Marketing and communications are important strategic functions in companies. What role do they play in driving DE&I?
In 2022, there was no marketing without DE&I. So, if you are a brand or business that excludes it as a core strategy and goal, then you’re excluding yourself from the conversation and the money. Full stop.
To think that marketing or advertising and DE&I are separate is antiquated and, quite frankly, systemically racist. To Digitas, DE&I expands marketing and includes hiring practices, internal communications, education, and programming.
The expansiveness makes it authentic. The expansiveness removes the performance and gets us to a justice conversation that’s missing from the current discussion and, in turn, creates actions in the marketplace.
Do you think companies understand the importance of addressing their customers inclusively?
Companies do because we over-rely on excel, and most can do the math. So, when we tell a client that this is the opportunity left on the table, it is easy to understand. However, when we share things like “this is what you need to consider because your website isn’t accessible”, or “you are saying Black Lives Matter, yet there isn’t one Black person on your team or in leadership”, then you start to see them realise that tokenism and performative actions are the antitheses of equity and inclusion.
Other times we notice that folks are being driven by fear. Fear of saying or getting something wrong often sends them into inaction. Money spent with any BIPOC or historically exploited community is a win. Seeing Bad Bunny and Saucy Santana in creative is a win, yet we need to make DE&I anticipated and expected for brands and businesses.
We believe that DE&I cannot just sit in one department or capability. We need client leads, account directors, media, creative, and measurement teams to be intentionally constructed in a way that requires difference so that all are accountable for bringing attention to messaging that may miss the mark or operate with the understanding that “African Americans Vernacular” is being co-opted as “Gen Z speak.”
What does it mean to bring more equity to your work as a marketing agency?
Equity means hiring folks from various communities and empowering them to enhance briefs, ideas and investments, as well as activate and lead. It means holding ourselves, businesses, and the industry accountable for shaping the future, including engaging the marketplace with curiosity so that new and emerging partners can collaborate with our clients and us on ideas. Finally, equity means changing how we invest so that money is invested sustainably.
How have your clients and partners responded to this Multicultural Center of Excellence (McCOE) initiative?
Many clients have responded well, and we are working collaboratively to ensure accountability and goals are met. For example, some have instituted their own DE&I media investment goals, while others have instituted internal reviews before the creative goes live to check for audience relevance and resonance.
These are goals that are widely known, visible and trackable. However, some clients are still trying to understand how to act purposefully. In those cases, we continue to present case studies and thought leadership in the form of “town halls” that allow for open and honest conversation around specific themes (i.e., authenticity at work, Black People’s influence on culture, the expansiveness of what it means to be Hispanic or LatinX, the intersection of DE&I and disability.) These spaces can often help “break the ice” and reach a particular engagement point that can lead to innovative inclusion.
Have your clients seen any changes in terms of audience and financial results?
Yes. Some clients have increased their new customer acquisition, bringing in incremental buyers and increasing their overall addressable audience base. Subsequently, clients have seen an increase in brand perception, site traffic, and downstream sales goals – especially when marketing specific products made and owned by a particular community.
We have developed multicultural research and data-led marketing strategies to inform annual marketing and media plans, resulting in purpose-driven campaigns and products sold.
We have counselled brands on ways that brand safety and suitability practices may trigger exclusive viewability and what could be seen as discriminatory media practices due to algorithmic and keyword bias.
We have also helped brands increase their internal pool of candidates after engaging with us to create inclusive job descriptions.
Clients regularly express gratitude and appreciation for our support across various consultative workstreams.
Following our help on the inclusive Job Descriptions workstream, a prominent B2B brand has transitioned into leveraging both the inclusive language guide and the updated job posting approach with inclusion top of mind for their recruiting efforts. They have trained all their HR teams on the guidelines we crafted, which is the new standard posting. After several examples demonstrating our expertise, we’ve been engaged to create a training series on creating inclusive and culturally attuned content for social media and email.
How can you ensure that companies are engaged and not just buying a good conscience or ‘simply’ communicating?
We do this through education and consulting with them on how and when to engage, but it starts with knowing their purpose and value in their audiences’ lives. For example, 82% of Gen Z want brands to promote authentic representation of diverse and marginalised identities in their advertising, even if they don’t belong to these groups. We also know that the moment your value becomes compromised, brand loyalty is lost.
People will call you out if you have never engaged with them/their community before and if your first communication is trying to sell something.
How can you ensure that companies understand their responsibilities regarding diversity and inclusion?
One thing that we have found success with has been identifying a lead internally on the client side to help champion DE&I work. This person can help articulate a brand’s values and purpose so that we ensure all of the DE&Iwork is connected to other work. This person can also be accountable for advocating for additional budgets and ensuring their teams understand and support the DE&I goals.
How easy is it for you to address equity issues and do business? Is it hard to link the two?
It is hard. And we know that if we aren’t bringing new platforms and partners to meet and engage with our clients, then we are participating in the “sea of sameness” that we are focused on breaking down and re-imagining.