Right before Thanksgiving, my partner and our agency’s president, Jim Pontarelli, sent out an agency-wide message that ended with this quote from Willa Cather; “I was extremely happy. Perhaps, we feel like that when we become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness, to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.”
You may think it improbable that an ad or PR agency has a soul and a conscience. We’re often characterized as slick carneys doing whatever and saying whatever to make a buck. In reality, something lovely is happening in our industry and especially, I’m pleased to report, at RDW. We are “dissolving”, as Willa Cather writes, “into something complete and great.” We are looking deep into our collective communities and the issues and voids that affect the most vulnerable.
From individual volunteer efforts to public health campaigns and behind-the-scenes of major policy initiatives, we are all digging in to help fill the gaping holes. To shed light. To bring hope. To instigate solutions that at first may seem daunting and undoable. My friend Kobi Dennis, who is a tireless advocate for our inner-city kids, puts it simply, brutally, like this; “If people like you won’t step in and help, how can I possibly make anything better?”
Our agency is privileged to work extensively in the health and nonprofit arena. It has given us a front row seat to the incredible needs of our neighbors – and insight into the side-by-side frailty and strength of our spirit. From HIV testing to feeding the world’s hungry to family planning to impaired driving education to nonviolence initiatives and partnerships with law enforcement and community organizations. Talking to victims, offenders, the sufferers and the stakeholders, we’ve learned firsthand there are a many untold stories that need the veil of darkness lifted. But we’ve also learned there is great joy that accrues to both the giver and the recipient. At our little agency we’ve learned that seeing the forest for the trees for all our work, whether it’s for a bank or a university or a manufacturer starts with seeing the human face.
At RDW, doing great work for our clients starts with being empathetic human beings. We understand, no matter the assignment, that there is a story of “humanness” to be told. We are striving to reach people where they are and with language that makes sense but also with a respect borne of understanding. What I love about this is that it is not a checklist strategy. Our agency has evolved – combining an influx of compassionate young people with our more seasoned veterans who want to roll up their sleeves and get into the gritty underbelly of a problem and begin to figure out communications solutions from the inside out. No shortcuts.
But the first step always is empathy. And empathy is a pathway to dignity. This understanding and practice, by everyone at our agency, is the thing that I am most proud of and thankful for in this season of gratitude.
Dante is a retired partner at RDW who dabbles in all sorts of things. His ability to fix problems is his greatest talent. He still gets up every day raring to go – and to make the pieces of the world he intersects with just a little bit better.