Trevor Robinson OBE, Founder and ECD of Quiet Storm, started Create Not Hate more than a decade ago. First launched as an initiative, CNH's aim was to give more opportunities in the creative and media industries to young marginalised people in London. Ten years later, Create Not Hate lives again as a non-profit community interest company – backed by the advertising industry.
Trevor revisited it this year in response to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and George Floyd’s tragic murder. Backed by other agencies – and with creative directors and staff at his own agency, Quiet Storm, freely giving off their time – Create Not Hate re-launched last year, ahead of Black History Month.
Today we are getting Behind the Idea with Trevor himself, speaking about some of the most inspiring work created so far.
What was the brief?
We set out to engage young, underrepresented individuals by asking them to respond to a subject matter that would immediately resonate with them – something about which they would instantly have an opinion.
These kids are well aware of racist issues. One was even stopped on the way to one of our sessions. He was with his mother, and she showed us the handcuff marks – made by police as they stood in front of a Black Lives Matter poster on their way to see us, ironically.
Our brief was emotionally charged: How would you tackle racism through advertising? Everything was based on what it’s like to be a black kid, drawing from their personal experiences. For example; how they should be treated by police in order to avoid creating drama, hostility or problems. It was both powerful and simplistic.
It was also about the notion of perspective – show the black perspective and also address the audience viewpoint. If you move your handbag when a black person sits next to you or avoid sitting next to a black person on the bus, for instance, it’s about addressing both sides. Such minor jabs take their toll.
The resulting executions were very powerful. The ideas came from the young people themselves, we helped to bring them to life.
How did the initial pitch/brainstorming phase go?
The brainstorming involved me, and lots of other creative directors from agencies such as Engine, Red Brick Road and RSA Films. We talked with the kids about the possibilities of the industry and what they could achieve. And we tried to help nurture their ideas.
There were four sessions. During the first one, we kicked around ideas and discussed their experiences. Some were powerful, some were humorous, and we didn’t want to tie down specifics too early – such as which media, by saying, for instance, ‘You must do a poster’.
The first session took about half a day. I shared some things I’d seen in my life as well as some of the work I’d done in the past. Other sessions revolved more around tying down ideas. Later, we did sessions to give them hands on experiences of the production process, e.g. editing.
There was also a session on graphic design and young creatives shared how to bring posters and T-shirts to life. We showed how an idea can be transformed. This demonstrated that what we were saying we would do with their ideas was legitimate, and that broke down some of their cynicism, as well as allowing them to have insight into many different career paths in the industry.
It was so satisfying to see their work coming to life.
Tell us more about the concepts and why they were chosen.
One of the youths – Emmanuel – had immediate ideas around the notion of ‘perspective’ that were so good we knew immediately we must bring them to life. Later, he co-directed with me.
One of his ideas formed a central concept and was born from his own experience.
He enjoys Frank Sinatra and Shakespeare and people are always astounded by this. They expect him to just listen to grime. He’s something of a chameleon; I guess we all are.
Anyway, he came up with a brilliant idea on his way to the loo – having young surgeons talking about ‘cutting’ during surgery but, before you can see they are surgeons, your headset immediately thinks its black youths thinking of doing somebody harm due to their accents and the way they are speaking.
Another idea was developed about black youths rehearsing an aggressive scene from Romeo & Juliet while two white people who see it from outside the window assume it could be ‘a drug deal gone wrong’ and discuss whether to call the police. These two ideas were made into short films titled ‘Check Your Prejudice’. They were aired by Channel 4, which gave us free media space as well as getting around 90k views on social media.
Ideas from other young people included a series of posters built around the notion of how ‘The Little Things Build Up’
Ideas from other young people included a series of posters built around the notion of how ‘The Little Things Build Up’, which featured on the Westway Tower during what would have been the Notting Hill Carnival, and posters featuring racist dogs to show the absurdity of racism – brought to life with Ridley Scott Creative Group and launched for Black History Month.
Another, revolving around making racism extinct, depicted dinosaurs with racist attitudes. This was brought to life in animation and print by Red Brick Road and The Mill, those posters are still up.
We did posters, T-shirts, films, TV and ideas were chosen for their simplicity and challenge to people.
What you see isn’t necessarily what people are. Society’s attitude is very warped when it comes to black people. Many may say it’s over-simplistic, but that’s the very nature of racism. The work gets you in the guts but it’s very truthful. We want to another programme and launch more work next quarter after Christmas, if we can get funding.
What was the production process like and what was the biggest challenge?
Doing this in lockdown mode made things difficult, but we’re used to being adaptable as a production company.
