Nate Nichols is the New-York-based Creative Director of pioneering, international creative agency, Palette Group, known for its unique stance on original and branded content. He is also the co-founder of Allyship & Action, a series of summits devoted to inciting radical change within the world of advertising through scalable and sustainable action, in order to achieve a truly equitable industry.
In this three-part interview, Nichols shares with us:
- The story behind Allyship & Action’s inception
- A new favorite campaign for Footlocker Women
- How Picter has revolutionized the way he connects with both creatives and clients
The story behind Allyship & Action’s inception
Simon Lovermann (Co-founder Picter)
Hi Nate, tell us a bit about yourself: who are you, what are you interested in and what are you working on?
Who am I? I’m Nate Nichols, the Creative Director of Palette Group, and Co-founder of Allyship & Action. What I’m into is creating. I live for self expression. A palette, an artist’s palette, is a platform for creativity and self-expression. You can put all different types of paint, all different types of mediums on this palette. And so we are that. We represent creatives that are amazing and awesome, and we’re working on things like a summit on anti-racism and elevating marginalised communities’ voices in the advertising industry. And, when we’re not doing that, we’re producing content for brands like Footlocker, Saxx Underwear, tourism bureaus – and that’s tough right now. But what’s fun is that, because of our ability to be self-expressed and to think in such a nuanced way, our clients come to us for new and interesting ideas to market things you probably shouldn’t be marketing or advertising during a pandemic, because there’s still room for the opportunities to tell stories that represent the city, for example, in the case of tourism. And so that’s what we’re working on right now, and what we’re up to.
You founded Allyship & Action as a reaction to the death of George Floyd and the necessary radical change in the advertising and creative industries. Tell us a bit about what has changed for you personally in the last few months.
The initiation was sort of a compound effect of being a Black man in America, with a partner who is German who doesn’t really understand the experience – the way that we live it as a culture, integrated into the society. And then additionally, the experience of being a Black person in the advertising industry. There are these two different experiences which, when they come together, equate to a certain lack of opportunity and possibility because of the life experience that we have being Black in this industry.
I saw that people in the industry were trying to co opt this narrative of allyship and supporting Black lives in America and it just didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel like they knew what our experience was, or that they truly meant the words that they were putting into their media releases or the money that they were donating – like there was nothing behind it. And so for us, because we are a creative agency where the baseline is to create from a sense of empathy, we had to really, truly find out who was rooted in empathy with those statements. It was about activating the advertising industry.
Since then, what has changed is that we have introduced our experience as a community, as a culture, to the advertising industry in a way that is fierce and unapologetic and real. In a way that makes them understand that your words don’t matter, that your actions are the only thing that matter. I’ve had conversations with CMOS and CEOs of billion-dollar companies to get a sense of what their plans are, what their strategies are, to ensure there’s equity in their companies and in the industry and in society. So for us, what’s changed so far is the ability to have true, codified conversations around change, and to create workshops, plans and lessons for people to grow into their allyship and action.
Congratulations on your work, I think it’s really important what you’re currently contributing to change in our industry. Do you feel a lot of responsibility on your shoulders?
I feel like the responsibility is to continue to push other people to be more responsible, to instigate more responsibility. I think the responsibility that I have is the emotional labour of the grace that I can extend to ensure that other people are being accountable in the responsibility that they want to take. I don’t want to own the burden, I want to ensure people are sharing the burden. So if I’m doing this right, if we’re doing this right, it shouldn’t just be my responsibility, it should be the responsibility of the industry.
How do you structure your time between running and building up A&A as well as running your agency Palette Group?
Whoo, great question. I think we’re learning. I have an amazing life and business partner, who’s the producer behind both operations. So she helps keep things intact and running smoothly, and she questions everything to ensure that we’re taking the right steps to make sure it’s sustainable. We’re sharing the responsibility of growing and scaling each one of these operations, because they both are fully functional operations. And, again, back to responsibility – this isn’t just us running it, there are like 25 humans who volunteer their time to support Allyship & Action, so it’s not just us. And then on the Palette Group side, we have a roster of thousands of creatives around the globe that we have access to, that we tap for different projects to ensure that we’re getting different voices, different perspectives and different types of creatives to share their input on the types of products that have come to us, that we execute against. So again, it’s not just about us and what I’m up to, it’s about sharing the experience of being a creative and allowing other people to be self-expressed on the scopes of work that we receive.
I hear that collaboration really seems to be at the core of what you do. Do you think that flat hirarchies and systems based on community and trust are the future agency and creative shop model?
