For the past 20+ months, Ray Nuñez has been busy. Even early in his career – working the rewarding yet stressful nonprofit grind at Leadership RI after graduating from Johnson & Wales University, and then spinning wheels trying to push for equitable practices within a commercial architecture magazine – Nuñez has had an unwavering entrepreneurial spirit.
“In February of 2020, my wife [Taryn] and I quit our full-time jobs, left our health insurance, left all security,” Nuñez recounts. Opening creative marketing company, Nuñez, The People’s Agency, in March 2020 saw them immediately working in the trenches. This often meant breaking out of their design niche to help businesses – mostly BIPOC-owned and nonprofits – navigate digital migration or going to the root of the problem: the systemic issues that barred these businesses from accessing essential resources.
Then, seven weeks before the November 2, 2020 election – which included the amendment to remove “Providence Plantations” from the state name on the ballot – Nuñez got a phone call. The consulting group helping with the referendum wanted his agency to launch a full-scale marketing campaign, Nuñez explains, “to get this message out there as fast as possible to a million people to get them to change their minds to vote yes on this thing.”
The original ask was just to bring up the 22 percent in favor when it was voted on 10 years ago, but Nuñez was all in. The team got to work on unique video messaging for each zip code in the state, meeting voters where they were in the process of acknowledging Rhode Island’s institutions that have benefited from racist systems. Even Nuñez’s clients at the time rallied around the cause to help get the word out. The rest, of course, is history: “Providence Plantations” is no more.
Now, the agency has grown into a mission of deliberately anti-racist messaging, offering the only service of its kind in Rhode Island, but also showing that it can be done – and that it can scale up. This coming year, Nuñez is working on becoming a Certified B Corp, a designation by B Lab, a non-profit that measures a for-profit company’s social and environmental performance, to communicate their status as a social enterprise to the world. They’ll also be hosting a slew of networking events across the state, bringing together diverse voices and ideas in a space that’s unpretentious and collaborative – with multicultural food made by local businesses.
What does anti-racist messaging look like? Part of the agency’s goal is helping clients unpack this by engaging in often difficult conversations that begin with reckoning, a process of owning past wrongs to move forward with inclusive messaging and representation to create marketing that’s authentic and not predatory on BIPOC audiences.
Says Nuñez, “As the most influential industry – because we are, everything you see, everything you read is marketing, it’s design, it’s communication – we knew that we had this huge responsibility to do good with that.”
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