Beyond Pride

This post was originally published on The Voice of AAF DC on May 31, 2019.

Tomorrow, we welcome another Pride Month. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer+ (LGBTQ+) communites come together every June to celebrate the right to be themselves and love freely. Pride events are held nationwide; for some, it is the only occasion where they can be out in their community.

While Pride Month has long been associated with rainbow flags, parades, and celebrations of diversity, it has also become famous as the month where companies push their LGBTQ+ marketing campaigns.

Many advertisers see Pride season as a prime opportunity to take their message directly to LGBTQ+ consumers. Media is awash with brands slapping rainbows on fry boxest-shirtslogos, and tv commercials, but how many companies really support the message of diversity year-round?

Money is Power

Helping corporations better understand and reach the LGBTQ+ community is part of a larger purpose for Community Marketing & Insights (CMI), the world’s leading and most-respected LGBTQ+ research firm. For 25 years, CMI has produced consumer market research for leading brands, companies, organizations, universities, and government institutions seeking to understand, reach, and serve the increasingly diverse LGBTQ+ community authentically and effectively.

As LGBTQ+ acceptance increased, more companies were incentivized to target these consumers, who have an estimated buying power nearing $1 trillion. When companies neglect the LGBTQ+ community, they miss out on opportunities to reach a valuable market segment and undoubtedly leave money on the table.

But this audience doesn’t only exist in the month of June.

365 Days of Pride

LGBTQ+ consumers are eager to spend their hard-earned dollars with companies that not only recognize them but align with their values. Corporations cannot assume that the LGBTQ+ community will notice their support based on a month-long bombardment of staged inclusivity.

Completely aside from advertising dollars, brands need to embed LGBTQ+-specific practices into their global operations, which affect millions of people. In short, to get the LGBQT+ community to invest in your brand, you need to invest in the LGBTQ+ community and let them know about the effort.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for LGBTQ+ Americans, provides a list of best practices for marketing and advertising that can help brands get the ball rolling. The list includes suggestions to stay consistent despite conservative backlash and to avoid stereotyping.

HRC also works to improve the lives of the LGBTQ+ community by advocating for equal rights and benefits in the workplace. The Corporate Equality Index report provides an in-depth analysis and rating of large U.S. employers and their policies and practices pertinent to LGBTQ+ employees. Businesses rated 100 percent are recognized as “Best Places to Work.”

That’s how to prove that your brand is a true ally — support an inclusive culture and advocate for corporate social responsibility, even beyond Pride Month.

What If We Changed the Game?

This post was originally published on The Voice of AAF DC on March 8, 2019.

“The reality is, money is a boy’s club.” – Sallie Krawcheck, Co-Founder & CEO, Ellevest

You know what Sallie means … that underlying network of male camaraderie within the workplace. They promote from within the ranks, control access to professional advancement, and dole out or revoke power as they see fit.

But what if women put a new set of rules into play? What if we changed the game, once and for all?

The 3 Percent Movement

Enter The 3 Percent Movement. Until this wave of reform, only 3% of creative directors in the advertising industry were women — and even fewer were people of color. But contrary to its name, the 3 Percent Movement is shattering advertising’s glass roof by going beyond just 3%.

So what does that mean for us advertisers? It’s a clarion call to find the best people so we can make the best work so we can make a profit … and, ultimately, change the advertising landscape. By challenging the status quo and changing the ratio, the 3 Percent Movement has given agencies like Golin a clear road map of how to champion female creative talent and leadership. (The new Ad-women site also helps the cause.)

International Women’s Day 2019: #BalanceforBetter

Feeling unwelcome in meetings, business events, and networking opportunities is becoming the norm for women in an era when they are instead being encouraged to “Lean In.” It’s tough to climb the corporate ladder when the scales are off-balance and expectations remain unchanged.

That’s where International Women’s Day comes into play. Observed on March 8th, this day celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. This year’s campaign theme of #BalanceforBetter is a call-to-action for driving gender balance across the world.

We’re at a critical point in history: As a society, we have the power to stabilize the gender equality scales. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements established that this is not a women’s issue — it’s a world issue. The advertising industry, every other professional industry, and society as a whole cannot move forward if we do not share the responsibility of shifting towards a gender-balanced world.

