definition. As we only work with brands that share our values, are as passionate about positive change in the outdoors as we are, and therefore embody our mantra too, we can use these four words as the filter for all prospective client collaborations, community or other. Because like any authentic relationship - a creative one, a business one, a heart-crushing school romance one - it’s doomed to leave you alone on the dancefloor if there aren’t some shared values at the core. You’re thinking about your teenage ex now, aren’t you. Sorry.
START THE SEARCH WHERE OTHERS WON’T
And so to Mexico City - a city famous for spicy snacks, soaring temperatures, fiery spirits, and… cycling? Perhaps not. Ideal, then, for an ACM-led community pursuit for adidas Cycling’s FW22 Push For Change campaign - one that perfectly embodied our Take Action To Inspire mantra. Big tick in that box.
“I knew exactly where to start this search - inside the wider community,” says Lyndsay McLaren, who is at the reins of our adidas specialist sports account, and was behind forming the right relationships in Mexico City.
“I’ve always felt confident in sourcing talent and communities for a campaign. Not only is it a chance for me to flex my people and communication skills, but it allows me to be sure the campaign has diverse representation.”
We opened our renowned black book of contacts and got chasing - chasing friends of ACM, leads, local creatives, answerphones, international dialling codes. Slowly, we simmered down our mass of intel to a direction that led to exactly where we needed to go, and who we needed to meet. Only then did we fire up social media to slide into DMs and make those initial intros, when a phone call wouldn’t cut it.
“I never shy away from just talking to people when tasked with this kind of work,” says Lynds. “It’s almost never a waste of time. There doesn’t need to be a sense of urgency either. The more you get to know people - who they are, what they care about, what they do - the deeper the bond becomes and the better the end result.”
We worked around time differences, and overcame the language barrier. Not only did a translator help us to make sure the cause of the campaign and our ideas were 100% communicated, but the process made the cyclists feel safe, confident, and comfortable in our abilities as producers.
Was it a time-consuming and energy-burning process? Of course. But did we let a lack of convenience get in the way of making an authentic connection? The final results - a full production shoot and multichannel global campaign - answer that question for us.
Authenticity won’t land in your lap. It requires the search to find it.
REPRESENT BEYOND YOUR OWN GOALS
There’s a time and a place for a “Yep, got the shot, let’s go” mentality. Even more so in our outdoor cultures, where a photo or piece of footage can go from brilliant to bin with a shift in the weather.
Projects and shoots created with authentic community relationships, we’ve learned, need more time and space.
Take our second Push For Change project with adidas Cycling. Hot off the pedals of our Mexico City work, we were led to London, Brooklyn, and Dubai within the space of a week, to meet three cycling clubs using their bikes to make positive changes in their local communities. Check out the films in the links. They’re really great.
On top of the exceptional eggy brunch options in KnightRyders’ NYC district, our trio of shoots also benefited massively from making our communities' representation goals a huge priority in the process.
It made for content that tapped away at as many barriers to access as possible - colour, religion, shapes, sizes, gender orientation, abilities. All because we asked what they needed from this shoot to represent their community fully.
Reading this back, it sounds like such an obvious piece of advice. But when the pressures of a deadline and eighth-draft brief come into play, it’s easily overlooked. And you don’t have to look too far to find a piece of “community” content from other agencies that proves it.
COMMIT BEYOND A ROLLOUT
In April, we met Jeantique, co-founder of UK Paraclimbing Collective. She is on a mission to promote inclusive spaces for disabled climbers based on her own lived experiences as well as those of her climbing community. In an amazing presentation given to our team, she discussed the exceptional number of accessible considerations UKPC made for what might (she’s pretty sure, at least) be the first paraclimbing competition created and run by paraclimbers. Considerations that included:
Adding pronouns to staff name badges.
Ensuring there are gender-neutral and disabled toilets in the venue.
Sending out a full brief of timings and what to expect a week before the event to help those whose neurodiversity manifests in anxiety.
Making sure of step-free access and chairs anywhere people may be required to stand for long periods.
Providing a BSL interpreter for deaf/Deaf and the hard of hearing.
Having clear signage and ushers to offer help.
Playing only low-level and instrumental music to address sensory needs.
Setting up a dedicated quiet and decompression space.
