By Robin Seasock
Last summer, the Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing (AIMM) published an open letter titled “ANA/AIMM Commitment to Equity, Inclusion, and Systemic Change.” It included a call to action for the development of an equitable creative supply chain through strategic investments in agencies, broadcasters, suppliers, and producers owned or run by Black, Hispanic, Asian, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, and people with disabilities.
While raising awareness about diversity has been a long-standing effort among many brands and organizations, more advanced companies are embracing what is now a global social movement to make substantive and sustainable changes in the marketing field with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.
According to the ANA's “The Power of Supplier Diversity” study conducted in February 2020, 84 percent of 105 client-side marketer respondents said the top benefit of a supplier diversity strategy is community empowerment and positive social impact (for the community).
Additional benefits range from supporting and addressing inequality barriers to building authentic connections to providing multiple channels for procuring goods and services.
Major brands are holding themselves accountable and setting the expectations for their agency partners to model similar DEI values.
Leading by Example
Two of the biggest household name brands are taking a proactive approach to creating tangible change.
McDonald’s, for instance, in early 2021 established a series of goals for its workforce and agency partners. These goals include promoting a sense of belonging and inclusion through the fast-food chain’s ability to amplify the voices of all cultures by working with minority-owned media vendors and conducting a minority-owned media summit annually.
The plan also includes implementing the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) to guide and score the brand’s 2021 advertising creative plan and to ensure that marketing supplier teams implement a three-year plan to reflect the communities they serve.
Soon after, Verizon announced it was expanding its DEI efforts with a new marketing action plan and committing to a diverse marketing ecosystem that covers everything from representation to economic investment.
Verizon’s initiative addresses equity in the creative supply chain to bolster an inclusive working environment, enhance policies to prevent bias in advertising and media, and strengthen content policies to increase transparency, according to a company press release.
So how do top advertisers embrace the DEI movement and drive change in the marketing ecosystem? It starts with four steps.
1. Establish goals.
Advertisers set internal objectives and encourage their agency partners to advance DEI within their own organizations. While advertisers can’t dictate goals or hiring practices for their agency partners, they can set expectations and promote those agency partners that are taking the lead in this area. Some of the other ways to cultivate DEI with agency partners include tracking spending with minority-owned businesses; evaluating the demographic trends in agencies’ new hires, leadership positions, and departures; and ensuring the content developed by the agency is representative of the community or customers the advertiser serves. It’s also important that companies measure their DEI efforts and make them a regular part of the day-to-day marketing operation.
2. Embrace top-down accountability.
Advertisers understand that, to drive systemic and sustainable change, accountability starts with the leadership team. C-level executives must set the tone for their employees, of course. But they also need to raise the level of expectations among agency partners so all of the company’s partners are modeling the values of DEI.
3. Enable DEI initiatives.
The intent is not to penalize agencies that haven’t adopted DEI imperatives but, rather, to recognize and promote progress. One of the top challenges faced by organizations is having the visibility to find and recommend diverse suppliers. Advertisers can support their agencies in several ways, such as sponsoring and paying for diversity certifications of minority-owned businesses; helping agencies recruit diverse talent; proactively identifying diverse third parties for agencies; or conducting mentorship programs. For example, P&G supports efforts to increase the number of Black creators entering the ad industry through partnerships and investments with creative agencies and production companies and also supports mentorship programs and other initiatives.
4. Measure progress.
To gauge progress, companies must measure their DEI activities. Capturing, analyzing, and sharing DEI data can be a powerful motivator for behavioral changes. According to a Harvard Business Review article titled, “How to Best Use Data to Meet Your DEI Goals,” companies looking to make the best use of their diversity data must present it in a way that’s simple, salient, and comparable; set goals that create accountability and increase follow-through; and leverage the information to shift social norms to be more accepting of diversity, equity, and inclusivity.
Whether an advertiser is establishing a DEI program or they have a well-established program in place, the fundamentals of establishing goals, embracing top-down accountability, enabling DEI initiatives, and measuring progress on an annual basis are essential.
The evidence has been building for more than a decade that many advertisers are automating the collection and reporting of DEI agency data. The trend is only likely to accelerate in a post-pandemic world.
Brands are not only holding themselves accountable but are working collaboratively with their agency partners to encourage and support DEI.
About Author: Robin Seasock (@seasockr) is the chief operating officer at Decideware, a partner in the ANA Thought Leadership Program.