By now your brand has posted your #BlackLivesMatter statement on Instagram. Or you’ve sent an email to your database saying that you are committed to listening and learning. Maybe you’ve even put out a statement outlining some actions you’re committed to taking.
You’ve stated your condemnation of racial injustice, but what’s next?
Your customers will still be watching even if the stories are no longer dominating the news cycle. So, what should your brand do in the days, weeks, months and years to come to invest in action to fight systemic racism?
A few questions to ask as you outline your long-term anti-racism strategies:
Are you doing this because you and your brand truly believe that Black Lives Matter? Or, are you doing it because it is trending and all of your competitors are?
While now is absolutely not the time to be silent, it’s also not a time to be jumping on a bandwagon. People can and will know the difference. This is not the time for performative allyship or virtue signaling. Period. Which brings us to…
Have you taken the time to actually understand this moment?
Before you jump to start building your anti-racism roadmap, pause to ground yourself in the history that led to this moment and what people are looking to change. While racial injustice may be a trending topic right now, these conversations have been going on for years. There is an abundance of resources--old and new--you can use to educate yourself on the history, the issues, and the change needed. Take the time to do your own research and learn how to talk about these issues in a constructive way. As a company, reflect on the role your brand may have played in the past, identify any gaps and acknowledge where steps could have been taken in the past but weren’t.
Doing this reflective work will enable you and your brand to have a point of view informed by research and that takes accountability for your brand’s action (or inaction) in the past. This foundation will then help address the hard questions of “Why are you making this change? Why didn’t you act before? Why do you even care?” that your customers may raise as you begin to take action--enabling your brand to activate an authentic, credible voice.
How is your brand actually committed to bringing about meaningful change?
People want leadership, not empty platitudes. So, what is your brand doing other than putting out this social post or email? Making a donation is good. Giving your employees the day off to vote or volunteer at the polls is great. Making a conscious change to your ways of working or business practices is even better.
Everyone is (rightfully) holding up Ben & Jerry's as a prime example of brands getting this right, but there are a number of others who are proving that they are committed to being more than “fake woke” right now. Companies like Glossier, who in addition to donating funds to organizations dedicated to fighting racial injustice, is making an equal investment in Black-owned beauty businesses. Or Rent the Runway, who is allocating $1,000,000 to support Black designers by “providing design resources, data, mentorship and financial support to create collections for RTR.” It’s time for brands to prove their statements were more than just social PR and put their money where their mouth is, as the saying goes.
How is your brand holding itself accountable?
The sad fact is eventually these protests will cease to dominate the news cycle and the world will move on to the next crisis that grabs headlines. So, what is your brand doing to uphold your commitment to fighting racism beyond this particular moment in time? It’s time for companies to reflect upon the policies and culture of their own institutions and make tangible, intentional actions. Outline the roadmap your company is putting together to increase representation at the leadership level. What is your company doing to make your boardrooms less male and white? How are you facilitating an environment where all your employees feel comfortable and supported in bringing their true self to work everyday? What mentorship programs do you have in place (or will put in place) to elevate people of color to leadership positions within your corporate offices? How are you prioritizing attracting and retaining diverse talent?
Be specific -- these are the types of long-term commitments that will show the world that you are truly committed to doing the work to bring about real change--not just offering vague promises of a “commitment to listen and reflect”. A great resource for brands looking for a place to start is “A Call for Change,” an open letter signed by over 600 Black advertising professionals that outlines 12 specific steps companies can take to fight systemic racism in the advertising industry. While the letter is directed towards agencies, the recommendations apply broadly.
Once you’ve answered these questions and developed a clear and actionable strategy, you should consider releasing follow-up messages to communicate with your customers. A few tactical recommendations…
Make sure your message is authentic with your brand’s values and voice
While these statements may not seem like marketing opportunities, this moment presents an opportunity for people who have never engaged with your brand to understand what your brand is about and stands for. People want to hear why your brand specifically cares and how this aligns with your brand values in your brand’s voice. So yes, you should be sure to explicitly state what your brand is doing to bring about societal change. But don’t lose your brand’s personality when you make your statement. Don’t just post a generic, any-brand-can-use-it as-PR statement--make a statement in a way that feels authentic. If your statement isn’t rooted in your brand language and backed by your brand’s DNA, it comes across as a one-off campaign, not as something that is now ingrained in your brand—making it less likely that your customers believe that you’re committed to the statements you’re making.
Give your customer care team the heads up first!
