For the past year, there’s been a big reason for each of us to think about ourselves. My safety and security. My health. My job security. Basically protecting our small bubble. As vaccination happens en masse and we take our first tenuous steps back towards a physical social world, you may have noticed a broadening of your perspective. Things are transforming from the nearly squarish Zoom screen to the full surround of the real world.
This means real actions and real consequence. There will be a million Medium posts on transforming who you are as you come back to the world. That can be as simple as ordering new pants from that no name brand on Instagram or by changing the fundamental way you relate to people. I don’t expect I’ll change that much, and I will grant you the same hall pass. As we come back, it will be easy to get caught up in the roaring aspect of the return. I am hoping I will be half the person in the new, real-world as I was hiding in my home for the past year.
I had the opportunity to speak with Nate Nichols, founder and creative director of Palette Group and co-founder of Allyship & Action. If you weren’t inspired to reconsider how you relate to people, or the space you make in the world, you should listen. I only knew Nate from social media, where most of us go to post our victories. Imagine my surprise when I was even more impressed by hearing the full context of what he’s been up to and why.
If you are building something (and many of you have told me you are) this episode will be instructive. As I prepare to re-enter to world, I’m taking some of these lessons with me, and wondering why I hadn’t learned them earlier.
You have come seeking a transcript, haven’t you? You’re so predictable. Well. There it is. Right down there. Go on and read it. Want the audio? You can get that here: https://specific.substack.com/p/nate-nichols-is-creating-space
Adam Pierno: Alright, welcome back to another episode of The Strategy Inside Everything excited to have this talk, we’ve been working on this one for a while but today’s guest is always out and about, I couldn’t, I couldn’t get them in front of a microphone for quite a while, busy guy. Today I have the founder and creative director at Palette Group and co-founder of Allyship & Action, Mr. Nate Nichols! Nate How you doing, sir?
Nate Nichols: I’m good, man, I’m feeling really good feeling balanced on film like 2020 is making a semblance some semblance of sense right now. Come on facts appointment, feeling good.
Adam: Oh yeah I got I got my vaccine last early this month I got my final one. So yeah, it’s quite a feeling you feel 10 pounds lighter immediately.
Nate: Yeah man, you’re a bad bish right now.
Adam: Enjoy you’ll enjoy it, you’ll notice like a little bit, a little bit, a little better.
Nate: Can’t wait.
Adam: Do you feel like 2021 when the calendar turn Did you feel like that meant anything?
Nate: Not at all. None at all like, I, you, when you exist in trauma, like your life experiences trauma you know how it works you know that, you know, trauma doesn’t like, just go away because a year lapses is somewhere, it’s like under your bed and your closet…
Adam: I know
Nate: …your refrigerator, like behind the eggs like it’s creepy, there’s some residual effects that we’re going to be feeling from 2020 for a while so totally to think that it just goes away with, you know, some system that humans need to rationalize a day and time. Now, man.
Adam: I agree, I was, I was looking forward to new year and then I realized what what’s, nothing is changing. It’s just psychological and it didn’t. It wasn’t a big enough psychological change to mean much to me know, still live in the Vax the vaccine is a bigger. Oh, you’ll see the psychological shift.
Nate: That’s just great like I said our friends were vaccinated, I feel, I feel more comfortable in, you know, my mom got vaccinated mom who had covered he’s a bit stubborn and he’s trying to figure out, we’re trying to figure out how to make them feel more comfortable with the idea. And, you know, I think there’s just there’s just some sort of peace in it. And I think we all sort of reserve, wherever that piece looks like we weren’t.
Adam: We’ve earned it for sure. I did not bring you on to talk about the pandemic but I don’t think it’s impossible to have a conversation today without talking about it so I brought you on to talk about creative direction, leadership, we had a chance to small talk a little before we got going here and can you, can you talk about so Palette Group is not a typical ad agency, I don’t even know if I would call it an ad agency, I don’t think it would you want to talk about. I think before let’s describe Palette Group. And then I want to talk about how you started Palette Group.
Nate: Perfect. So, the way we position and describe how the group is a creative agency in a production house. And, you know, my life partner was also my business partner, we spell house, the German way because she’s German. And when I say dream out I mean just like some white person in America was like, I’m half German, Irish, German German like German German, and it’s a So, you know, for both of us we should have lived a very self expressed life in motivated by freedom and not by achievements or accolades, or industries, it’s, it’s more like where can we be our whole selves and provide a platform for people to be their whole selves and so creative agency business model really really stuck out to me. And then the production company business model really really stuck out to me, and there’s, there’s this opportunity to sort of met you know gel. The both of them and yeah that’s already come to us for these things are really going to happen so it would come to us for creative strategy for their social channels and then say, Well, obviously you’ve talked to you about creative strategy can you also produce the content, and so there’s this inherent of the two worlds, but sort of being more intentional about designing the business model to function in silos, but also in a way that there is some synchronicity in more clear overlap with sort of the vision. And that’s sort of how we operate with the creative strategy and execution shop so come to us for creative concepts but also execution against those concepts and bringing those live from digital formats video formats, all different types of media and experiential activation. Stefanie’s body of work is huge in the experiential space, she started her career at BMW. A lot of retail design experiences across the nation and America here piloted the program in fact, and, you know, from an ambitious. Okay cool let’s produce and make the content and pull together staffing and crew getting the right director in the right producers in place, no matter where they are in the world to make it happen.
