People First Agency: RPA's Samantha Hawkins

Because of our strong beliefs in diversity and inclusion, we’ve embraced and steadily broadened our efforts to be more representative of the diversity of our Associates.

Samantha Hawkins
Digital Strategy RPA

Tell us about yourself and your current role.

I’m currently a Supervisor of Community Management and Digital Strategy at full-service, independent ad agency RPA in Santa Monica. Breaking that down, Community Management means overseeing the social media channels for clients. Digital Strategy is being the strategic partner for clients and internal teams, facilitating a harmony between a brand’s objectives, digital media, audiences and creative. I’ve been working primarily in automotive for about 5 years now. On any given day I do a lot of collaborating with media and creative teams, writing briefs, and solving fun (usually) problems.

What was the greatest obstacle you’ve had to overcome since you began working in advertising?   

Definitely breaking down our own bubbles. Whether that bubble is of the ad industry itself, or of being on the West Coast and disconnected from the rest of the country, or barriers that divide disciplines like media/creative/analytics. It’s been challenging but extremely fruitful to facilitate connections and to remove the blinders that come with any bubble. Transparency, free-flowing information and diverse perspectives make us better informed and makes the work we do more effective.

What is your opinion on the current state of diversity within the industry?     

It’s apparent that as an industry we are still very much in the early stages. Some are talking the talk, but I don’t think we really see substantial change that increases inclusion and equity at all levels, particularly in senior leadership and the C-suite levels.  These changes take time, but we need to see agencies being transparent about their own lack of diversity before we can hold each other accountable and see actual change for the better.

What do you think causes agencies such difficulty when attracting, retaining, and nurturing people of color?

It’s not “easy” because it doesn’t fit into existing templates. It takes time and money to go outside the usual talent sources and ad schools. It’s easier to do things the way they’ve always been done. But we know diversity and equal opportunity don’t happen organically. Different people from different backgrounds are exposed to different opportunities. I didn’t know advertising was a career path until after college; I thought business marketing was where it stopped. And I definitely wasn’t aware of all the various types of jobs within advertising, from creative and ad ops to business affairs and media. Agencies need to go out of their way to seek new talent sources, redefine what qualifies a candidate and think about how a person’s diverse experiences can lead to great work for our clients. In regard to retention, we need to create opportunities where there are none. We have to pass on the tools needed to succeed in this industry and then we need to get out of the way by including people of color and letting them lead and have ownership in decision making. I think it’ll also require a way of taking the subjectivity out of things like performance reviews. We’ll have to test and learn these new practices as we go; we can’t be too afraid of change or failure because stagnation isn’t an option.

The advertising industry has for years been talking about its many diversity issues. What do you think a long-term solution could be?     

One long-term solution is exposure to talent earlier on, while they’re younger. Think about it: By your junior year of high school you were already being asked daily about what you plan to do with your life. So even if we are showing up at college career fairs, we’re missing out on a huge audience who maybe never considered going to that college, or never knew a marketing degree was a thing, or maybe never thought college was even an option for them.

How has your own agency tried to improve diversity?

RPA is a People First agency, not just for our clients and Associates, but for our community. Because of our strong beliefs in diversity and inclusion, we’ve embraced and steadily broadened our efforts to be more representative of the diversity of our Associates. Our Diversity Committee, RPA Represent, serves as a change agent in the agency, constantly promoting inclusivity and diversity in an authentic and meaningful way. There are several working groups that facilitate diversity and inclusion programming for Black History Month, Pride, Asian Pacific Heritage, Hispanic Heritage and Women’s History months. Last year for Black History Month we hosted a panel called Diversifying Advertising: Perspectives on Hiring Black Talent and Workplace Inclusivity. We want RPAers from diverse backgrounds to feel supported and encouraged and at the same time broaden all Associates’ awareness of a variety of cultures and points of view.

How do you plan to inspire the next generation?

I want to set an example for young women and people of color. I mentor young women in my life and plan to do this more with people in the industry. I want to connect people so they feel like they’re part of the ad community, so they see more people like them represented, to know each other and advocate for one another; this will be one of my larger focuses as the new co-chair for ThinkLA’s Diversity, Inclusion and Gender committee. Throughout my career, I plan to create opportunities, bringing people “to the table” with me and then getting out of their way so they can grow and hopefully continue doing the same for those who follow.