Yes, I’m a fan of Ava DuVernay, not only of her films, but of her business and brand savvy.
There’s much to admire: She’s a director, producer and an innovative distributor. Not only does she have three of her own films under her belt including the Oscar-nominated Selma, along with Middle of Nowhere and her debut I Will Follow, but she launched an innovative distribution network for African diaspora films that, to date, has put eight (8) films in theaters since its inception in 2011. She is altering the conversation on race in Hollywood in substantive ways and providing an innovation roadmap.
Of course, one of the reasons that her name is familiar to mainstream audiences is because of the disbelief and outrage among many–including Forbes contributor Scott Mendelson–that the she was not nominated in the Best Director category, even though the film was nominated for Best Picture. While it would’ve been nice to see her among the nominees, there’s a more interesting story here.
It’s the story of brand Ava DuVernay.
Through all of the think pieces on the snub and enflamed social media channels, Ms. DuVernay handled it all, as writer Stacia L. Brown noted, “with grace, aplomb and preternatural calm.” She’s continued to display an upbeat, can-do attitude. Either she’s got an amazing poker face, or she’s always had her sights set on bigger goals. I suspect it’s the latter.
I’m guessing Ms. DuVernay would tell you she not only wants to create stories that show black people in their full humanity, but she’s offers a powerful rebuke to the Hollywood’s lack of support of films that show that range. Through her creative, production and distribution efforts, she’s doing just that. In that context, the awards are her “nice to haves,” not her “mandatories” in determining success.
Her ability to make the kinds of films she wants and to give other filmmakers’ work a life in the marketplace resonate powerfully in this age of purpose-driven entrepreneurship.
Think about these four (4) things that are putting Ms. DuVernay on the path to long-term impact, and how they might apply to your personal and corporate brands:
1. It can’t just be about you. The people and brands that resonate are focused on adding value to others. Goals that focus only on personal or corporate success are small. Ask yourself, how can we use our success to improve things for everyone? Answer that question, and it will be easier to recruit others to your mission. For personal brands, Porras, Emery and Thompson’s Success Built To Last: Creating A Life That Matters is a great starting point. On a corporate level, look at Havas Media’s Meaningful Brands Index for the companies that are adding value to the world. The key, I think, to DuVernay’s peace of mind is that she’s motivated by a desire to both create excellent films and create real diversity in the marketplace. She’s doing both.
2. Always remember your reasons why. It’s easy to be distracted, especially as the brand gains momentum. But the original mission for getting started should provide a powerful gauge for opportunities that arise. Your mission will also help you ignore the marketplace’s noise, as Ava is doing so very well.
3. Focus on the work. The business types say, “Execute!” or “Ship!” Public adulation comes and goes, but brands are known by what they produce, and the experience people have with the product or service. Awards or no, DuVernay has made three strong films that can’t be dismissed. And recently, she announced her next project, a film on Hurricane Katrina.
4. It’s okay to embrace activism as part of your brand DNA. In fact, it may be a necessary and logical next step for purpose brands, given the challenges that confront us globally, nationally and locally. We may be at an inflection point where being a “purpose” brand isn’t enough. Remaining true to your brand’s mission may require you to take a stand, show solidarity with growing movements, and agitate for change. Yes, it’s comfortable and easy to support feeding children or providing clean water in third world countries. But what about when that activism is focused here at home? An Entertainment Weekly profile suggested that Ms. DuVernay’s participation in protests surrounding the death of Michael Brown rankled many Academy voters and contributed to her not being nominated in the Best Director category. We’ll never know. What we do know is that she was being true to who she is. While it pushed some away from her, I believe, net-net, she’s gained more fans. As is the case with CREDO [entity display=”Mobile” type=”section” active=”true” activated=”true” deactivated=”false” key=”/mobile” natural_id=”channel_3section_22″]Mobile[/entity]’s political activism, strong brands create strong feelings about themselves, both for and against. And they’re okay with that.
The takeaways for brand builders? Have vision for your brand beyond its bottom line, provide great products and experiences, and don’t be afraid to take a stand in order to more sharply define who you are in this fractured marketplace.