Inside WO: Erynn Hughes on being a 2021 ADCOLOR FUTURE

Our very own strategist Erynn Hughes was awarded a spot on the 2021 ADCOLOR FUTURES program, a unique experience that is dedicated to identifying and nurturing the next generation of leaders in advertising, branding, marketing, media, and PR. Erynn has taken a non-traditional career path to brand strategy, one that truly touches upon all aspects of marketing and advertising - from media planning to shopper marketing. One of the first brands she got to work on was the Jordan brand, Michael Jordan’s sneaker, and athletic apparel line, where she worked to translate insights from consumer interviews to understand what the Jordan brand really means to the most loyal customers. 

Intersection of business and creativity

I’m a long-time suburbanite of NYC, growing up and living on Long Island for most of my life. I graduated from Baruch College where I studied consumer behavior, branding, and marketing strategy. I got the opportunity to participate in various internships to help me understand where in marketing I wanted to play. My initial passion for brand strategy came from courses I took in business strategy and graphic design and from there I knew I wanted my career to live at this intersection of business and creativity. In my last semester, I got the chance to intern as a strategist and this experience really fueled my passion for connecting the value of brands and what makes them special to how I can help them communicate their equity to their consumer base. 


After graduating, I was fortunate enough to be placed with Mindshare as a summer intern doing strategic media planning as part of the MAIP or Multicultural Advertising Internship Program, which aims to place students from diverse and underrepresented communities in media, branding, and advertising agencies. Here is where I initially found out about the opportunity to join ADCOLOR FUTURES. I saw that the peers that I looked up to and respected in my field made a natural progression from MAIP to ADCOLOR FUTURES, and I knew that was something I wanted to be part of one day. 

I was motivated to apply to the ADCOLOR FUTURES program for two reasons. One – I knew this was an opportunity to be recognized for my intersectional identity in an industry that has historically marginalized anyone who is unlike the majority. My presence heightens the importance of bringing yourself to the world and to the workplace. I aimed to raise the visibility of others who share my identities as a result. And two – diversity, equity, and inclusion is a subject I care deeply about. I feel it should be imperative for brands and individuals alike to be inclusive in all their efforts. These initiatives shouldn’t be a bonus or add-on feature to consider for existing projects, but core to the foundation of team structure and execution. Helping people feel seen, heard, and included in the work I produce is so important to me. I knew that the learnings from the FUTURES programming and ADCOLOR EVERYWHERE conference would be invaluable to supporting me in reaching this goal.

The application process

In order to get selected into the program, you need to demonstrate ADCOLOR’s core pillars of Rise Up and Reach Back by showing how you actively uplift others and make a positive impact in your place of work, industry, or community. So I got involved with my alma mater to lead the STEAM committee for the Career Development Advisory Council in the honors college. I was able to be on the advisory board for We Are Next, a free open resource for students to get their foot in the door for marketing and advertising, and actually created programming to help create a college ambassador program. I knew that even if I didn’t secure a spot in the ADCOLOR FUTURES program, it would ultimately help support my end goal of helping to make the marketing industry more diverse and inclusive.

I also recognize that in many communities, there is a general lack of awareness of the multitude of career opportunities that can come out in the marketing and branding space. Fortunately, I was able to experience interning in New York City, the epicenter of marketing and advertising and the mecca of culture. But that’s definitely something I would love to focus on, helping educate others on the world of opportunities of careers they might not know anything about. 

What’s most exciting to me is the ability to meet others similar to me in terms of their passion for diversity and inclusion while coming from completely different walks of life. Knowing that we’re the next generation of talent to lead these creative industries is such an awesome feeling and responsibility.

Luckily, I was granted the opportunity to be an ADCOLOR FUTURE this year. I was selected as one of 30 from 250+ applicants nationwide for cohort business training experience that cultivates the next generation of media and marketing leaders.

Applying my learnings to help educate colleagues and clients

I’m most looking forward to being able to learn from my peers and mentors throughout the ADCOLOR FUTURES program, hackathon, and conference – their working styles, how they think about problem-solving, and what fuels their creativity. I’m always looking for sources of inspiration to draw from to empower my own being and efforts.

I’m looking to gain actionable ways to best champion diversity and inclusion principles on a daily basis to positively influence those around me. I’m also hoping I can learn how to become a mentor to others who feel underrepresented or misunderstood. I want to create spaces, opportunities, and interactions where people can feel like they truly belong.

I definitely look forward to applying my learnings to Wolff Olins by encouraging both my colleagues and clients to make DE&I core to the identities and cultures we create. I want to educate and push our clients to make the right decisions, understand cultural nuances, and have intelligent but much needed conversations about how we speak to diverse audience groups, how we actually make them feel seen, heard, and represented in that work. I think ADCOLOR will be able to help me make that a reality and make my work more diverse and inclusive. Internally, I also want to start a resource group for individuals who rally behind social justice causes soon, using my FUTURES and conference experiences as stimuli for getting people involved and making a sustainable impact.

Takeaways from my ADCOLOR experience

This year’s FUTURES program and ADCOLOR EVERYWHERE conference theme was “Pull Up.” To me, “pull up” means being invited to the table and speaking up for those who aren’t in the room where it happens (to quote Hamilton). It also means that when you’re disinvited or “unintentionally excluded” that you build your own table and be intentionally inclusive of the community representatives seated around you.

Following the FUTURES University programming and conference panel sessions, I’m walking away with a true sense of belonging and feel empowered to make the benefits of my involvement far greater than my own. Here’s what I learned and commit to doing from here on out:

  • Ally is a verb, not just a noun. This means walking the talk, requiring actions not just words of encouragement. Meaningful change often means disrupting cultural norms and normalizes new behavior. It’s a trend that needs to become a permanent shift in the way we as a society must operate. It should be embedded into the bedrock of how a brand engages with its audience, and how employees of a company interact with one another. The process of making meaningful work will constantly be a work in progress. Be committed to the outcome for the duration of the journey.
  • “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” DE&I is all about fostering belonging. Create systems of accountability to see this come to fruition. Measure results and know that new rules mean you need to measure different things. Ask for resources from senior leadership, and invest people and capital in long-term initiatives. Be open and candid about what you don’t know. Vulnerability is a new strength. Leaning on your community (local or organizational) helps you go farther together. Remember, this work requires patience, tolerance, and empathy.
  • Intersectionality is the path forward. Definitions of diversity differ by community. No one is just one identity. See this as an opportunity for the limitless number of stories you can tell. Aim to reach someone in a personal way and less of a sales-y way, moving people over product. To the previous point, do the work. Skipping over this necessary step is precisely why so many communications we see from brands today are ineffective and tone-deaf, or worse, insensitive and derogatory. You have to earn the trust of your underrepresented audiences in order to be conversational with them. This means meeting people where they are, communicating to them authentically with consistency.