Situation UK Reflects on How Cultural Diversity Makes for Better Marketing

Global Voices, Local Impact

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The Situation UK team has staff members from different countries, cultural backgrounds, and upbringings. Our differences bring vibrancy and authenticity to our marketing work. We pride ourselves on not only creating an office space and work culture that values diversity but also one that encourages differences of opinion so that the best idea wins. We took some time to step away from everyday duties to reflect on how our diverse backgrounds impact our work — our ability to reach diverse audiences, our connection to a wide range of entertainment properties, and our varying ideas on how best to collaborate. The conversation was fruitful, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Samara Berger: I’m Samara Berger (she/her), the Director of Impact at Situation Group and the Executive Director of our 501c3 nonprofit, Situation Project.  I grew up in Central New Jersey, and have lived in Manhattan for over a decade. I have the pleasure of sitting down with some members of our Situation UK team, delving into the importance of diversity of experience in the workplace.  Having all grown up on different continents, everything from favorite cartoons as a kid to first exposures to marketing, vary widely, yet add exceptional layers to the work they’re executing.  Join me in welcoming, Pippa Bexon, Jack Langan, and Waleed Hamid.  I’ll pass it over to Jack to start us off with introductions.

Jack Langan: I’m happy to kick off. Hello! I’m Jack (he/him). I’m the Senior Account Manager here in the London office at Situation. Previously I worked for a big media agency in London as well. I moved here 4 years ago from Melbourne, Australia and spent most of my childhood in Singapore.

Waleed Hamid: Awesome. Yeah. I was working at another media agency called Group M and an agency called Mind Share, I was a media planner there. It’s been about a year since I’ve been in London..

Pippa Bexon: I’m Pippa, (She /her) Exec director of Situation UK, born in Texas, grew up in the UK, lived in NYC for nine years, now back in London, for just over three years!

Samara Berger: Very cool. So you all work at Situation UK in the London office but you reference living and working in places other than London. So what are some things that you noticed being different from your hometown or even last job, to now being in this diverse environment where you’re more of an international team?

Jack Langan: The first thing that struck me was that I felt like I had to learn almost a new language. Obviously while growing up in Australia, everyone spoke English. So I don’t mean literal language. I just mean like a media language and people’s references. There’s some commonality, but you kind of have to adapt to new lingo — even acronyms that you’d think of as universal for media-speak, don’t translate. People were talking about display banners and saying acronyms I’ve never heard of before in my life. And I was like, “Oh, you just mean the square.” Okay, cool the square like an MREC. So yeah, there was a bit of translation that I had to do upon arrival.

Waleed Hamid: Yeah, definitely would echo that. I think there’s a lot of acronyms as well. The way the media structure and the work structure work is a bit different here as well. It took me a week to know what an AMP actually was. I was like, “oh, it’s just a media plan.” The QA process here is quite thorough as well, I wasn’t really used to that. So I think it was mostly technical work stuff, because I think otherwise. Like, culturally, I think agencies are pretty similar. And yeah, and I’ve I’ve never worked with a diverse team like this before, because we have people from all over: England, Australia, China. So that’s been pretty interesting as well.

Pippa Bexon: I worked in London, then moved to New York City, and then came back to London, so I have always been shifting between different continents and cultural norms. As Waleed and Jack mentioned cultures vary so much in every city, there are not only differences in the lingo but also in communication styles, and semantics and the way people interact with each other in an office space. The Brits are famously polite, and the Americans (particularly New Yorkers) are much more direct! The current UK team is definitely the most diverse set of backgrounds and as a group of marketers, offers a really great outlook on how to connect with different audiences, and move them to action.

Samara Berger: This conversation was inspired in part because the Situation UK team was all talking about some of your childhood favorites and found that almost no one was watching the same thing growing up. So what are shows, performances, mediums, or parts of pop culture that have had a big influence on you and your journey to becoming an arts marketer?

Waleed Hamid: So before I got into marketing, I was actually a lawyer. I had a side hobby where me and my friends used to throw music festivals. So I actually started doing marketing for them. And that’s how I learned that marketing was what I really wanted to do. So I quit my job as a lawyer and went into client services. Then I got my master’s in marketing, and now I’m in media. Back then I was working with local musicians back home and I was also a DJ. So for me it was live music, concerts and music festivals. And now here I am.

Jack Langan: I grew up mostly in Singapore, and the media there (especially in expat communities at the time) was all American. So I was watching mostly American television, that was like my foundation, and the beginning of my big obsession with media reality, TV in particular. And then it was funny when I moved to Australia, the media landscape and access to reality TV changed. And then it morphed in a similar way when I moved to London. It was like “Whoa! I don’t understand how this is so different, even though we speak the same language.” But I did notice there were some universal touch points that every place had. For example, I saw Wicked in Melbourne and I loved it. So when I heard that there was an opportunity to work on it in the UK with Situation, I was like, well, okay, love that. It’s a lovely full circle moment.

Pippa Bexon: I grew up in a theatre family – so I was lucky enough to go to the theatre both regionally and on the West End since I was very small, so it was a very natural path for me to pursue a career which was arts adjacent. My first show was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and still a fav—the narrator’s song, it’s the best!

Samara Berger: Absolutely. This gives us an incredible perspective on how our audiences also take in art in a lot of different ways. Jack and Waleed, when you both moved to the UK, was there anything entertainment wise, that helped broaden your perspective personally or at work?

Waleed Hamid: Yeah, for sure. I come from a country where the art scene isn’t that big. So it was really overwhelming here, seeing how big it is in variety, and from a commercial point of view. Just thinking of events and the scale at them, like I’ve been to a few music festivals, and I’ve just been blown away. The scale of how much they contribute to the economy and everything. And then, obviously, now, working here seeing the consumer journey in the UK has broadened my perspective.