Adam: What were the, what were the first couple projects that got you, that when you decided to do this, where they were they video projects where they TV commercials or what kind of projects did you start with?
Nate: That’s a great and funny question so when I graduated college actually got a degree in graphic design from the Art Institute of Philadelphia. Nothing prestigious and learn anything about the advertising world had no idea how the industry function and like different categories levels in our sort of just running around and running amuck in Philadelphia just being a whole entrepreneur just scaling myself as a freelancer. And then when I graduated college, I actually went up on this huge huge multi-million dollar campaign, like a five million dollar campaign rolling out the Hyundai Veloster in 2012, and it was through Innocean at the time I think they still may be through David & Goliath. And then I was. They subbed out the social work to the agency at Harte-Hanks, in the suburbs of PA. Yep. And so, you know, I sat across a woman named Elle and I’ll never forget Elle. She just like listen to me talk my shit for like, you know, How I freelanced my entire career and leverage social media to get all of my clients like my body of work in our schools like 300 clients, by the time I graduated like, I just social media was like my thing in 2011 and ’10, and into 12 and so she was like hell yeah let’s bring this you know this kid on even though he doesn’t have experienced social media, managing, you know, Hyundai’s social media presence for like five months on this campaign and they flew me around to like Vegas, Miami, LA to be at these parties in these activations Chelsea Market, and, you know, it was just I was an utter awe at like the level of production value of culture that was injected into this campaign, like ASAP Rocky was in some of the videos talking about the rims and they had leveraged just different aspects of culture and pop culture in a way that, you know, obviously knew – you I never made an inside of it
Adam: Nate, were you organizing all that? No, you were a kid who was – basically you were managing the social aspect. Taking the work that different creative partners were doing and figuring out how to connect it all and communicating it in the best way through social.
Adam: Oh that’s, that’s interesting.
Nate: Yeah, I was just going to be social and helping with like community management strategy mostly. But once I got on that I was like, Oh, I understand the entire ecosystem. Yeah. And then this is the game that I want to play like because the ecosystem so vast. I was like, “Okay cool I can, I can jump in this category and do work and be strategic or jump in this category and do work can be strategic.” And I really just got fascinated with love. And so from that project as a whole new chapter of how Palette Group was founded, but that was really the first project that like influenced my career as a creative director in being in the ad industry.
Adam: And that that vantage point of seeing how the ecosystem connect one piece connects to the other gave you a perspective. Do you think being a community manager in that role was a special place or would it have been, would you have had that visibility anywhere else in that, in that campaign?
Nate: It was special. I don’t know if i i don’t know if I would have had access to a campaign like that and then the other way. I think my body of work as a, as a creative and then strategist then was prime, where I was like primetime was social my body of work as a designer wasn’t great. It was pretty average. And I’ll just like, you know, peak entrepreneur, no one could out hustle me strategist strategies, and then like designer. And at the time, that sort of changed and shifted.
Adam: Yeah, Yeah, that’s funny I, as an art director and designer I always realized like I’m pretty mediocre at that part. It’s just part of as part of the job I have to do i’m not i’m not really great at that my ideas have to be really good because my, my design is pretty much just boxes that I’ve moved around on a page.
Nate: But you know I have the opportunity to like you never position to be the visionary, or shape ideas when you’re younger right and you don’t have experience. So you have to sort of average design your way into like be like better music mediocre design like just kind of next level, but I was like, “Fuck that, like, I don’t want to wait for anyone to like validate me as anything. So, you know, I’m just going to figure out the hustle until you know I get to where I want to be.”
Adam: And it sounds like that. You took that right to palate group and figured out “Yeah ok so now that I’ve now that I’ve seen this, how can I replicate that, how can I do more of that get more of that experience being a quarterback or being at the center point of the, of the work you know, waiting for a brief to come to me?
Nate: Yeah. And I wouldn’t call it the center of the work. I’m like actively actively trying to be anonymous right like, I want to get out of the way I want the platform and if you think about the idea of a pallet, like an artist palette is literally a platform for the medium in the color palettes that you choose to put on this canvas. And so, the original vision is to just be that platform centering the different colors and to use the perspectives that you’re going to create with your brush strokes. And so it was very just like intentionally positioned to be like we are a platform centering creatives, that is the vision, long term.