It was tricky not being able to interact as normal. Also, many in our team were working for nothing, so you had to negotiate carefully. You couldn’t ask for too much. And as everyone was working long hours, you had to be kind.
I have lots of praise for these people, and many thanks.
We went to youth centres around Merton and Notting Hill – the kind of places where I grew up –and you could see some creative directors were clearly not used to being the only white person in a room. Afterwards, the creative directors were beaming – the honesty of the conversations left some in tears.
Some of the young people were quite cynical about us at first. But then, as you watched, you could see the room transform. One young kid said to me: ‘I don’t ever want to work in advertising!’ Then at the end he didn’t want to leave. It was very rewarding.
At every session, we had to have sanitation stations, masks, temperature checks and it was done with military precision. Because of the masks, at certain points we couldn’t read faces. But it was very well managed. The production process and everything we shot was also done within safe Covid guidelines.
The fact there were no schools properly open at the time, due to lockdown, was probably the biggest challenge. Previously for Create Not Hate, I had gone to my own school, to schools in Hackney, and I had gone up to headmasters. Actually getting to young, diverse kids was more of a challenge this time around.
We worked with Merton Council to access youth centres and with an organisation called Debate Mate we focused on schools with a high percentage of free school meals. We also spoke to young footballers through Merton council – because only a small percentage actually go on to become professional footballers, of course, so we suggested they consider something creative as a career.
We worked with some ex-offenders that had committed petty crime and had been written off, too. We suggested they try a life in advertising and said we could give them the tools if they’d been inspired by the programme.
It was about giving marginalised talent of colour the confidence to consider a career in the creative industries.
How long did it take from inception to delivery?
The notion for the first programme had always been to unveil work this year at the Notting Hill Carnival, so we had a strict and tight deadline – also a challenge.
We had to go from idea, to execution and presentation within two and a half months and the fact we did that was a testament to the hard work of all involved. At Quiet Storm, we both write and direct and we can turn things around quickly, so we were fortunate in that.
What do you hope this work achieves?
The broad aim is to tackle racism and to get more diversity in the advertising industry, which will benefit strongly if it manages this.
I’d love to see an influx of people from different types of background - it’s predominantly middle class in agencies. Create Not Hate is about giving an opportunity to see what diverse talent can bring. I’ve had a long and rewarding career and I want others to have this same opportunity.
We came up with the idea to relaunch Create Not Hate just after George Floyd was murdered, as I wanted to do something positive to deal with my anger. It was also my way of giving back.
What is one unique aspect of the output?
What I loved was seeing the transformation – not only of the kids involved but also of the people in the industry who were working with them. Not automatically hiring someone with all the qualifications who talks like them is a challenge for many people in agencies.
An inevitable question is: Why give kids who aren’t qualified a chance? But Create Not Hate is helping show that they can be bloody good. It was great to see the penny drop. There’s a lot of talent out there that we’re not tapping into. What I like about this is that it allows people to see the potential.
I’ve had to go out of my way for a long time to convince people of the change that’s needed. People like the idea, but I still need to draw people in. Fortunately, clients are coming to me now with interest in this project. They want a better handle on their audiences, and a lot of agencies aren’t a reflection of the people they advertise to.
This is about young people through their gaze, through their perspective.
Why will the final assets resonate with consumers?
They ring truth to people and highlight issues that so many people have to deal with every day. Our nanny got sent one of Emmanuel’s films by a friend, purely by chance. She is from South Africa and she said she was sent the idea with a recommendation to watch it and she then realised we were behind it!
The work has had an incredible response on social media, with even celebrities in the US sharing it. It’s great that I’m seeing people on LinkedIn now wanting to be involved, too.
What is the main message behind all the work - and why does it matter?
I have long hoped that racism could be a thing of the past, but it still exists. It’s about tackling this to drive positive change. Fortunately, society is more up for talking about it. I’ve now got friends who ask me what it’s like being black. We’ve had these uncomfortable conversations.
My wife used to be shocked when cabs wouldn’t stop for me. She realised it wasn’t just me being chippy. She saw it happen in front of her eyes. And we saw people in tears at the sessions when they were told what it’s like to be harassed even on their way there.
There is still a weird invisible apartheid. But I think people are not suppressing it now. Celebrities are coming out, and this is educational for everyone. You don’t know it unless we show it. More people are up for confronting it. Society is being less sexist and homophobic.
People are starting to realise that maybe they don't hire people who were educated where they were, who speak like them, even though deep down they are not out and out racist. This unconscious bias needs to be challenged.