Black History Month: What are the ‘actions not words’ in the communications world?
By The Kaleidoscope Team on Sunday, 2 October 2022
Intro from Filipe Zuluaga, Kaleidoscope lead at Teamspirit
Actions, Not Words – this year’s theme for Black History Month – is not merely a nice frame of reference to inspire people, but a pressing need facing the financial services industry.
Challenges range from those within the sector, evident in surveys that show two thirds of Asian, Black and other ethnically diverse finance workers have suffered discrimination in the workplace, to its underserving of sectors the population (the FCA reports that BAME consumers have fewer savings, pensions and investments on average than White consumers). Simply put, financial services must do more to better serve the Black community.
Everything we do at Teamspirit is guided by our mission to transform the world of finance for the better and this applies just as much to working with our clients to ensure the work we produce is guided by true allyship and empowerment. This is why we have created this guide, to help clients navigate the topic of race & ethnicity in their comms campaign, from planning & strategy through to advertising, PR, and social media.
So, what should businesses be thinking about to ensure their marketing & communications are inclusive when it comes to race and ethnicity?
Planning & Strategy
Sam Ward, Senior Strategist at Harvard
Ground your strategy in inclusive insight
A good strategy lays the groundwork for marketing and creative work by understanding a brand’s wider cultural context. It’s a plan that’s based on real human and cultural truths. As agency strategists, we have a responsibility to use that opportunity and push brands to engage with the important issue of inclusivity and diversity.
But in the spirit of “actions not words”, it’s not enough to say that a campaign should be diverse or inclusive. As with any strategy, this must be grounded in insight. We need to do the work and explicitly call out why and how inclusion of underrepresented groups is integral to a brand’s objectives and the success of its campaigns.
Alex Waring, Junior Strategist at Teamspirit
Use diversity as a lens in your research
Basing strategy in inclusive insights starts by researching and understanding the audience. We often read reports segmented by demographics such as age, gender and salary but less often race. As such, the opportunity to understand some of the cultural nuances between behaviours and attitudes is often lost.
As a financial services agency, we know the potential for positive change that engaging with your money has for everyone. It’s our business to know. But if we’re missing insights on underrepresented ethnicity segments, then we’re also missing the true breadth of solutions for them and our clients.
That’s why when going into research, using diversity as a lens, checking common thinking against inclusive data, and making sure to source inputs from Asian, Black and other ethnically diverse voices is important to remember. You might discover something that really changes your audience truth.
Efe Otokiti, Editorial Director at Harvard
Counter stereotypes through inclusive language and narratives
Inclusive language is a way to make sure that you’re talking or referring to people the way they would prefer. It shows that you respect that community enough to care about informing yourself on its preferences and can have a positive impact on how a brand is perceived.
When it comes to Black people, aside from obviously never using racist or derogatory language, I think counter-stereotyping is one of the most powerful ways we can use language to make an impact in advertising. It falls to comms professionals to help society let go of tired clichés by creating new narratives that show wide the spectrum of interests and personalities Black individuals can have by putting them in more human positions and situations.
James Maxwell, Executive Creative Director at Teamspirit
Lean on the experts
The biggest action I’d like to see brand owners implement is to push or demand agencies AND their own marketers to include Black people in their decision making with regards to content creation and testing.
That means not just to demand teams are more representative and diverse, but also ensuring the ads you want to run, brands you’re pushing out and design you’re elevating, is shown to different groups for research.
Want to take a proper action? Consult organisations such as the Diversity Standards Collective with your agency – either in the creation or the testing phase. Have people from those communities as part of the production process and it will make your content more dynamic and truly authentic. It’s the only way to gain true understanding of the cultural codes of the community in question.
Sandy Downs, Account Director in the PR team at Teamspirit
Include diversity as a thought leadership topic in your PR
Everyone knows that stories about gender – gender pay gap, behavioural differences, attitudinal shifts – land well in the UK media. There’s no reason stories about race & ethnicity should be any different, but companies tend to shy away from the topic.
To fix this, consider including race in your demographic cross breaks when doing consumer research, and then don’t be afraid to talk about the findings with journalists or in your wider communications (so long as it’s relevant and appropriate!). If there are differences between how certain communities think and behave, offer an opinion on how your audience (e.g., businesses, consumers, or government) can navigate these discrepancies. Finally, take your stories to a wide range of target titles – your audience might be reading the Jewish Chronicle, subscribed to Vice, or watching YouTube – so coverage there can be just as valuable as hitting the national papers.
Shanil Nayee, Senior Account Manager in the PR team at Harvard
Do the reading and have the conversations
Education is vital for having open conversations around race, ethnicity and religion. For instance, organisations can create a book club to learn about and experience different backgrounds; one that's truly reflective of the various cultures in the UK. Having these kinds of conversations can then change how managers approach working with talent – putting empathy and understanding at the heart of line managing, reviewing work, campaign planning, etc.
Social & Digital
Sarah Lewis, Senior Social & Content Strategist at Teamspirit
Use the best imagery and copy choices to promote inclusion
A study from Psychology in Action showed that under-representation of ethnic minority groups in the media can result in feelings of unworthiness – particularly in children. It’s therefore crucial that brands’ image choices reflect societal diversity where possible. The good news is, there are a wealth of free stock photo sites such as Nappy and UK Black Tech which specialise in imagery depicting those from ethnic minority backgrounds while avoiding tokenistic stereotypes that are often seen in more generalised online image libraries.
And hopefully it goes without saying that any polarising semantic choices should be avoided in your social copy. If in doubt, there are several free online tools such as alexjs.com, which help to identify any inconsiderate words and phrases in text.
Laura Cahill, Associate Director at Harvard
Work with influencers who represent the diversity of your target audiences
Reflect on the diverse make up of your audience group and ensure the influencers you choose to work with can bring lived experiences, ideas and insights that will resonate. All too often, our social media accounts are biased towards people who look like us or hold the same views, which is why it’s important that one singular person isn’t responsible for curating an influencer network. Working with agencies that use influencer identification platforms can be a helpful way to remove bias from this process, as these platforms surface accounts based on factual requirements.
Mika Szymanska, Video Producer at Teamspirit
Make representation visible
Data on the diversity of the UK’s media industry is patchy, but there’s a general lack of representation from minorities working on and off the screen. Although campaigns such as Media For All (MEFA) are helping to close the representation gap, much more needs to be done. And this starts with increasing accountability and striving to learn what works (and what doesn’t) by keeping track of diversity initiatives.
In addition, the sector must redress its excessive focus on young talent, which has left older cohorts behind in terms of training and development. As is the theme across this guide, work in video must not only continue to ensure it reflects true diversity but must also monitor itself to remain accountable in order to pre-empt manifestations of racism.