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Trends and Insight

Meet R/GA's Aaron Francois

R/GA's senior connections planner on how brands can leverage partnerships in more innovative ways and the role mentorship has played in his career

Meet R/GA's Aaron Francois

Aaron was first exposed to the industry via the 4A's MAIP program, where he began his journey into the world of Advertising. Over the years he's had the opportunity to service clients within the retail, finance, and tech industries, leveraging his cultural currency and strategic thinking to build effective communications strategies.

A year into his career, Aaron was honoured as a part of the 2018 ADCOLOR Futures class where he has since continued his involvement through mentorship of incoming classes. In addition to his role as a Senior Connections Strategist, Aaron has experience developing internal infrastructures for employee development such as Employee's Resource Groups & internal/external workshops highlighting skill sets such as personal branding, interviewing & resume building. Aaron prides himself on being a voice to the voiceless while continuously opening doors for aspiring professionals that come from under-served communities.

From a DEI perspective, Aaron has maintained relationships with the MAIP program via mentorship and workshops for incoming interns and is co-lead of the Media Department of the 100 Roses From Concrete G.R.O.W.T.H. Initiative. He also played a major role in bringing forward initiatives to support under-served communities, similar to the modern adaptation of "Black Wall Street," where he collaborated with many peers to recreate the original Black Wall Street while bringing together Black entrepreneurs to promote their product in a corporate setting. In addition to being an enthusiast for all things innovative, Aaron is a lover of comics, and some would also say a pretty good dancer.


Q> Tell me about your career. How did you end up where you are today?

Aaron> I was fortunate enough to break into the ad industry via the 4A’s MAIP summer internship program as a part of its 2017 cohort. This led to my first full-time opportunity where I worked across a variety of clients as a digital media strategist. The following year, I was honored as one of 40 ADCOLOR FUTURES (S/O class of ‘18). Both programs allowed me to not only create lifelong friendships but also work with some of the brightest minds in the industry to advance our careers while ideating on ways to create a more equitable space for diverse talent throughout the industry. Fast-forward four years later, I made somewhat of a pivot away from traditional media-comms strategy in a media agency, into a more creatively-focused strategy role at R/GA flexing my comms strategy muscles in the most disruptive ways!


Q> What role has mentorship played in your career? What advice would you give someone looking to find a mentor?

Aaron> Mentors are honestly one of the biggest game-changers in someone’s career and I’m happy that the conversation has become much more widely accepted. Growing up you often start to idealize the concept of “doing things on your own” but true success is a result of a communal investment. I was fortunate enough to find a mentor my junior year of college, and they’ve been a primary consultant for any major career decision I make. They’ve pushed me when I thought I couldn’t go any further but also, leveled me during times when I was being too critical of myself. 

The number one piece of advice I’d give to anyone looking for a mentor, is to let go of the fear of “putting yourself out there” and acknowledge there are people who want to see you succeed. Also, be vulnerable and transparent about what you’re looking for, it’s okay to blatantly ask someone to mentor you (after you’ve gotten a temperature check of course).


Q> How has the role of a connections planner evolved since you started your career? How is it unique at R/GA?

Aaron> Previously, connections strategy was more of a hidden art that not many understood. Mainly due to the fact that it felt like an intersection between media and creative, which was uncommon. The misconception is that Connections/Comms Strategy is mainly intuitive thinking without statistical backing but R/GA has done an amazing job at arming its connections team with the support to merge intuitive thinking with data sets. 

As marketers, it’s our job to ensure the work we do has cultural relevance and solves real-world problems. So, what better way to do so than to leverage your unique life perspectives within the work accompanied by data savviness. I often say R/GA is a place made specifically for misfits who don’t fit anywhere else but here, and time and time again, the work being done has proven this. 


Q> How do your interests separate from work influence your job?

Aaron> The biggest takeaway from my outside interests has been the understanding of “fandom” and how that influences every facet of our industry. Everyone is a fan of something and because of that, they're often willing to make sacrifices in order to fulfill that want/need. A great example that also hits close to home for me is the concept of being a sneakerhead. Sneaker lovers are willing to make a variety of sacrifices, sometimes it’s monetary (e.g. resale pricing on sites such as StockX), and other times it’s convenience (e.g. going to a store a few towns away to get your product in hand the day of release. 


Q> What advice would you give someone who is starting their career in connections planning?

Aaron> I think there are definitely a lot of key things here so I’ll try to keep it short. The biggest thing is to never let go of your authenticity because that’s what will make you great at your job. It’s the unique perspectives that we bring into our companies that create value and new learnings. Another thing is to ask as many questions as possible! “I understand that the sky is blue, but why do we accept that? How does it make people feel? If the first person to acknowledge the sky named it a different color would we just accept that instead?” Take this thought process and apply it to every facet of your life.


Q> As we move into a world where creators and influencers play bigger roles in how brands are seen by audiences, how do you think brands can leverage these partnerships in more innovative ways?

Aaron> Love this question! I think the first step for every brand is to come to the realization that anyone has the opportunity to become a content creator so long as they have a cell phone. The only variance here is the quality of the content. We’re in an age where consumers don’t want to be “marketed” to they want to be “spoken to” and the more human you can make the interaction the better. Influencers and content creators are great brand advocates and also trusted by their audiences as they’re everyday people just like them. The real test is for brands to allow themselves to be uncomfortable by leaning on these creators to tell them the best way to reach their audiences and/or building together via work sessions to ensure everyone is happy and confident in the output. 


Q> How do you think the industry can improve in the area of inclusivity?

Aaron> A great place to start is by looking at the population percentage makeup in your market by demographics, and using that as a benchmark for representation across every level. If 13.4% of the U.S. identifies as a part of the Black diaspora, then no less than 13.4% of employees at every level should be members of the aforementioned group. Companies should also put a greater emphasis on hiring diverse senior leaders (including C-Suite) in addition to the entry-level roles. This allows for the junior team members to see themselves in leadership positions in addition to having a voice in the room that represents a unique perspective. Lastly, fund and support Business Resource Groups that service underrepresented communities via bonuses, career advancement opportunities such as conferences, certification courses or mentorship programs, and granting space for them to voice any potential concerns. 


Q> What should employers and companies consider when recruiting and hiring for future talent?

Aaron> Tap into networks that foster diverse talent at every level, such as the MAIP program, college affinity groups (e.g. AAPI+ or LatinX focused clubs) and work overtime to establish a presence at conferences such as ADCOLOR and/or Black is Tech (to name a couple) to create genuine connections and meet the talent in person. I’d also recommend putting a process in place that mandates a diverse candidate slate is passed on to teams with open roles.


Q> What is one remarkable thing or event that changed your career, or your path?

Aaron> Definitely in my early college years when I was mis-advised and ended up in a course that didn’t apply to my major. The course was “Essentials of Advertising,” and it was my introduction to the industry and how it worked as a whole. The professor not only helped me find a passion but also helped me get a job on campus as a tutor. Even though I had to pay for the course out of pocket since it wasn’t covered by financial aid, I received knowledge on what I didn’t know at the time would soon become one of my biggest passions.


Q> Anything else to add?

Aaron> I’m always hesitant because I can ramble on for days about miscellaneous things, but would like to point out that it’s okay to not have things figured out and to give yourself grace. One of the biggest lessons I learned is that you’ll always be a work in progress and that’s okay. As long as you grant that same level of understanding to others. Also feel free to reach out to me via LinkedIn if there are any questions regarding career advancement, pivots etc...


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