Adam: And so is it, is it I know there’s a roster of of kind of known collaborators. Is it that those people are full time and that’s who you work with, or as a project comes you help build out the network and find “Okay this project is going to feel like this type of thing when we find people that have expertise or have done something that’s interesting along those same lines?” Nate: Totally it’s more of like a bespoke, and I cartoons know approach to staffing projects. And it’s exciting for me because as a creative director, it’s my role as a staff, right, like, that’s my function truly is to staff projects but to know exactly what the client’s goals are division our translate language everyone’s on the same page with their objectives and their insights and identify the right creatives to like, just get after it and a lot of times, obviously you have a CD or a CD like sort of stuck in glued to their partner in that, in their patina they hire, but they the the disadvantage to that structure that traditional advertising model is that that’s the team. The team is the team, you know if there’s a brand that comes to them, and they look at them, they’re like, I don’t know if they have lived experience to really understand my consumer. I can give them insights all day I can give them these trend reports all day. You know, I don’t know, the honesty in the truth of how the outcome’s gonna be is really going to be there. And you see that you see that now you see that with you know the BK tweet, like, we’re just doing the systems aren’t malleable enough to meet the brand’s needs and so for us. We have a huge network based on community building that I’ve done in my life. The stuff Steffi’s done in her life, and based on the stuff that we’ve done together, a big, big case study is the Freelancer Cyber Summit last year. That was the first virtual summit we did, I should production was a second. So we launched a digital platform for the freelance community around covered in supporting them like most of the work that we do is inclusive to support communities and the first community you want to support was freelancers. So we have like 1000 freelancers that came to our virtual summit will learn how to navigate the industry from their position that’s real answers by connecting them with, you know, the David – the Griners of the world in you know the directors of like virtue crystal, a lot, a lot, there came through and talk to them and like the head of creative production at Foot Locker like connected with them and then we have Adam: Griner you’re talking about David Griner from Adweek right
Nate: Correct, yeah. And so, you know, how do we bridge the gap and ensure that community supported and so for us we actually had a huge, huge network, almost like to like so like We are Rosie, even though we’re not going in that business model direction that we can tap to to support projects. And so that’s how our approach is truly designing, you know, a campaign around the lived experience the consumer, that our clients are advertising to in the products creative needs that we have the ability to like truly take through the different types of people that we work with and collaboration around the globe to stop appropriating.
Adam: You mentioned that creative directors often in an agency model have an established team they have their like go to people, it’s usually go to guys, more often than not, how do you think you’ve not been a creative director in a, an agency, but how do you think being a creative director over an ever-changing group of teams and and co workers is different than that creative directing that kind of known set of staff.
Nate: I think there’s this huge privilege of being with the creatives in there day-to-day as their projects, they work on their own projects as freelancers you know. I’ll give an example, talking about on the Chris Cyran yesterday, who’s a CD and he’s on a project with a big company right now and he’s sharing how his experience with them is like, “It’s great to be designing this was Fortune 100 company. I’ve done this before but, you know, I can’t, I’m doing the same thing I was doing for them years ago, where they’re like ‘Be creative!’. And then slowly just chipping away.” I like how creative you can actually be yeah and you know I’m receiving that and I’m like, oh word so I know what you want. You know, like I’m able to receive these creators in a way that I understand what they want, versus serving them things that they have to do, because of their salaries on the line right you know this this is something where you know I talked to someone like my homie Ani Acopian and, you know, and she’s like, “I just had this challenge. With this, you know page and like I hate to have to like put together these pitch decks for these briefs, and it’s so stupid as to be a part of this bid process” and I’m like “I agree,” because as a bespoke like a boutique agency. I don’t want to be pitching either. I would rather someone know what they want, know that we can handle it. We take it in and we distribute accordingly. And that’s just our, our business now we’ve been very privileged enough to be able to get businesses, people know what they want from us. We don’t need a bid, and it is what it is. And we just move forward. And so, there’s just so much beauty in allowing, creating a space for people to work that accommodates them and their desires versus having a huge traditional clunky structure that people are just doing the work because they have to. There’s no rush, no burning desire to like do the work inside these big traditional agency models.
Adam: Yeah, where you have to, I’ve lived it and you have io find the morale, boosting project.
I’ve been telling these guys with small space bank ads for two months now I gotta go find something creative quote unquote for them to do. So what I would always look for things that would be like, Okay, oh I know this person wants would love to do something that uses type. So let me try to find an assignment I keep that bookmark. But for the way Palette Group is built the assignment comes in and you say, Let me think. Let me look at the network, who have I talked to recently and what do I know that they are working on are thinking about, and this will be all this is right up their alley. So they come to you like site, they’re ready to go.
