Valencia Gayles Touts the TRUE Power of “Transculturalism”


Valencia Gayles (left) represents “transculturalism,” which is one of the inspirations behind her pivotal role as Chief Operating Officer with the TRUE Agency, an operation that thrives on transcending cultural borders. Gayles is a Columbia University graduate who has dedicated years and garnered expertise at agencies like Franklin Stoorza, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, Saatchi & Saatchi LA and of course Team One Advertising, where her advertising career began.

Being an African American woman married to an Irish-German, a mother of two, and most importantly, COO of a trendsetting ad agency, makes Valencia Gayles a rarity within the advertising industry itself, which already lacks a substantial multicultural presence. By using the traditional methods of reaching the multicultural market, most agencies would have difficulty targeting Gayles and her family because in reality she represents “transculturalism,” both professionally and personally.

With opportunities to work in the multicultural market before joining True, Valencia stayed the course for fear of being pigeonholed, or typecast into one area. Part of the reason behind Gayles’ decision to cross over to TRUE was that she “didn’t want…to be a typical multicultural shop and wanted to squash the perception of the multicultural, transcultural or ethnic shop as being second tier.”

Valencia affirms her belief in TRUE and its ideology by stating, “Out of everyone that works at TRUE, if you ask them to define transculturalism, you’ll get 40 different responses. From a marketing standpoint, transculturalism helps clients because we design the agency to mirror the population of the US. The U.S. is not comprised of all White people, all Black people, or all Latino people, so why would you have an agency that’s comprised of all or primarily those?”

The multicultural market is becoming a driving force behind the general market and it is evident that in order to successfully reach the diverse, multicultural audience, an approach that goes beyond color has to be adopted.

Valencia sees the mélange of cultures as the way “the world is going”. On defining transculturalism, Valencia goes on to say, “Instead of trying to talk to individuals from an ethnic sensibility you get a little bit deeper into what they are about as a person. For me as an individual, it’s the way that I live my life- a black woman who grew up in a predominantly white background and I see a broader spectrum of the world. I’m married to an Irish German guy, my kids are black Irish and I think for me transcultural, the living definition, is in my two sons. We like hip hop, we like techno, we mix it all up and we don’t just define ourselves by ethnicity and more so by experience and exposure.”

It’s this approach that makes TRUE a different agency, and somewhat of a risk-taker. African-Americans and other multicultural groups aren’t portrayed within the usual trappings of what Valencia describes as “dancing, shiny, happy black people.” The difference within TRUE is that “it’s harder and scarier and more risky to do work that crosses over,” she says. “You have the risk of having your clients say to you- ‘what’s black about it’ and it’s very risky, but it’s the place where we live. That’s been our model and our creed and I didn’t have this perspective until I started working at TRUE.”


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