In one sentence, can you tell us about your agency?
We are a creative agency powered by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated men and women.
What's the story behind your name?
Concreates means to co-create or create together in Spanish (con means with), and the fact that we are also all convicts just made a lot of sense.
Did you have any mentors or people you looked up to when you first getting started?
We are students of the game, so by looking at the legendary creatives that came before us, we were able to study them and their thinking. We have had some great mentors who recognize that we are uniquely positioned, and they want to help and see us win.
Defy Ventures is an in prison and post-prison release program that teaches entrepreneurship. It was through this program that I was introduced to Tim Jones, Executive Strategy Director of 72andSunny in New York. We shared the belief that formerly incarcerated people can provide unique skills and perspectives in the agency world, which led to us partnering to work together on creative projects.
What kind of impact has the pandemic had on your business?
We have a remote working structure anyway, so we haven't really experienced any challenges on that front. I will say that access to technology for those on the inside is a bit of a challenge, and can often lead to a less streamlined process than we'd like.
We were unable to receive relief from the CARES Act because of our criminal history, but since the pandemic, our phone has been ringing nonstop.
Can you tell us about the Quarantine Guide you released recently?
Given the present circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic, large portions of the world's population have been living under some form of quarantine or lockdown within their communities and homes. These are conditions that we are well versed in given our respective histories.
The guide shares our personal experiences with enduring lockdowns, as well as the methods we used to cope with such difficult situations.
We're also one of the leadership partners in the #WeMatterToo movement, which shines a light on the risk of COVID-19 to the men and women in our prison system.
Do you expect any long-term changes in the way brands communicate with their customers as a result of the ongoing social justice movement?
In the current climate, we're seeing a lot of solidarity briefs and projects involving the hard conversations brands need to have with the black community.
I think more meaningful content is what you will see from now on. People want to know that a brand has depth and is not just about taking people's money.
With more than 50% of your team currently incarcerated, how do you recruit new talent?
There is a lack of awareness surrounding the advertising industry in the communities we serve. A lot of times, people reach out directly, or family members will reach out. Facilitators on the inside also bring new talent in.
We survey, ask specific questions, and tie into creative and strategic potential. Once we do that, we can start to assess where people are creatively and bring them into the fold.
Where most people see a bank robber, we see a strategist; where some see a drug dealer, we see a logistics expert.
Over 95% of people currently incarcerated in state prisons in the U.S. will eventually be released. What can be done to help those folks successfully transition back into society?
I think all of the necessary things to help a person transition should be in place for them before they are released.
It shouldn't be about finding a job when you get out, it should be about training for that job while you're still in, so you can walk out ready to go. Finding a place to live should happen while you're still in prison, so you can walk out and not worry about being homeless.
Those things are not regularly provided in prison, which can lead to a cycle of incarceration, because people are not leaving prison fully rehabilitated.
Why is there a stigma attached to hiring previously incarcerated people in the U.S. that doesn't seem to exist in other parts of the world?
That is a super loaded question. In the U.S., we like to sell wholesomeness and morals as an export, but also point fingers at the flaws of our citizens to hide our own. I would like people to see someone's criminal background as an asset, and not simply a deficit.
Here in LA we are the face of the Fair Chance Act, a law that prohibits employers from asking people about their former convictions, and provides incentives for businesses to hire from this population. Businesses are eligible for a 40% tax credit on an employee's first year wages, and can be reimbursed for up to 75% of the employee's wage to cover the cost of on-the-job training.
Do you feel any added pressure to succeed given what your agency represents?
Absolutely! We have to work ten times harder to prove we are capable, and four times harder to receive the same money any other agency would charge for the same work.
Have you ever turned down a project because it didn’t fit with what you do well or it went against what you believe in?
We have turned down far more money than we have made. Thousands of brands profit from prison labor, so yes, we turn things down all the time that go against the very system we are fighting to change.
Is there any difference in your team's approach when the client is an established brand versus when you're working with a startup?
Not at all. The difference is always going to be in the budget, never the approach.
Do you have a favorite project that you worked on?
We partnered with 72andSunny to work on a project about standing in solidarity with the black community. What stood out to us all was the knowledge that our men and women had with the brand, and how quickly and easily we were able to get the project to the finish line. '
I think what other clients can learn is that you can’t solve a problem affecting a specific community without representation from that community.
Tokenism doesn't work—you need to get in on the ground and get your hands dirty.
How do you measure progress as an agency? How do you know that you’re on the right track?
We recently had a judge reach out to us, and based on our recommendation, he released a man from prison who had been sentenced to life without parole. We measure our success by the number of lives we can change through the creative career path we provide.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting their own agency?
The more diverse perspectives you can have in your leadership the better. And make sure that as your agency grows, so do you as a person.
Personal development is just as important as business development.