Adam: And so does that make the creative direction easier, or in some ways, if someone is, you know, running 100 million miles on a direction. And you say, Oh, I think this project lines up with that does it make it harder to rein them in or to say, Okay,
Nate: It makes it just so much more fun and easier, like it, I wouldn’t say hard or easy because you know production is a production noise maybe terribly hard; interfacing client satisfaction is always going to be a challenge is always going to be more feedback rounds of revisions and originally scope in like, that’s always hard. But the beauty, the fulfillment is always higher, you know, like, there’s always a project on the other end, that people feel more fulfilled in. And like there’s this ROI on fulfillment that people can now get to live in and be with, and they’re something that actually position their body of work, further in the work that they want to do, versus something they may or may not show to someone because they’re like, “I’m not proud of this.” All around are all proud of the work and in a way that you know we don’t have to, you know, be inauthentic and and sharing it with people it’s like we did this thing that we’re all excited about and energy stays high and it’s, it’s funner, I would say not like easier.
Adam: It sounds like it’s more more energized.
Nate: Totally. Totally that’s my thing like we just want to take products and this franchise by them and I don’t want to work with us unless we’re energized and we’re in this together. Period. Like if we’re not mutually energized like, and we’re not sustaining that energize you know momentum like there’s a mutual termination clause and all of our contracts like.
Let us all go our separate ways because we had thought this was a good thing and maybe it wasn’t. And so, yeah, we just kind of, you know, we lived for energized experiences I feel honest I feel true. I feel fulfilling.
Adam: Yeah, I do that too. At each phase there’s a mutual termination where it’s like, I haven’t finished what I committed to but then let’s, let’s take a look and see if this is still doing what we want to do is I agree if it gets stale on a, on a project, what are we doing, it’s not, we don’t have, we don’t have a five-year contract, what are we doing if it’s just, uh, let’s make it fun and make it fulfilling for everybody.
Nate: Right, right, right.
Adam: How do you think not coming up through an agency has maybe benefited enormously benefited. How do you think that’s shaped what Palette Group is because even your analogy of the palette itself as the platform for the medium. It’s just a lot different than what I hear from agency creative directors, how do you think that looking at it from the outside or looking at it from another direction has shaped what you’re building.
Nate: It has shaped my community a lot further, I feel like the system has been dominated by white dudes for forever. And, you know, I can’t imagine the network I have right now, if I didn’t do the boutiques and start my own shop route like, I can’t speak to the experience of being in a traditional agency can only speak to what I’ve heard, and you know the experiences so I’m going to just speak to my live experience where of course, you know, in Philly we had our studio, you know, it was in Kensington which is like, east, west of Fishtown which is like the Williamsburg out there in New Yorker but basically it’s like the cool hip neighborhood, but I’m like, you know, it’s the next gentrifying neighborhood that’s for us to you was in Kensignton, Philly. And so it was a bit like gutter, you know, and we had the most beautiful space on that side of Philadelphia like the architecture of our space was actually a senior thesis project for, you know, a bunch of architects at Temple, and so it was a beautiful space, these things called speakeasy hours. This is how we build our community of creatives in Philly. Where I invite like some dude I met that you know as a real estate developer in about open like a social club. And then I invite like a fashion designer and then the team room invite all of their homies and friends and so we’d be having like fried from a food truck guy was like, I want to be like hanging around space to more people wanted
Adam: Yeah, more people wanted in
Nate: So like, we created this like Studio 54 sort of atmosphere and by that our studio or like once a month or any leads, like speakeasy our, you can invite to the studio. And just hang out and people will just build and connect and it was just wonderful and serendipitous, and I just don’t know that amount of like creative harmony in harmony around community can be as intentional in the traditional model, because the ego, because of territory because of, you know, I have to protect mine because I have to get to the next level, you know, yeah, yeah, I have to get to this award accolade because it’s so important, and, you know, when you don’t grow up and he says to me, oh no, you’re just doing stuff to do stuff you’re not following the same rules, right now, am I like oh wow, because I’m in this privileged position to be judging award shows I’m like, “Oh, all these products…”
Adam: Yeah, now I now I see how it looks like.
Nate: I just need to create a budget for these things. That’s why I’m failing that don’t have a budget for ads and you know the excuse me for campaigns annually. This is why people aren’t allowed in, you know, or their box out of this role like no one would hire me because my body of work, even though I could probably outhustle any other creative- any of the person doesn’t have enough season experience and so sound of season experience. I’m not like as applicable in the journey of getting to that Webby or getting to that line right then some white dude over there, who worked at McCann. And so it’s, there’s. They’re all these systems and like nuance and bureaucracy and just bullshit that we don’t have to deal with.
