After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, brands and agencies pledged greater efforts to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion at their own companies — and in their media budgets. But just a few years later, some Black-owned publishers sense that the initiatives are waning, while others say Black publishers get a chance to pitch — if they bend over backwards for advertisers.
“We’re hearing less and less about Black-owned publications,” said DéVon Johnson, Founder and CEO of BlueLife Media Group and BOMESI, at Beeler.Tech’s Navigator conference in New York on Thursday. Johnson noted that other social causes like sustainability are the new topics du jour in advertising. The transience of some brands’ investment in Black-owned publishers underscores the need to focus on partners interested in “long-term solutions,” Johnson said.
It’s starting to feel like these PUBLISHERS are being pandered to, or there’s a misconception that we’re begging,” said Grouchy Greg Watkins, founder of AllHipHop.com. But Black-owned sites have valuable, loyal audiences whom brands would be lucky to reach. “We don’t pay for our traffic. All our visitors are real,” he said, highlighting audience quality, which is top of mind for advertisers at a time when made-for-advertising sites are receiving greater scrutiny.
Diversity and inclusion challenges persist in large part due to a lack of diversity at brands and media organizations, especially at the leadership level.
“There’s diversity lacking at the decision level,” Johnson said. “We don’t want tokenism. I need someone who knows what they’re doing and can actually make decisions.”
While the challenges are real, solutions — and examples of strong results through Black-owned media and diverse audiences — exist.
“As much as it’s a social imperative, there’s also a ton of business to be had, and it’s a growth area,” said Renee Appelle, SVP, Global Partnerships & Strategy at Vox Media, and the event’s remaining panelist. “It’s where audiences are growing. Those who aren’t motivated by the social imperative should be motivated by the economic upside.”
Johnson highlighted Vox Media, Appelle’s organization, as one that has been investing in inclusive voices and audiences long before seemingly every brand started talking about the topic in 2020. And Appelle confirmed that investments in diverse audiences have driven results.
“We’ve seen a 23% over-benchmark as a result of our efforts in this area,” Appelle said. “There is really high performance to be had.”
The panelists agreed that this performance comes from serving an underserved audience that doesn’t get enough attention — and from the population growth that audiences of color and LGBTQ audiences disproportionately represent. One question brands and publishers will have to navigate, though, is whether to target these audiences specifically, for example by designating funds for Black-owned media, or by fashioning overall media budgets that target diverse audiences.
“Inclusive total market is where we should be going,” Johnson said, adding that he anticipates separate RFPs for diverse media will fade. “The future looks diverse, so you should be including that in your plans.”
Watkins underscored that his kids’ generation, Gen Alpha, will be majority-minority, meaning that, in the future, targeting diverse audiences will be less and less of a priority among others; rather, targeting diverse audiences will be the same as good audience targeting in general.
But advertisers don’t need to wait 20 years to reach those diverse audiences. They’re already here, and they already have valuable dollars to dedicate to the brands willing to court them, Watkins emphasized.
“We spend money,” he said to close the session. “Act on it.”