Reonna Johnson is the VP, Director of Strategic Growth and Business Development at Deutsch LA, where she works with executive leadership to develop new strategies for approaching and attracting new business. Throughout her career, Johnson has worked on brands like Maserati, Pizza Hut, Intel and Burt’s Bees. In 2018 Johnson cofounded “Three’s a Crowd,” a community of Los Angeles-based Black creative professionals with a goal to build space, influence and tangible power within the creative industry. From there, the organization developed “In for 13”, a pledge designed to stomp out systemic racism and create equity in the advertising industry by raising the percentage of Black representation in leadership positions to 13% by 2023. When she’s not taking the advertising world by storm, you can find Johnson gardening with her neighbors, where she started an urban community garden, called Better Hoods & Gardens.
Finish this sentence: I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for ________________.
My humble beginnings.
I grew up in a working class, blue-collar family. I used to think that my upbringing was a deficit. But I now see it as a positive. Coming from a working-class family built my character. I knew I had no safety net or access to unlimited opportunities, so I learned how to have grit, resiliency, and hard work earlier.
What qualities do you look for when hiring someone on your team? What qualities do you avoid?
When hiring –
- a person who is willing to take on ‘no job too big, no job too small’
- a person who is willing to try without tons of direction and keep trying even when they may not be right
- I look more at character than skills – I can teach you if I can trust you
Qualities I avoid –
- Talkers that aren’t doers
- People who can’t get to the point, too in the clouds
- People who only want high-profile projects, scared to do the boring, less sexy work
Stop talking in the clouds! Stop using big fancy words that mean nothing and ladder into nothing. Operationalize DEI initiatives that are measurable and sustainable over time.”
Is there a time when you were told to change yourself, or hide some aspect of yourself to be accepted or successful in a situation? How did you react?
When I was younger, I would internalize any and all feedback – “you’re too talkative, too opinionated, too loud, too vocal, too strange, too ghetto, too Black, too ambitious, too weird, too square, too unpolished, too broke…” It sounds crazy now, but back then, I desperately wanted to just blend in.
It took some time but through spirituality and retraining my thinking I eventually learned to fight past those narrow-minded opinions and be unapologetically me. Some of the same things I was criticized for I now see as my superpowers, and I take the opportunity to lean into each one.
Which three books, podcasts or news sources do you think everyone should read? Why?
- The Dao
- Anatomy of the Spirit
- Road Less Traveled
I think people should understand themselves more on an unconscious level. Why do you make the choices you make? What patterns do you have in your mind? What are your belief systems, and how are they manifested in real life?
Understanding your mind and true motivations can only help you personally and professionally.
Also, I think people should read more history books to understand how and why we function the way we do as a society. It’ll only help us with navigating our future.
Diversity, equity and inclusion is front and center right now. How do you express your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in your personal and professional life?
I co-founded Three’s A Crowd – https://www.threesacrowd.black/
I run IN FOR 13 – https://www.pledgeinfor13.com/
I created hex code black – https://www.threesacrowd.black/hexcodeblack
And I have a community garden in my neighborhood (Better Hoods and Gardens)
I work in advertising, so I’m becoming a DE&I leader based on my personal projects, even though my professional background is in agency new business.
What do you find most frustrating about corporate DEI initiatives and what’s one tangible step every employer should take to help build a more representative organization?
Stop talking in the clouds! Stop using big fancy words that mean nothing and ladder into nothing.
Operationalize DEI initiatives that are measurable and sustainable over time.
Get to the brass tax and what’s going on to build trust with talent.
Approach your DEI efforts like it’s a client problem you’re solving.