Adam: Yeah. Are you It’s funny, coming up I came up through kind of big agencies and then now I do judge award shows every now and then and you do see the, you can tell right away when you start judging and you start going through the entries like, Okay, this agency has a budget and a plan, like this is how they’re going to attack this show and I could see you know if it’s a
regional Addys or something I’m like, oh this agency is like that, I got it. This agency really believes in this one campaign that they did is the only thing they entered. On either side of that it shapes, their reputation and gets them the next thing like if you work at an agency that has that budget. You become that person that was born all those awards and if you did it yes, you could have a killer book, and nobody knows who the hell you are
Nate: Exactly, exactly
Adam: It’s crazy. Or is that shaping is that exposure shaping your interest in award shows are you just like “I’m still not still not interested.”
Nate: A thousand percent, you know, there are people who look like me winning awards, and it’s frustrating and it hurts, you know, it actually. It makes me so angry that like you have like, Jayanta Jenkins and the Saturday Morning crew, you know, killing them, knock them dead but you know what about the team at Epiphany, you know, Coltrane Curtis,like he deserves his joints as well and like it just, you know that we are – Translation are finally getting up there, you know, the Chaucer Barnes and the Steve Stoute. But why is it taking this long? Like I find it sort of frustrating and. And I don’t know I just needs to be more people that look like us and so I’m gonna be honest with you I’m like on a you know a vendor right now, it’d be like no, we’re gonna we’re gonna get, we’re gonna get those pencils or and get those lines, and it’s it’s going to be the most beautiful, you know arrangement of culture ethnicity of women, you know, that are going to be leading these projects, and then I’m staffing these projects and getting those awards. And so that’s where we’re at about right now I’m just like I’m tired of the same people, tired of it, tired these white dudes snapping up these awards, I know.
Adam: If they did a picture an annual picture of the top award winners every year it’s like the same. It’s like I guess it would look like a fraternity pick composite like every every four years a couple new people show up but it’s pretty much the same. It’s pretty much the same. So you’ve been essentially you built Palette Group building off of this idea of community. You put together the Freelancer Expo, as a, the same idea as an expansion of that and building into community. I used to think of ad agencies as communities. What I found excited about working at agencies was that it was all like really smart creative people working together, but over time, you realize that the processes in the structure and the, I guess the money have it a corporate need of it really helps that community. How are you keep How do you keep that organic and keep the community, loose Is there anything, anything you do unconsciously or the just how it’s working out that you’re able to keep it community focused and, and keep the business part of it friendly enough I guess or loose enough that it’s that it doesn’t constrict the shape of a community.
Nate: Good question. I think there was a time where we were staff, we have a full time team with like 10 people but essentially an hour like three. So literally just three of us full time.
Adam: Oh, that’s interesting.
Nate: So, there was, there’s a point where like we had like the account team, the strategist the creative strategies, you know, a CD art directors and to photographers on staff and, you know, quickly I learned that that the bureaucracy of even just the internal culture of, you know someone’s creative strategist no I think I’m a creative director like I don’t want to be a create strategist anymore, like let’s figure out how to do that I’m like, sure in then having an art director was like I also am like totally qualified to be creative director right you know and then it progresses, like, I also think I want to be an art director and you’re like,
Adam: Oh yeah your full time job is managing is managing egos.
Nate: Yeah. So, learned that I’m like, Oh wow, I don’t think that I want to build a structure like this ever again. Yeah. You know, not that is ever again. I learned that I had to take a pause on designing team because I wanted to expand my community further to, you know, really, really be intentional about who we, you know, if, when we do start staffing full time, who we call in, just get a sense about how other creatives operate in, and the spaces that we need them to and so I think 2020 really allowed us to see that you could manage a structure like this remotely like every most agencies operating a function remotely. So, you know, do we actually need full time? I don’t know, like, and we need to come into the same space every day? I don’t know. And I think there’s a piece of that in what you’re, you asked me and then I also think what’s informing our decision to like stay sort of small and bespoke and intentional, is this idea that, you know, we want people to feel so fulfilled and not dependent on us. We want creatives to feel like they have their own, you know, laying in your own body of work, and we’re helping
to shape their career, like we are a platform for them in their career. And that’s sort of how you know anyone who’s ever moved through our group has experienced us to, like, and someone working full time for us in 2019. And this gentleman was a black man who moved from Boston city and he had just a crazy professional experience really like working directly with Harvey Weinstein during the debacle. He went to film school but he still like crazy, crazy background And I had met him when I started to wrap up the production side of the business and he just was like “Whatever, I just want to learn how to be like a black man in America who can stand on my own two feet.” He had no idea what you want to be and grew up. And so I was like “Sure that we can rock together but like, you know, let’s just like recognize that like, wherever you want to go I’m supporting you.”