Saying Black people shouldn’t be murdered by the police shouldn’t be controversial. And yet, here we are. Your company will likely face vocal blowback from customers or trolls who will take issue with your statement, and you need to make sure your customer care team has the support they need to handle this. Before you send that email or schedule that post, consider scaling up the customer support team with volunteers from other departments so your current teams aren’t overwhelmed by reading and responding to racist diatribes. Ensure the team has access to mental health resources, time off, and even hazard pay to help cope with the burden of responding to these messages. And most importantly, do not make your Black customer care employees shoulder this burden. Give them the option to sit this one out and let their other colleagues respond to the vitriol.
Just like with COVID, take a look at your scheduled comms and media
The past few weeks saw a flood of brands taking to social media and posting their support of Black Lives Matter. This was great, but the efforts rang a bit hollow when they forgot to turn off their paid media during #BlackoutTuesday or when their previously-scheduled email promoting a BOGO sale hit inboxes shortly after they posted their messages of support. Right now, it is better to err on the side of caution and pause your promotional campaigns rather than risk being seen as tone deaf or hypocritical.
Once you decide the timing is right to turn your ongoing campaigns back on, consider how to integrate your anti-racism messaging into your ongoing communications and all your primary channels. Is it making a conscious effort to update your marketing materials with more diversity? Is it a once a month email with updates on efforts you committed to in your initial statements? Is it educational social posts every few weeks with resources for voting, police reforms, and anti-racism? By making this a part of ongoing communications, your brand is not only holding itself accountable but also continuing the conversation beyond this moment.
Reinforce your commitment more than once and in more than one channel
There are a lot of brands who have posted once and feel like their work is done. A day or two after posting their message of solidarity, they were back posting business-as-usual promotions even as protests continued in cities large and small across the globe. The contrast between what the world was seeing in their news feed and the cheery “Best summer ever!” emails filled with carefree white models was jarring. People rightfully began to question brands’ true commitment to the cause. Contrast that with brands like Lucky, who are doing a great job reinforcing their message on their social, email and on their website. Because they are continuing to push this message in a variety of channels, their support feels genuine.
The same way people need multi-channel exposure to product messaging or brand messaging--they need to see your message in support of racial equality in multiple places. Otherwise, it seems like a social post geared towards checking a box, not pushing for change.
Think through the role of channels when posting these messages
Social seems to be the default platform to make statements in support of Black Lives Matter, and that makes sense. It is a way to very publicly take a stance, and effectively broadcast your message on a 1:many basis. But it’s also pretty easy for the message to get buried. So if social is the only place you are speaking out, it can potentially come off as bandwagon-y and insincere. Email is perceived as being more 1:1 than social, but a lot of those comms are coming from no-reply addresses that don’t give recipients a way to engage in a dialogue with your company to provide their perspective and recommend ways your company can do better going forward. As with promotional campaigns, this calls for a multi-channel approach with the content tailored to the strengths and weaknesses of each channel.
Put it on your website
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost every brand included a section on their site to detail the tangible steps they are taking to protect both their employees’ and customers’ physical health. And while fighting racism and protecting your employees’ and customers’ physical safety and mental health should be just as big a concern, we’re not seeing nearly as many companies detail the actions they are taking to support their Black and Brown employees and customers publicly on their site. Adding a section to your site that details your ongoing efforts to fight systemic racism feels more permanent than a social post or an email, and in conjunction with those other channels and tactics, can signal that your commitment to change is real and not a fleeting response to the news cycle.
What We Are Doing
Digitas and Publicis Groupe are committed to opening a dialogue and designing new ways to fight racism in our communities worldwide. To that end, Digitas employees are taking this Friday, June 12 as a day to reflect, reset and begin to heal. We are going to spend this time preparing for a larger discussion across Publicis Groupe next week where we will begin to address the following fundamental questions and develop an action plan to drive real change over the next 18 months:
- How do we provide more opportunities for Black people in our agencies and brands?
- How do we foster a culture of growth & progress to create more Black leaders in the top levels of our company?
- How do we ensure our white colleagues become active partners and strong contributors to the success of our Black colleagues?
- What can we take from the solutions we create to help support all minorities around the world?
While agencies have been seen as more progressive, we aren’t exempt from needing to take a hard look at how we operate and how our policies and actions have upheld the status quo.
Next week is just our first step in the process. We recognize that our efforts to make a real impact are just starting, but we are committed to doing the necessary work to bring about a permanent change.
We are heartened by the groundswell of support from both brands and individuals worldwide and hope that this is truly a turning point in acknowledging, discussing and actively working to dismantle the racist systems underpinning American society for far too long. That said, these systems have been in place for hundreds of years -- they’re not going to be toppled by a tweet or press release. But it is a start. So now that we’ve all posted our initial messages, let’s get to work.