2 min read October 2021 — Lili Hall, president and CEO of creative agency KNOCK, says the fact that diversity, equity and inclusion is in the DNA of her company has fostered multiple opportunities for it to not only to grow and prosper but to do good in the community as well.
How has KNOCK grown over the past year despite the challenges?
Our priority has always been the health and wellbeing of employees and clients. While the global pandemic and the horrific murder of George Floyd devastated our agency and community, it further strengthened our collaborative model of leadership. As a result, we landed six new clients, which substantially helped us overcome certain existing business — like our clients in the hospitality industry — where work was paused for months, and revenues decreased by 35%. We were also fortunate to receive a PPP (Payroll Protection Plan) loan to help keep all 90+ employees paid during this most vulnerable period.
What is the landscape for the PR, advertising, and marketing industry?
To respond to consumer demand, we’ve grown substantially over the years into multiple sectors: retail, financial services, healthcare, food and beverage, travel and hospitality, and consumer product goods. This diverse portfolio helps us weather any particular economic downturns.
Pandemic or not, we always need to think about how the consumer public is making purchasing decisions. We’re constantly studying trends and adjusting accordingly to meet demand. For instance, we do a lot of work in the beauty business and are analyzing industry shifts in terms of customer appetites for new products — and how design thinking can impact purchases. As good partners, we take it upon ourselves to help companies understand the market, consumer lifestyles, and behavior changes.
What is an example of changes that are coming in terms of consumer lifestyles?
Consumers are continually paying more attention to sustainability. It’s helping businesses think more responsibly. I’m reminded of a recent allergy medication purchase. It’s a bottle of 30 capsules that could’ve held 200. So, it gives me pause to think why this bottle needed to be that large. This is but one small example of smart consumer questioning. Fortunately, we’re seeing a lot of clients making changes in packaging to accommodate consumer behavior expectations.
What have been the greatest changes in demand for your services?
We’re well positioned in the DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) space, which is in the DNA of our organization. It’s not part of our strategic plan, it’s who we are. We launched an intercultural practice about four years ago that specifically works with diverse communities. It’s inclusive of market segments that have been underserved, including race, gender, ethnicity, LGBTQ, and ability.
Thankfully, we’re seeing great interest in DEI work, whether it’s internally within client organizations, or externally to their audiences. We’re also seeing positive momentum in companies hiring diverse agencies — specifically minority-owned and women-owned agencies — honoring their commitments to these initiatives. Other growth segments include the health sector, startups, and early-stage companies. The spirits industry remains strong, which is a segment that does well in both good and bad times. We just added a tequila brand to our roster who’s looking to expand in the U.S. market.
How different is the economy for your business now compared to pre-pandemic times?
We did research for a financial services project before the pandemic and six out of 10 Americans were living paycheck to paycheck. We still see a lot of communities who are facing tough situations and we’re not out of the woods yet. Some segments are performing extremely well while others are struggling. The key is to make sure we’re being sensitive and staying on top of things. I have faith that we’ll come out of the pandemic with more compassion, more empathy and, hopefully, more respect for each other. And I think the businesses that are taking care of their employees and their communities are going to outperform the competitors who are not doing that.
What is your near-term outlook?
For us, it’s about continuing our journey. Health and wellness are very exciting and important and sustainable, so we need to be responsible with our own business, but also make sure we bring clients new experiences and campaigns that move them forward. The DEI space will continue to grow for us as part of our DNA. We feel a responsibility in terms of making sure that we’re not only presenting ideas but helping educate people who want to learn — and doing it in a way that doesn’t make them feel bad about it. We also want to ensure the language we use in conversations is inclusive to our employees and our clients. Our approach will always be on the side of trying to help people understand.
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