But like, I don’t I’m not in a position yet to like write the next level. And he understood that very clear in the 90s of Oakland he has his own agency now. And he’s killing it like he’s, like, is racking up the clients and he’s not stressed anymore you know him and his girlfriend like live in a beautiful fulfilled life and he still produces with us, and we have projects he’s on campaigns right now with us. And it’s just a beautiful sort of, again, are like, I guess it’s the harmony harmony-based bike experience. Yeah, it’s very, very organic and not–Nothing’s forced in our relationship.
Adam: So, it’s more like, yeah what you’re describing is more like instead of a business relationship, it’s structured more like a friendship, in that, not that like, oh, we’re just be friends and forgive everything that goes wrong, but that there’s a door, and they people you tell people this is what’s inside the door if you want to work with us and they choose to come in and out, and when they are of like “Oh I think I should be this or that.”
Nate: And at the end of the day, entrepreneurship about developing and designing systems. It’s not about people it’s about systems. If the systems are right doesn’t matter who you put in the position. They should still be able to thrive. Right. And so for us it’s, we get an art director on a project with staff and they get all of our systems, and they’re just off to the races like we don’t get a brief on a Monday. Brief our art director on a Tuesday, Wednesday to just after they’re gone. The systems already set in place, you know, and that’s what entrepreneurship is about it’s, it’s about systems and processes not people.
Adam: Yeah, you, so you just segue right into Allyship & Action because he talked about, he talked about community but then you also talked about systems and processes. You built a community for path group. You built the freelance Expo. And then in the summer of 2020. America is going crazy. There’s all kinds of activity. You know, the trial of Derrick Chauvin is going on now. And I started to notice, I’d already noticed your work with palette group but I started to notice what you were doing with Allyship & Action, talk for people who don’t know what it is, talk about what you’re doing there, please.
Nate: So, Allyship & Action is an opportunity to challenge the advertising industry to really recognize the work that needs to be done around accountability and transparency of, you know, their systems and how you know inherently there are just these blocks around, people of color, black people, women, disabled communities. And, you know, just through my lived experience, I’ve I faced it. You know like, people will look at my body of work and be like, “Whoa, your website is so cool!” but you don’t know that shit I had to go through to get here like I’m still over $100k in college debt but I’ll never be able to pay off because the interest rates because of systemic issues in our government that like still burden me. Yeah, right, like, that is my lived experience to advertising so I’m not only trying to shape my career off my body of work, but it’s my lived experience. On top of that, based on systemic racism and oppression to marginalized communities that exists beyond it and so it’s really just shaking the industry to realize that you’re not just you’re not just here to pluck a bunch of black people, you know, out of a crowd to like meet a quota. Yeah, you’re, you’re, you’re, you should be designing a workforce for people to feel safe and feel like they’re actually going to be able to navigate this world, professionally safely. But also that their professional life is going to actually have an effect on their lived experience outside of work like Will they be able to take on in pay off their college tuition? And make sure that families are okay and make sure they have the right health care, etc etc because there are so many more issues that we have to deal with as marginalized people in this country. Then, you know, average white dude. And so really just being very transparent about the lived experience beyond the professional experience of people that are marginalized in our industry. And so we designed this like very dynamic and like real and humanizing conversation for our industry to have.
Nate: Yeah, it was, it was necessary. You’ve talked about lived experience a few times and you just referenced professional experience, and I want to get your take on how a professional experience effects, lived experience. Like how one affects the other because a lot of the systems and processes, before someone gets through high school gets through their education, even are designed or have just been shaped to put those marginalized communities in a disadvantaged position. For someone who navigated their way through college–you got through the Art Institute. You started the professional journey. What does the professional experience do to inform that lived experience like, How can that be improved? I know you’re talking to agencies and people in relationship to Allyship, what are what are things you’ve observed that are working well to improve lived experience through professional experience.
I think either either that you’ve observed or like things that people are working on and telling you they’re trying to do.
Nate: I think the lowest, lowest and highest denominator in this part of the conversation is decentering yourself. That is like my, my north star in conversations with people in systems conversations with people when it comes to professional experience and lived experiences, how much are you decentering yourself in a relationship with someone who has been faced with discrimination, and being put in a marginalized space and having to deal with systemic racism or oppression. And, you know, through my personal experience, I’ll share one story about a person the centering themselves, where my – Palette Group is actually a company that I bought from a gentleman, two gentlemen that co-founded it together in 2012. I joined their company in late 2012, like, April after that campaign with Hyundai and help them build it, you know from things like maybe 60 K and revenue at a quarter million dollars that first year. Now I was doing new business, and I was doing strategy. While I was homeless living on a mattress in a warehouse. So that entire Hyundai campaign. My lived experiences on a mattress I go to the gym every day to take a shower.
Adam: Every day, and then you’d go get flown around the country to participate in this campaign.
