BHM Is Not a 'Check the Box' Exercise

Here are ways to ensure your acts of inclusion are intentional and don’t end on March 1st

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As we enter Black History Month, we will once again find our social feeds filled with the swirl of Instagram posts, the one-time signature events and that single brand campaign to spotlight Black talent. And yet, here’s what too many marketers fail to remember: Black History Month is not a “check the box” exercise or the one time to speak to the Black community. Rather, it should be the beginning of the journey to amplify, celebrate, honor, connect and advocate for the Black community.

Here are three ways to start to ensure this intentional act of inclusion doesn’t end on March 1.

Ensure Black voices are included in your agency ecosystem

You should already have a focused effort to hire, develop and promote more Black talent on your brand marketing teams. Many marketers need to go one step further and ensure that the agency ecosystem is not overlooked.

As the client, your job is to have uncomfortable conversations with your agency, including giving feedback on a creative brief that didn’t meet your expectations, copy that doesn’t reflect the brand tone of voice and missed deadlines. Ensure you are also challenging them—particularly agencies of record—on their plans to diversify their workforce, to attract, hire and develop Black talent. As the client, hold agencies accountable during the review process and ask for continued updates on their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plans.

Black talent must be represented not only at the agency table but behind the camera, in front of the camera and on set. Expand your agency roster by including Black-owned agencies and marketing consultants like be/co, Dflash and Joy Collective as a starting point.

Finally, remember that including only one singular Black voice at the table places the burden on that one individual and can tokenize them. Do the work to ensure multiple Black voices not only have a seat at the table, but also are seen, valued and heard. Their contributions matter.

Ensure inclusivity in products and services

If you don’t have products and services that reflect, represent and serve the Black community, now’s the time to change that. By loudly and proudly celebrating Black History Month and at the same time not serving the Black community, it will be clear your efforts are a PR stunt. Consumers are increasingly voting with their wallets and they won’t fall for diversity washing efforts.

For example, if you are a beauty brand, you need to ensure you have products beyond the foundation work on darker skin tones. If you are a coaching platform selling personalized coaching services, ensure you have representation of Black coaches. If you are co-creating your spring collection with fashion influencers, ensure you have representation of Black designers as collaborators.

Review the products and services you already have in the marketplace, as well as the concepts in your innovation pipeline. Create and rally around a plan for the additions, changes and revisions needed. When it comes to serving any community authentically: “Nothing about us without us.” You can’t sell to a community if you don’t have an understanding of their needs.

Ensure Black talent is paid fairly & equitably

While you must ensure you are paying your Black internal talent fairly and equitably, don’t overlook the Black talent working hard to be ambassadors of your brand. Black talent can include celebrities, models, influencers, key opinion leaders and inspiring community role models.

Ask each other this critical question: Are we paying our Black talent fairly and equitably? Why are we paying them less than the white talent who are in their peer set? Who was the decision-maker on this contract, and how can we educate the broader team on the bias that is showing up?

Just as many companies continuously review their compensation practices for their own employees, you should also have guidelines on how you think about compensating all talent. This can include factors like their level of expertise, their profile in the marketplace and the budget you have available.

Remember that Black History Month is just the start. Marketers need to do the hard work for the remainder of the year to ensure that we are all consistently including, representing and serving the Black community.

This article is part of The Black History Month Voice Series, intended to educate marketers and advertisers and spotlight issues, nuances and challenges the industry should be aware of when marketing to the Black community. Be sure to check out more articles throughout the month here.