Jack Langan: The wide variety of it is staggering…there’s so much more available to you, and the landscape is just so much bigger. I say to my friends “if there’s a show that I like on Broadway or in the West End, It’ll be in Australia in about 10 years.” It’s like it takes forever to go there. So coming to London, this entertainment giant, I get to be on the release side of things versus hearing about it and not being able to see it until many years later.

Samara Berger: There are a plethora of nationalities on your team over there in the UK. As all of you have worked on projects and navigated the office environment, how do your team dynamics or social norms shift based on where you come from?

Pippa Bexon:It might be my favourite thing about our whole team! There is no one popular opinion or established way of doing things. Everyone brings their own perspective.

Waleed Hamid: I think everyone’s super respectful here, probably more social than I’m used to. Everyone is super respectful, everyone super sensitive about where you’re from. So I think it’s been pretty good that way. I haven’t seen any specific dynamics form just because someone’s from somewhere else. Which I think is a really good thing.

Jack Langan: Yeah, I think you definitely really see the difference in perspectives and ideas. One of our colleagues (who used to live in Hong Kong), we used to talk about potential partners for media plans, and we would both reference different media partners based on our different experiences with them overseas. I’d say “Oh, I used this partner in Australia. Did you use them in Hong Kong?” And she’d say, “Oh, yeah, we did. We use them for so and so.” And I’d say, “Oh, I didn’t realise that partner even did that.” So there was more opportunity for cross collaboration in ways that you weren’t expecting.

Samara Berger: It’s so wonderful to be able to learn from people who are coming from the same industry, but have a different experience from you. So you’re not necessarily approaching it the same way. And then it really provides that light bulb space to generate new ideas and out of the box thinking. Have you noticed that everyone’s different lived experiences generate more depth in your client work? Are you able to kind of understand their needs differently, based on that layered perspective that you’re able to bring into their conversations?

Waleed Hamid: Yeah, I can see the difference. When we’re thinking about what audiences to put for what client it’s good to have people from different backgrounds because as a team you have a wider spectrum of audiences to relate to. And that’s why I think it’s really important in marketing.

Jack Langan: Yeah, even at a surface level it just gives you a reminder that not everyone has the same perspective with you in every moment. So even in like your client communications, I find that just having a diverse office or or diverse opinions surrounding you, It stops you from just going in with the status quo, or assuming the status quo for your day-to-day.

Pippa Bexon: I totally agree – one of our primary goals as marketers is to try and anticipate someone’s motivation to purchase, or sign up, or follow our socials etc. and in order to do that you absolutely have to step outside your own lived experience and consider how others’ perspectives may be different from your own. By working with a team all with very different backgrounds it pushes us to do this as a group frequently and makes the work stronger and more inclusive.

Samara Berger: Jack, has there ever been a time when your live entertainment tastes, and what you think might be correct, for a client project is maybe challenged by somebody else’s experience or their live entertainment taste?

Jack Langan: I don’t know if it’s necessarily been challenged, I guess, in a minor way. I think a good example is, we had a show called Oscar at the Crown. That show has a lot of references to American reality TV like The Housewives and The OC. And these were references that I understood and loved, but some feedback I got from the team was they did not understand the references they were making. I realised that was just assumed knowledge in my head, which I didn’t challenge. That’s why I’m so glad we’re having this conversation. It’s obviously very important and non-diverse groups of people have boring outputs. People don’t engage with it because they don’t see themselves in it.

Samara Berger: Pippa, do you feel your perspective changing as you kind of get more layered experience and interface with different types of people, even your coworkers?

Pippa Bexon:Yes 100% after moving back from the US, I have had to re-acclimate myself back into UK culture, and adjust to slightly different norms, how people behave, communicate etc. I love that I have the combined experience of working in the UK and US, but I also have to remember that what works in one place, doesn’t necessarily work in another and so it is important to modify accordingly.

Samara Berger: Waleed, what do you feel like is something that you have really learned from one of your colleagues in the last year?

Waleed Hamid: Situation is a really good melting pot of just opinions in general, seeing how people take things differently has been really great. I’ve learned a lot from Situation’s media planning process and the whole way the team sets up campaigns. It’s been very, very insightful, for sure because it was very different from what I was used to

Samara Berger: We’ve touched on this a little bit, but what are ways that you feel like, individually or collectively, as a team you really foster that collaborative environment?

Jack Langan: I think it’s just taking the moment to step back from the process and just have a chat about things. I really value the times that we disagree, when I say “what audiences do you think we should be using for this campaign? Because I have these in mind, but maybe you have something else in mind.” Waleed and I sit next to each other, so I can see him making the campaign, or he can see me write in the brief. And I’m like “what do you think about this?” It’s quite on the fly, and very helpful.

Waleed Hamid: Budgeting questions, audience segments, platform suggestions, everything. We all go through it together and everyone’s open to speak about it. Really, I really appreciate that, it is super collaborative.

Pippa Bexon: The Situation UK team is small but mighty. When you have a small team, the group energy and motivation are all intrinsically linked. If one person is having a bad day, or feeling stuck, that can really impact the whole office. So I believe more than anything that we have to function as a team and be as empathetic as possible, understanding that everyone is their own person with their own experiences and that those differences are what makes not only great work, but a collaborative and rewarding work place too.

Samara Berger: Absolutely. If you can’t be a team player, not the office for you. Well I just want to say thank you to Situation’s Diversity Equity & Inclusion Governing Body for bringing us all together, and Jack, Waleed and Pippa  for taking the time to be so transparent with us. I’ve loved learning about things that you’ve learned, the challenges that you’ve encountered, and the magic moments of collaboration you’ve described.

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