Adam: So when they were like, they were going to send you to Brooklyn for this part of it, if you were to go to Chelsea Market you were like yes I get to sleep in a hotel.
Nate: So, you know, and obviously no one knew that like no one knows, like you not even my business partners at the first company knew that I was like living in a warehouse and I hadn’t paid my student loans and whatever they, they were like hey do you want want to work for free for the first six months and I was like, sure, my life’s already freelance, what’s the difference. That was my way of thinking because I was like, if I’m going to make it to the next level I need to find people who are at the next level in our thinking differently than me so I need to learn from people. And so I just don’t decide to join them on that journey, and it was and it wasn’t like, you know, glamorous at all. I still live in a warehouse. Yeah. After a couple months they like, here’s two grand a month. But here’s, here’s what happened a couple years later after I built the company and build a team out for like six employees I got an office space. I got a co-working space that we working out of the become a client so like that was, that was wild to like hear him expanding the hell out of his company in so many different ways and growing as a leader growing as an agency in Philadelphia. And then I just realized like I wasn’t happy doing that anymore. And I went to my partner at the time and I was like, “I’m not happy, you know, I’m going to found this thing called Palette Group. And I’m not gonna lie I can do the same exact thing. And already got my first client lined up my first annual contract and we’re just going to do in social content, alongside social strategy.” And he said, “You built this. You should own it. You should own it.” And he recognized. Yeah, you recognize that this isn’t about me, this was, this was. I helped. I helped me build this thing. Yeah. And I played the role that I could, up until this point. And now it is time for me to pass it along. And we set a deal up that made sense and I was able to buy it over a couple months, And then I flipped the company into what you see today. When, that’s it.
Adam: That’s an incredible story. So when you say decentralized yourself,
Adam: Decenter yourself. Describe, tell me more about what that means.
Nate: That means, that means, if you feel as a person that’s non person of color or non-black that you by removing your emotions from a situation are physically removing yourself from the situation is going to help a person of color or black person, take the next step in their career, or the next step in their life. And you decenter yourself. That is what we need to see happen, period. Like that is what the standard of what you know what needs to happen in allyship for for true change and equity to be there because there’s just so much more real estate that we don’t have access to because seats are there because people’s our emotions are in the way right now and like you can’t see past your living experience and the emotions that you think are rationalizing your lived experience to see that someone else’s. It’s way more challenging. You know, more frustrating away more for the pain and generational trauma. And so if you decenter yourself and your emotions and your thoughts and your psyche and you really get presence of what the other person is going through you relapse. That the best way to just step away and get out of the way. You should allow someone else to step in that
Adam: It’s about creating space for someone else and take that opportunity. Do you still talk to those, those guys that that you. Yeah.
Nate: Yeah. Every, every now and then we’re still we still communicate, I’m good friends.
Adam: That’s an incredible story. How has – So you had in October, you had kind of like you did with the, the Freelance summit you did an Allyship & Action summit, it was October right yeah Nate: State of equity.
Adam: Yeah, that was a huge event that you that you conceived put on posted. What was the reaction to that what was the response like that?
Nate: So that was the third, that’s their Allyship & Action summit. At that point, and you know all of them have this sort of humanizing experience and grounding experience and so it’s it’s wild how electric, most of them are to you – like people are on the chat going off. So the response was, you know, all like runs the gamut of like, I’m very mad at our shipping action for something that we did to all the way to. Wow like breathtaking out of the room like I’m so happy I’m here to learn about this experience and learn how to be a white woman creating space for black woman, or that if I am a Gen Z or I can communicate with CMOS who have, you know, three, three decades of 10 year on me in a way that I can hold them accountable to our ship that they have in their lives, and they have at their corporations and the conversation when I say like kind of mad at us was around the Tulsa police we actually had Christena Pile
of Dentsu, the Chief Diversity Officer of Dentsu do a one on one with the Tulsa police department. An officer from there and it was that could have been so bad we could have a cap off of the chat but everyone was present in like really just like, “Yeah, what do police, what are they doing?” Like we want to abolish them. But in the meantime, where are y’all doing, you know, how is this really working. Yeah, how’s this How are you operating to be a bit, you know, to change, you know, to change this white dude he’s telling me he’s changing. I will spell it out, you know, paints the picture and let us know, allow us to like, engage with you in a way where you can share more, and it was just wild because everyone was president and everyone was like, you know, whoa. But also you know we didn’t have a counter that like we should have had an abolitionist speak to like what it means to abolish what it means defund the police. And so there was just a bit of one side and this which is fair, like, it’s great feedback. And I think that’s the beauty of what we build now I should have an action is it doesn’t belong to anyone. It doesn’t belong to anyone. and there are just, there’s a community of people that we call the Allied sheep army that produced that event. So it wasn’t me. You know, it was a community of people we had the art director art director the first Freelancer cyber summit, pass it off to someone else to be the creative director, she’s asked about someone else to be the career there for you know the State of Equity and we’re passing it off again for the summit coming up this year like there’s this evolution of it where it doesn’t belong to anyone, it’s, it’s, it’s a testament to community who really want to fight for change, to be a part of the change in their industry in their space. So how can we design systems around effecting change in our industry where anyone can have access to them, because that’s equity, and that’s what we’re about.
