The Rosie Report’s Inclusion Vertical is sponsored by our partners in progress, Allyship & Action. It was only right to interview the power couple behind the industry-disrupting summit series and transparency platform that called all of us to be allies for each other, and to back it up with action that makes sure we can all succeed. We Are Rosie talked to Nate Nichols and Steffi Behringer, cofounders of Brooklyn-based production haus Palette Group about all the roses and thorns behind building out one of marketing’s newest and most intentional conferences, and how they view the future of work.
Not much is said about the pure sprint that led to launching Freelancer CyberX and Allyship & Action in a 3-month span, two event series that address inclusion at their core. What has that been like?
Nate: For us, when we were producing these experiences, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. We’re still an agency, we’re creative producers of experience and content. Functionally, that’s how we exist already. From a values perspective we’re about culture and community and empathy. That’s our brand pillars, rooted in this sense of honesty and truth. And that’s all we care about when it comes to creating experiences and respecting communities and not alienating them.
For us, given that we’re the founders of Palette Group, it was just a natural extension of who we are and how we do it. We decided to take action and take this moment during quarantine to be productive about it and serving the way we know best. That is, creating content and experiences that are dynamic and that people haven’t been brought together before.
Each of those events had a different kind of energy. Freelancer CyberX: the government was for the freelance community so that they weren’t forgotten about in the pandemic. The government and corporate America never set that community up to succeed. No one set us up for success, and if you’re a freelancer, you never knew if you could go on unemployment when this pandemic popped off. There are all these things that made being a freelancer the wild west, and I’d been there before and had those experiences.
I know how alone and afraid and anxious I’d been in those situations, and in those moments the one thing that gets you go to that next day, hour, minute is that one person reaches out and sees you and says, “I see you, I got you, here’s something that will get you to that next moment.” I always looked for people to just support those issues and those challenges in life. Steffi and I get that there’s another side, and we want to make sure people get to that side and know that there’s people to help.
Steffi, your background in experiential (in a more analog nature) has absolutely been impacted — what skills have you been able to include, and what have you picked up in the process to make it work?
Yes, indeed! All four of my projects I had going on were immediately put on hold, postponed, or later canceled. My plan for the year, professionally, financially, personally was within a few days ripped into a million pieces just like for many others. This moment of realization that nothing is going to be the same anymore, that this is affecting the entire world on so many different levels, was the moment when Nate and I decided to do something about it.
As an experiential producer and Nate being a creative director, we put our thinking caps on and planned the first virtual summit for the freelancer community to connect with the advertising industry to talk about #wtf do opportunities look like during the pandemic and after?
We thought very strategically about how we want to design this event and virtual experience, how should the journey look from registration to post-event (just like an IRL event), how engaging and interactive should it be, what’s the tone and the message we want to deliver, who do we want to put on stage and what’s the value that we want to create for everyone?
I would have never thought a virtual event can be almost as thrilling as an IRL event, but it really opens up new opportunities to speak to the audience in a different way, and through customized designed videos and storytelling you’re able to establish emotional bonding and bridging, even if its through a screen in the comfort of your living room. I definitely picked up a lot more technical skills, not only about different streaming platforms, the streaming process, but also the type of roles and support you need to put up a virtual summit for 2000-plus people.
Nate, this has been a personal journey for you as a Black man in uncertain times, yet as host, you channel an energy that uplifts and motivates a virtual audience of marketers and creatives. What goes into that?
I was just sad and just felt like that was the only thing I couldn’t hide from.
It’s hard to be motivated when people that look like you, talk like you, walk like you are just getting murdered. You can’t just run away from that kind of emotion. And to see my life partner, a German woman, to be broken about that as well.
You just have to honor that energy, and with Allyship & Action, I just hope that people got that this is real and this is sad. On the flip side, I’ve been dealt a wild set of cards in my life. I don’t know what it’s like to deal with a loving parent and I finally got to reconcile with that. My mother is now my hero. I get to talk to my dad daily. I found a way to inspire and motivate in a way that’s just energizing and I feel that trained me and got me to activate a community of allies, which is wild.
Not everyone has that emotional bandwidth and I get it. But I’m just energized by it. I see my life partner Steffi, my business partner Steffi, with the hunger to do something, and fight and figure it out.
I want to help. I want to help figure it out, too. I want to help keep people accountable in their serving and their honoring of our pain. That’s my mission, to be there to make sure it’s getting done. We’re building systems for accountability, period.
There just needs to be someone that holds them accountable, I guess that’s what I’ve been called for.
What have both of you learned about allyship, both as individuals, life partners and as business owners? And has this journey made you more hopeful in this industry’s future?
Steffi: So. Damn. Much. Being a bi-racial couple, this is an everlasting part of our relationship and our lives – the differences in our cultures, the privileges, and the injustices. And we talk about it, we acknowledge it, and get present to what’s happening, learn and listen.
Unlearning is a life-long process and I am committed to doing the work that’s necessary to help shift this cultural and societal mindset! I’m definitely more hopeful, I believe that as crazy as it sounds, COVID-19 built the runway towards a more empathic, honest, and fair industry as we were all affected by it and the racial movement took this whole plane to another level. Industry leaders are stepping up, organizations starting to look inward and re-building entire structures and people want to take action. That’s why I am so proud and honored to work with amazing people that brought to life the Allyship & Action platform: A space where we keep it real, honest and informative, and keep the industry accountable to create sustainable change!
Nate: The biggest thing I learned in doing this work is that allyship isn’t fair, and that makes the situation unreasonable as the energy that’s being fed to you and preventing you from breaking down the systemic racism and the discrimination, misogyny, and messed-up things: from the microaggressions to the totally conscious bias.
If we don’t build a backbone and intolerance towards this, it’s only going to sustain. So we have to do things we’ve never had to do before and risk and sacrifice things we never had to. Risk your job, take a day off from work, being in the streets, yelling at cops. This game is unfair, and we have to be just as unfair as it’s been to us, and committed to that energy.
The industry is pretty amazing with how much is getting done. People are getting on calls, and talking about ideas and systems and policies. It’s wild to see: the codifying. We’re really fighting back right now and it’s not just us, those who’ve been discriminated against.
The next event happens in a week — bigger, better, and more inclusive. How important was it to up your own ante as disruptors in the event space to make sure more voices are heard?
Nate: It’s crazy, the next event we have this panel with all Black women. Steffi and I looked at each other as panel ideas came together and said, “Damn! We have to do it.” So we just made it happen. It needs to happen. There’s just so many bright, beautiful, Black women in this industry that know what’s up, what needs to happen in a way that can be clearly articulated.
I don’t know if anyone else can understand that there’s so much that Black women have to deal with. They’ve been through so much shit, and it sucks. The emotional labor sucks, but you have to create space for them because they just know, they know what’s up and they know what they should look like. And we should listen.
Allyship & Action is presenting sponsor of the Inclusion vertical of this platform. Why is inclusion important to the future of work?
Nate: The more inclusion and intention these organizations have with our communities that have been discriminated against and oppressed forever, it just creates so much opportunity for all of us and the next generation. There’ll be so much more to grow into that can be sustained. If we don’t have true inclusion in the future of work, there’s just gonna be so many people and communities left behind.
We can’t have that, we’ve been working too hard and it’s our role to make this world better as we work as professionals. Not just as Black people or people of color. The more we have more perspectives present, we’ll have a world that’s made better for more people and more of their experiences. And that’s the way life should be.
The next Allyship & Action Summit is August 4th, learn more and register here.