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Brand Leaders Empathizing With Black Lives Matter Should Begin With Their Agency

by | Aug 28, 2020

By Joel R. Johnson

You’ve declared “Black Lives Matter” and that is the right thing to do … but now what are you going to do about it? Is empathy with black people more than a moment? Or are you ready to make it one of your brand’s values?

To back up, the pandemic has changed everything. We believe the pain has inspired unprecedented empathy and a desire to act. When George Floyd and Breona Taylor were murdered this summer, we collectively knew it was unjust and made a decision to act. Brands and personalities are also acting. NBA players are now using their platform to discuss social justice during the game. Many brands have asserted their allyship with the explicit acknowledgement it may cost them revenue during the biggest downturn in decades.

We should expect that companies will invite more black and brown people to their boards, do more business with black-owned businesses, and financially support efforts to reduce the racial income inequality gap across the board. But will it last?

Here’s the thing, old habits die hard. Companies might listen to their black employees for a moment, but return to business-as-usual in due time. Even the pandemic will end. Sustaining empathy and action that gets your brand off the sidelines to fight for a more just world means changing and adopting new behaviors at every level, yes, even in your ad operations.

If your CEO has declared Black Lives Matter and is looking at you to help the brand meet the promise, for it is a promise, then you should be talking to black-owned agencies right now. Perhaps you have an under-performing brand in your portfolio where aligning its purpose to BLM makes sense? Perhaps you have looked at the audience of your brand and asked why you don’t have more black or brown consumers? Perhaps your brand is doing “just ok” during Covid-19 and it’s time to try leadership?

For years I worked in multicultural marketing with Spike Lee as the head of strategy and then managing director of his agency, Spike DDB. We helped Pepsi and Aquafina reach blacks and Hispanics, spread a message of HIV awareness through the Magic Johnson Foundation and Abbott Labs. We even made a Johnson & Johnson skincare line for people of color HOT. We always felt we were doing a service for communities of color by helping brands connect in a relevant and authentic way, something we called “in-culture.” But something has changed.

Today, multicultural marketing feels more urgent than ever because it is no longer just talking to people of color, we’re talking to everyone “in-culture” about justice.

Our shop, Admirable Devil, is a black-owned agency. In fact, we are a majority minority-owned business certified with the National Minority Diversity Supplier Council. Yes, we have created campaigns for fly rods and online MBAs for the general market, but we’re more than that. We have deep multicultural marketing roots. Our team has worked on grassroots marketing that brought health education on stroke and heart disease to black communities, as well as political marketing that elected the first black President of the United States. 

So here’s how you can act in three steps.

  1. Figure out what your company’s support of Black Lives Matter means to your brand.
  2. Make sure you have an agency with a track-record with black and people of color. If not, add a certified minority-owned business to your rooster.
  3. Pitch the ROI of your actions back to your company as having a multiplier effect — you’re spending more with black-owned businesses, you’re making more “in-culture” messaging, and you’re living up to your brand purpose.

To find more minority-owned businesses, contact your regional office of the National Minority Supplier Diversity Council, or talk to your procurement manager about identifying more diverse agencies for your next agency review.

Joel R. Johnson is chief strategist at Admirable Devil, a Capitol Communicator sponsor.

Photo: (L-to-R)  Bruce Gray, Joel R. Johnson and Michael Carpenter of Admirable Devil.
Photo credit: Eli Meir Kaplan

About the Author

This post is authored by a Capitol Communicator native advertising sponsor.


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