Adam: Yeah. And so you do centered yourself. You got this, you got it this far and you said okay I’m going to make space for the next person who has the passion from this vantage point to now take it to the next step. And I hope that they do the same thing, instead of them building a structure around it, which the structure always end up creating processes to keep that group at the top. That’s incredible. How has what you achieved with Allyship & Action played back into Palette Group? Did you learn anything about community, or just about the power like the lesson you just explained about having the, the perspective of Tulsa police, and not having a counterpoint has any of that stuff played back into how you lead a Palette Group?
Nate: Great question, and I would say, yes, um, I think it gives us confidence because we are. we see ourselves as in between Germany in America.
Nate: And so, you know, if anything it really gives us confidence that we can design like pods of teams around projects that exists for certain amount of time and disband. That’s just say, like, is are we calling your calling them ‘project pods.’ And so, we’re designing little teams for how Allyship & Action to work on things and they dissolve. Every summit last year was exactly that. It was like a little project pod of creatives in the industry who are like, I want to fight up against you know equity in our space. Here’s my value that I add here’s my capacity. Let’s get after it. And so we can design that same sort of modular approach to Palette Group, and it sort of justifies the next step in our business model which is designing a collective, so we’re calling it the Palette Grid, which is going to be a collective of creators that we’re going to center, yeah you know on our website in through different experiences, virtually where we’ll show off the lived experience. The professional experience, cultural nuances that shows up in the body of work of this first class of the Palette grid. So we’re going to invite all the people that we met throughout your connection to this experience,
Nate: part of meeting our first class.
Adam: Did you know? Did you think about Allyship & Action that as a pilot for this or know you learned it after and said “Hey I think we can apply X Y or Z to pilot group or what if we took this pod concept.”
Nate: Well the power grid was something you know for years the power coming specifically. So it was an idea that wanted to really do 2019 but the timing wasn’t right now I think we are positioned right in the market yet, it’s like Allyship & Action actually helped us garner a better position in the market, like it was able to showcase how we are different in how we can add value to the market and how we can shape campaigns and design them and you know just our creative capacities and vision making on campaigns and so it’s own case study right to the point where clients are like “Can we get for our industry?” And so, it’s great. And the power grid was just like an idea, and then the project pods is like, oh, it wasn’t until I came to me one day I’m like I would just call these modular groups, oh project pods, sounds like. Interesting. And then the palette grid and the project pot so it’s sort of like, they sort of complement each other in an interesting way yeah but, and it’s just how we kind of organically operate anyway and I think that’s one of our privileges like we’ve sort of organically sort of been able to build the brand in a way that the brand of Palette Group, specifically in a way that it sort of has just been sculpting itself, you know, over the years and like slowly maturing to become something that isn’t quite anything else in the in the industry and allows for itself to be its own standalone type of agency structure.
Adam: That’s really interesting. I think it comes from your perspective on what community is and how community takes shape and evolves, and that’s it gives you the perspective-gives you the skill to see that and no one to shape it and when to back off and let it do its thing is what I’m hearing.
Nate: Yeah, and you know, you’re talking about a kid was in the foster care system right so for me I’m 32 but from zero is he was in foster care of my family it was a bunch of immigrants in America, who they got here just like, I’m going to go do my thing and, and, like, really just had to go assimilate and figure it out so I had to go back to the foster care house, so I never really had a home I never really had like a grounded anchoring community because everyone was sort of everywhere. You know, in and out of the foster house or in the house and my families and so I always have the design community in friendships, on my own, and like, really figure out how to garner true bonds and relationships. So I think, you know, if I had a superpower probably be that is really truly having, you know, genuine real conversations with humans. Even a podcast. So, yeah just through time I think that has tempered My, my, my skill set around community, and connecting with humans and I think that’s like the real true or businesses, it’s just community building and being true to your values.
Adam: Nate, you’ve given me – this is awesome. I’m glad we’re able to talk, you’ve given me a ton of stuff to think about more things that I actually even have time to ask you questions about here so I’d like no don’t apologize. You crazy? We’re going to follow up. For the record, I also think you have a cool website.
Adam: So, don’t, don’t, don’t hold that against me. People can find that at palette GRP dot com. But, where else can people find you online and, and, and getting tested you’re in
Nate: Twitter or LinkedIn, whatever you want to find me.