The 2019 #BalanceforBetter campaign doesn’t end on International Women’s Day. (March 8th is just the tip of the gender equality iceberg.) But it does start now, as you strike the #BalanceforBetter pose to signify that you are ready to make a positive difference for women everywhere.

Make International Women’s Day YOUR day by sharing your “hands out” balance pose and message to the world on social media with the hashtag #IWD2019. By using this strong call-to-action, you’re letting others know that you’re not only ready for change, but ready to #BalanceforBetter. On International Women’s Day 2019 and beyond, how will you #BalanceforBetter?

#astudentsjourney: A Social Media Campaign for Black History Month

For Black History Month, I completed two social media campaigns! One was done for my role as Ad 2 DC’s Diversity and Inclusion Chair. Info about that campaign can be found here.

The other campaign was for a Studio client, a private Christian school, Kingdom Christian Academy. This campaign, A Student’s Journey, was inspired by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture campaign: A People’s Journey.

For the school, I used the month of February to provide information on a Black student’s journey through education. From the creation of HBCU’s, to desegregation onto Black educators using new and inspiring ways of teaching.

The campaign was created with the Instagram platform in mind but still needed to be useful on Facebook. The great thing about Instagram and Facebook (I know peeps like to hate on Facebook, saying it’s for more uh…seasoned social media users but haters gon’ hate!) is that there’s no character limit. For Ad 2 DC, that campaign was made specifically for Twitter and while telling a story in 280 characters or less is rewarding, it’s also daunting.

So, with Instagram in mind, I designed the graphics using a puzzle layout. The puzzle layout is one of the hardest Instagram strategies to execute. Basically, it features a single image that’s split into multiple ones. After they’re split, each individual part is posted on Instagram to recreate its larger version. The downside to this layout is that ideally, each single image should be able to stand out on its own, after you split it. Otherwise, people who see the single post on their news feed won’t notice or pay attention to the image. Each image standing on its own merit was especially necessary for this campaign as Facebook’s timelines and profiles are not in a grid like Instagram.

I used Photoshop to setup the space that would eventually become the overall image on Instagram. Tip: Don’t make individual images and then try to puzzle them together. The secret is one cohesive image and then SLICE.

Here is the image as a whole puzzle:

BHM IG Collage.PNG

This image was eventually broken down into 12 individual images to be posted throughout the month of February. Each image can stand alone:

The copy for each image also adds to the fluid feeling of the overall puzzle, as you can see the social media calendar document I used to schedule the posts on Hootsuite.

Analytically, the campaign increased the discovery of the school’s Instagram profile. Impressions increased to over 1,000 and reach close to 600. The individual images received more likes and views than any of the previous posts on the account, with some being reposted and liked by major accounts.

Hella Insecure: Relationships and Media

This post was originally published on The Voice of AAF DC on February 22, 2019.

Left to right: Panelists Aaron Abernathy and Krysten Copeland listen as Shaiday Dancy discusses a Tiffany & Co. ad

Have you stopped to wonder how social media and advertising have come to influence modern-day relationships? Members and guests of Ad 2 DC dissected this age-old question at the Hella Insecure Panel. The event included panelists representing people of color and the LBGT+ community leading an insightful conversation over happy hour bar fare.

The panel, moderated by President of X+PR Xina Eiland, consisted of: public relations and communications pro Mercy Chikowore; Founder & Chief Strategist of KC & Co. Communications Krysten Copeland; creator of Sunflxw Artistry Shaiday Dancy; and pianist and songwriter Aaron Abernathy​​. Their mission was to set things straight about professional and personal relationships in the era of social media.

The panel dug deeper into the effects that mainstream commercials and print ads have on modern-day relationships, much like what we see on the HBO series Insecure. Panelists also discussed the way relationships have changed for better or for worse since the introduction of social media and other technology. After introductions from each panelist, the discussion kicked off with the first question: “How would you describe the relationship between dating, love, pop culture, and media?”

Black Culture and the Creation of Black Twitter

The consensus was that pop culture is Black culture and it has changed the way brands structure their advertising. Panelists agreed that the African-American community has an influence that stretches beyond our own diaspora through fashion, music, and social media. A number of brands look to Black culture for ‘inspirational direction,’ “but there is a thin line between appreciation and appropriation,” as Eiland reminded the crowd. Copeland remarked that “Black culture has been setting trends” but with the introduction of “Black Twitter,” the conversation begins to expand.