A thousand per cent. I think the future is community and collaboration. Like, how might you design systems that are fluid for people to tap into and do the best work they can? And what I mean by that is a basic business fundamental: you develop systems that operate with or without you as the entrepreneur that started it, right? You are a founder, you develop systems, you develop policies, instructions for people to insert themselves into. It shouldn’t be about people, it should be about processes. So it’s about having a system in a community that has a culture where we’re reliant on each other in a way that’s healthy. That is the future of agency, in my opinion. It’s community and collaboration in a way where you could have a creative in Brooklyn working with a creative in LA working with a creative in Philadelphia – which is exactly the case we have right now. We just did a project with Footlocker where we had creatives in Paris, LA, Philly and New York all working on one project.
What are the biggest challenges for you right now and how do you overcome them?
I think our biggest challenge is turning the platform that we built for Allyship & Action into a means to accelerate Palette Group in a way that’s productive and healthy. People are now looking at us as the founders of Allyship & Action and in reality it’s like, “No, I’m still a Black dude who’s a creative director, who runs an agency where I’m trying to make five to ten million dollars a year. I’m not just here to fight and combat racism. I’m here to support you all in that but I’m here to actually be a creative director and to run a multimillion dollar agency and shop.” So I think our biggest challenge right now is shifting the narrative of “Here’s the cool crew who’s running this Allyship & Action thing,” to “Oh, they’re actually this very amazing creative shop and production company that we can create budget for to produce at a level that’s fucking commercial and killer.”
A new favorite campaign for Footlocker Women
Is there a commission you’d like to share with us that you recently finished?
We did a project for Footlocker Woman, which was amazing. It was a project called Behind Her Label and it was the third project we did with Footlocker this year. The first one was cool because it was a Black History Month project – the first Black History Month project in Footlocker history, actually, which is insane for a big, billion-dollar company where it’s mostly Black people and people of colour who buy the apparel they sell.
Anyway, this project was very similar to that Black History Month one, where they had identified Black folks who had been at Footlocker for years, and who represented something special about Footlocker as a company, and we got to hear their story. This time around, they were like, “Hey, we want to build a brand platform to amplify the voices and work of female streetwear designers,” and I just loved that. So we built this team of amazing women – including two women from LA, and a New Zealand photographer living in Brooklyn – to produce and create the content for Behind Her Label: the logo for the brand platform, all the elements for the creative, the photography and its production, the video production and telling the designers’ stories. And then Footlocker had commissioned this shoot to highlight each one of the designers’ products, so it wasn’t just about their voices, it was about their product too, and helping these women make money, which is what we’re all trying to do this year. It’s not just about talking about these communities that are underrepresented and under-supported, it’s about helping them make true change that lines their pockets. I just love that we had the opportunity to do that, because that’s what Allyship & Action is about, you know: “how do we ensure economic development in the communities that haven’t had it for centuries?”
How Picter has revolutionized the way Nate Nichols connects with both creatives and clients
Tell us a bit about how you’ve been using Picter and why you like it.
We get these scopes of work where the numbers of deliverables are in the hundreds these days, because of social media. So how do you manage the approval process and the feedback process in a way that’s streamlined and simple for the photographer or the editor to upload to you as the production company and as the agency? Picter means that we, as the middleman between the client and these creatives, can present content in a way that’s streamlined, that’s very clear and allows the client to provide feedback to everyone involved. So it’s this one-stop place to see everyone’s feedback and approval, which is invaluable. You have to get feedback and approval for all the hundreds of stills you’ve uploaded, and all of the video content needs feedback based on timestamps and Picter makes that possible. That’s biggest, most beautiful part about Picter and how we’ve been using it.
Since you collaborate with a lot of creatives, who do you use Picter with?
We work with photographers, editors, creative directors, art directors, designers, and they’re all the folks that collaborate on our Picter workspace. And then on the client side, it’s producers and all the other folk that need to see it, like the brand team that is providing feedback on the aesthetics and what they need to deploy the assets.
Why do you think other agencies, creatives and brands would benefit from using Picter?
It’s the most streamlined way to get what we need from the many types of creatives we work with; to have them all go to one place to upload and present content in a way where it’s visually just right there. If you work with any other technology, you have to click through and click through again, then download something and comment on it. It’s very clunky and there are too many steps to get to what you need. The way Picter functions allows us to get what we need from the creatives in a way that is easy for them and easy for us. And then we can give it to the client in a way that’s super simple and streamlined for them to provide feedback and give clarity on what they like and do not like. It puts all of the things you need to run your shop in a collaborative and streamlined way in one place.