Considerations we’d never made for our own events, but that we’re fully energised to explore for not only our own output, but our clients’, too. Because we believe authentic support for communities exists beyond the end of a strategy timeline.
“Any brand I work with, they must really mean it. Because there are so many brands out there - big, huge names - that simply don’t. They’re just not prepared to do the work.” - Sabrina Pace-Humphreys, Black Trail Runners
MAKE MONEY MEAN SOMETHING
Communities need investment and exposure - two things, if you’re reading this as a brand, we hope you’re prepared to provide (please, please pay your talent). But a considered and targeted investment can be more impactful than just a financial lump sum. A brilliant example of this is from Arc’teryx. Where many would have simply lobbed dosh at an event and splashed their logo around the venue, their grant for UK Paraclimbing Collective enabled 50% of competition climbers to simply arrive. It’s a grant that was clearly born from an authentic collaborative process, rather than a shallow attempt at grabbing kudos with cash:
“The extra costs that come with having a disability - costs that cover care, travel, and other day-to-day considerations - create a huge financial barrier to entry. So, when setting up climbing competitions for disabled people, we really need to consider this. A grant that we received from Arc’teryx went some way to help. We could offer £50 of travel support to those struggling to find their way to our venue. It allowed not only disabled people to find travel arrangements, but also allowed participants from outside of London to come. It benefitted almost half of the total competitors.”
The fact that this was one of the most memorable insights from a presentation filled with we-must-action-this ideas, speaks volumes to us.
“I’m all about authentic connections,” said Sabrina Pace-Humphreys, founder of Black Trail Runners, in an inspiring presentation called Community Building Through Authentic Connection that she gave us at the start of the year. “Any brand I work with, they must really mean it. Because there are so many brands out there - big, huge names - that simply don’t. They’re just not prepared to do the work.”
It’s not hard for a brand to learn what work it is that they should be prepared to roll their sleeves up for, to show a commitment to, and that will make the greatest positive impact. Ask. Ask the community the question. But also, be prepared to get a response that makes you feel uncomfortable.
“Reach out to me. Reach out to communities like Black Trail Runners. We can give you a lived-experience lens,” Sabrina says.
“Real change can only happen when you have people of colour in those senior management decision-making positions, so that every choice that’s made, is made through a lived experience. Communities should be asking brands the uncomfortable questions before they sign anything. ‘How many black or brown people do you have on your team?’. And if the answer is none, ‘So what can we do to better that representation?’ should be the next question.”
And what to absolutely not do?
“I got an email earlier: ‘We’re looking for black people for a photo shoot for a race that’s coming up, can you reach out to your members?’ Absolutely not! That’s exploitative. Communities soon work out who is prepared to do the work needed, and who is out there simply for the kudos.”
DON’T EXPECT ANYTHING IN RETURN
Investing time and money into a relationship that doesn’t guarantee or demand a return? A hell of a concept. But a whip-smart one, clearly, as it’s helped us take the rock-solid reputation of YETI that was born in the US and replicate it here in the UK, and beyond.
Talking at our Action Inspired panel event, Bill Neff, VP of Marketing EMEA, stated that an authentic community relationship cannot exist with transactional expectations. It can’t come from a demand for X number of social posts, or a clear ROI. Where it does exist is within the adventures, experiences, and objectives of those communities, and making sure YETI’s products are making a difference in the right hands. Expect less, to gain more.
“YETI’s non-transactional approach to their community relationships is both refreshing and progressive,” says Lyndsay, who also heads up the YETI account for ACM. “There is nothing too radical about it - we just listen to what they need and support where we can. And we almost always get support in return. I think a lot of brands could do with taking a step back and listening to the needs of their community and the people who are a driving force within it.”
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below…
Such a great read and definitely experiences I’m very used to. Authenticity is key for me!
Thank you for continuing this conversation here ACM. From Matt’s original post about paying talent to this, there’s some real juice for us all to consider. I’ll re-quote the words of the dear Bill Neff “just do the human thing” - we have to consistently look for opportunities to do this, to show up as ourselves AND to actively and specifically invite others to join in.
I think there’s a Bystander Effect that comes into play - if everyone’s invited why should I take action. Ive observed that is often the case that we want to feel that we specifically are welcome. Sometimes it’s as simple as looking someone in the eye, reaching out directly, and asking if they want to join in, and as said above, expecting nothing in return. 🙌🏼