Creative Profile: The Diversity Standards Collective co-founder Rich Miles reflects on how his creative career led him to his true vocation

Creative Profile: The Diversity Standards Collective co-founder Rich Miles reflects on how his creative career led him to his true vocation

In this new feature, Creative Moment showcases creative talent from across the industry.

We talk to new, young, up-and-coming talent, as well as established creatives who have a great story to tell, how they got to where they are today, and advice they might like to offer those starting out in the industry.

It's a chance to show off some of the outstanding thinkers, creators and makers who are shaping the creative industry of the future.

Today, it's Rich Miles who shares his story, how he always knew he would work in the creative industry and what ignited his passion for the work he does now with The Diversity Standards Collective.

Be warned. There was a lot to say so this is a long one, but worth it.

My Story

My Story

Rich Miles, CEO and co-founder, The Diversity Standards Collective

Why did I want to work in the creative advertising business?

It was Mel Gibson's film, What Women Want!

It was my first experience of the advertising world and I loved it. I decided that was what I wanted to do and literally every decision I made from then on was about becoming a creative director. I always liked art and meeting people so it was the place I needed to be on many levels.

Ironically, Mel Gibson's character is everything I don't want to be in advertising! It's what I teach people not to do. But it was like looking through a keyhole into that world and it really appealed to me. I chose my GCSE's in media studies and art, then I went to college and studied advertising at University. It was all I ever wanted to do. There really was no question that I would do anything else.

I was dedicated.

I immersed myself in placements at agencies, sleeping on friends floors to support myself. Completely contrary to GDPR rules these days, my friend had given me a list of all the agencies she had worked for as a model and, after graduating, I sent out about 500 emails to every creative director on the list.

I got 10 interviews, then I was made an offer. I started as an art director junior creative. The agency was Therapy and I stayed there for 10 years.

It just worked. I don't think I realised how lucky I was at the time but the agency, the ethos, the people, the work were all perfect for me and I was happy there.

I then experienced a pivotal moment in my career.

Looking back, it was a key driver for the work I do now and probably remains a huge part of my motivation.

We were asked to create a social campaign for a couple to win a wedding. We had put forward 10 couples. The brand had asked us to get it together really quickly and put them online.

One was a lesbian couple. We didn't think anything of it. The next morning, the MD and CEO called us into a meeting as the brand manager had been on the phone, furious. She was so angry that we had put up a LGBT+ couple on the website without its permission. She believed its consumers weren't ready to see a LGBT+ couple and he was concerned of the 'detrimental effect' it would have. She asked us not to put as much content behind this couple, effectively ensuring that they didn't win.

That was a really shocking moment for me.

It was the first time that I had experienced such outright prejudice and that kind of homophobia from a brand. It was panic. The brand completely panicked.

We said that were not going to actively make this couple lose. They didn't win but the point was that we stood up for what we believed in and that was important to me.

This motivated me to try and find any organisations out there that could help and support brands and agencies to navigate this. And there weren't any.

And the DSC was born.

Coincidentally, my boss at Therapy is now my business partner—he gave me my first job and now we work together, a true ally standing by me through my entire career.

We offer cultural insights, guidance and validation from diverse people across the globe. It's all about getting behind the data and understanding those communities—from the communities themselves.

As an example, I worked on Femfresh for seven years. Never had a period and haven't got a vagina! It was the women I worked with who drove the true insight, I was just part of it. People are more accepting now that you don't need to know it all, you just need to ask. It doesn't mean you aren't doing your job, you are actually enhancing your role by working this way, making better and more relevant work because you are engaged and listening to the community you are talking to.

I'm really proud of what we have done.

It's important to add that adopting my daughter was also a key driving factor behind what I do. I had done some research and found that 99% of the people at school would have a different family to her, growing up with two dads. I wanted to create more families around her that she could see and relate to and see herself in. That has always been what drives me.

What's the best thing you have discovered about yourself?

Discovering I may be dyslexic at 33. 

I’ve only realised this since setting up The DSC as my role is so different to being a creative director, but in hindsight it does help me realise why I am the way I am.

It's been such a positive thing for me. Without realising, I believe it has enhanced my creativity. 

My ability to think beyond the usual boundaries, how I see the world and express myself.

I always had a copywriter so, actually, I wasn't hindered or held back by any struggles with words as it was always someone else's job which was why I didn't notice until now, running a business.

I have spoken with dyslexia professionals and experts who have helped me put things in place to help with areas that are harder for me, like setting alarms throughout the day for tasks, using Grammarly and instead of typing my emails, I voice note them.

It doesn't hold me back—it's definitely an advantage.

What is the best advice you have ever been given?

Stu Outhwaite-Noel, CCO and co-founder at Creature, told me the hard truth back in the early days about my portfolio.

He told me to get to the agency I wanted, I needed to start again and get my book in a stronger position. Obviously not what you want to hear at an interview but it was said in a friendly manner and in a way only Stu can.

It made me work harder! And I'm forever grateful for that. 

I created a new portfolio, completely changed it. When I went back a year later for another interview, Stu recognised me but I told him he didn’t know me (I wanted a clean slate). Luckily he loved my book, and didn’t realise I was the same guy from the year before.

Although I didn’t go to work at Creature, Stu actually became a bit of a mentor to me after that, helping me navigate becoming a creative director, then on to advise me on setting up a new business and all that goes with it. Side note, 5 years later, just before Christmas last year, over a beer, I finally told him this funny story.

What words do you live by?

Everything happens for a reason.

It always works. Doesn't matter what the situation is, it makes sense. 

Even if you don't believe it fully, go with it and you'll find something better will come along.

It helps me and often helps others when going through something difficult. 

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self?

When you come out of Uni, you are often dazzled by the big agencies. The big names we all know—the ones getting the headlines and featuring in all the magazines.

What I discovered was that working for a small independent as I was, I was paid more, making more ads and had a better work/life balance to some of my friends who worked for these big ad beasts.

It took a long time for me to realise that I didn't need to strive to work for the big names to be successful.

It's actually in the work you do. I wish I had known that achieving purpose in the work I did—where the real value lies—was the sign of success I needed.

Out of all the work you have created, which campaign stands out as the most memorable and why?

The Amazon Christmas ad 2021—'Kindness, The Greatest Gift'.

Amazon and Lucky Generals came to us as they wanted to speak to Black women across the world with anxiety. We spoke to that community and discussed various touch points.

We had a couple of our consultants on the call when we saw the final version. We watched it and I cried. I came back on the call and my consultants were crying which made the whole team cry!

The reason why we were all crying was because they had really listened.

A behemoth like Amazon, listened.

And what they created with Lucky Generals was a beautifully produced ad with every relevant nuance that made it authentic because they had asked the communities they represented.

What piece of creative work do you respect/admire that you didn't create?

The Starbucks ad, 'Every name's a story' by Iris.

Everyone knows this is great.

Again, inspiring to know that a big brand can listen to the trans community and create something that's brilliant and resonates.

And the Maltesers ad with the disabled girl talking about sex. It's still the 'go to' ad for those in that community as in the end, it was just showing how it really is—the same conversations we all have.

It is such a good example of listening to that community. When I speak to my consultants about the Paralympics ads for example, they say it's just another ad showing us as Paralympians. It's either that or struggling—nothing in between. But we still go to the shops to buy dog food!

What's the most exciting thing about the creative industry right now?

That diversity and inclusion is gradually becoming less of a trend, and more like a way of life. 

That's my goal.

I always said that I would love for the DSC not to exist.

When that time comes, I'll have done my job.

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