• 12.20.16

Black Lives Matter Just Hired A Huge Ad Agency

The organization worked with JWT New York on creating a new Google Maps-powered directory for black-owned small business.

Black Lives Matter Just Hired A Huge Ad Agency

The nonprofit advocacy organization Black Lives Matter now has its first official ad agency. The group has teamed with J. Walter Thompson New York to create a new beta site called Backing Black Business, a web tool to make discovering black-owned small businesses throughout the United States easier.


According to a statement, the new site is the start of the organization working with the agency to strategically plan their 2017 communications and events; a year which the organization wants to make about building black power. The agency aims to help establish the movement beyond the hashtag that made it famous.

Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors said in a statement, “We’re thrilled to partner with J. Walter Thompson and in particular this effort to uplift and sustain black businesses. Right now, we need to invest in black businesses more than ever.”

In an interview with Co.Create, J. Walter Thompson New York chief creative officer Brent Choi said the agency originally reached out to Black Lives Matter with an idea from a couple of its creative teams. “They loved the idea and energy from our team, this creative idea allowed us to start a conversation with them,” says Choi. “We had a few chemistry meetings and together decided to engage in a true long-term partnership. The idea for the Backing Black Businesses site came out of those follow-up meetings.”

It’s a partnership that comes at an interesting time for J. Walter Thompson, as the agency has spent the bulk of 2016 dealing with the fallout over a lawsuit filed in March by the agency’s chief communications officer Erin Johnson, claiming now ex-chairman-CEO Gustavo Martinez routinely made racist and sexist remarks. It’s been a stark reminder of the ad industry’s less-than impressive record on diversity.

The agency is working pro bono, much like agencies do with many nonprofit partners, but Choi says working with BLM has been very different from the other charity relations the agency has had. “There is no preconceived notion of what the roles of a creative agency and of a client are or should be,” he says. “They have been inspiring us creatively and in our ways of working; and at the same time we feel extremely fortunate because of their investment with our team and true partnership.”

For the first project, Choi says BLM was really interested in drawing attention to the large and often underestimated racial disparities in business ownership and give people the opportunity to use their dollars to support locally owned black businesses. “We also thought it was important to reframe the role of black-owned small businesses have for the black community as safe spaces, places which give back and offer a welcoming environment in uncertain political times,” says Choi. “The biggest creative challenge was to create a website that created great utility but also an intuitive user experience for both the consumer and business. In the end, we want Backing Black Businesses to become the biggest and most accessible black businesses database in the country.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.