“Black Twitter” can be defined as a “collective of active, primarily African-American Twitter users who have created a virtual community that participates in continuous real-time conversations.” Much of the content on Black Twitter surfaces during a crisis that impacts the black community, and on a lighter note, when discussing media content such as TV shows, movies, and award ceremonies from the black perspective. The development of this virtual community has changed the way we manage relationship expectations including the $200 Date Debate, the phenomenon of relationship goals, Tinder meetups, cuffing season, and Netflix and Chill. For many millennials, Black Twitter has given us a new representation of relationships.

Media and Relationship Diversity

The discussion also included recent ads by some of the world’s largest brands. Panelists pointed to Tiffany & Co’s Believe in Love and Gillette’s #MeToo-inspired ads as examples that are either getting relationship diversity right or completely missing the mark. The panelists attributed this new trend of diversity and representation to brands trying to tag onto trending topics and current events. Brands are seeking a creative way to get into the social media conversation, which doesn’t always result in authenticity. Abernathy and Dancy both agreed that your social media platforms are a resume of sorts: They are your public portfolio, regardless of whether you’re a major brand or a small, personal brand.

Ad 2 DC Diversity & Inclusion Chair Iyana Moore (center) with panelists (left to right) Xina Eiland, Mercy Chikowore, Aaron Abernathy, Krysten Copeland, and Shaiday Dancy

Final Thoughts

The panel discussion concluded with a Q&A session. Audience members were excited to ask the panelists how they balance their professional lives with relationships. DJ and WPFW DC radio personality Bobby Rox asked about push and pull media becoming more blurred with the continued development of technology. The group agreed that push media was becoming more prevalent with social media making messages more pervasive than ever.

This diversity event was a great opportunity for young professionals to network and connect with people outside of their normal 9-to-5 circles. The biggest takeaway from the event was that social media is a tool for all types of relationships and we all have the ability to utilize our full power as consumers and professionals to create better, more meaningful content. As Chikowore said: “Being authentic on social media is all about deciding what your purpose is. So, whether you are looking for the Michelle to your Barack or a new job, be mindful and genuine!”

#adding2bhm: A Social Media Campaign for Black History Month

This post was originally published on The Voice of AAF DC on February 1, 2019.

image1Beginning in 1926, first known as “Negro History Week,” Black History Month has been observed every February in Canada and the United States (October in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands). It began as a way to remember important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. From the event’s initial phase, the primary emphasis was placed on encouraging the coordinated teaching of the history of American blacks in the nation’s public schools.

The first celebration of Black History Month took place at Kent State University from February 1, 1970 until the end of the month. It would be six years later before President Gerald Ford nationally recognized Black History Month, sparking celebrations all across the country in educational institutions, centers of Black culture and community centers.

MAD Black Men and Women

Much has been written about the men and women who shaped the field of advertising. However, the contributions of African-Americans to the advertising business have largely been omitted from these accounts.

The phrase “Mad men” was a slang term coined in the 1950s by advertisers working on Madison Avenue, where the explosive growth of advertising agencies happened. A number of trailblazing African-American men and women launched their careers during the Mad Men era and went on to have prominent, long-lasting careers. Starting in the mail-room and as secretaries, they worked their way through the ranks of major advertising agencies. They achieved the first managerial positions for African-American’s, created timeless advertisements that stuck in the minds of consumers, and even established successful agencies of their own.

Adding to Black History

#adding2bhmThe campaign, #adding2bhm, is a hashtag used to follow the stories of the African-American MAD men and women who pioneered the advertising industry. Throughout the month of February, AD 2 DC will be chronicling the stories of 8 industry mavens, in 280 characters or less, who have ‘added’ to Black History, changed the way we think of advertising, and continue to open doors through their steps and contributions.

The hashtag is derived from a larger campaign story, #adding2diversity that AD 2 DC uses to share content with industry news focused on diversity and inclusion. #adding2diversity is an ongoing campaign that members are encouraged to use past Black History Month.

Normalizing Disability in Advertising

This post was originally published on The Voice of AAF DC on December 3, 2018.

December 3 marks the annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). This year’s themes are empowering people with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.

One billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. But if you judged life by the world of advertising, you might conclude that disabled people are a societal rarity. So rare that advertisers feel the need to airbrush able-bodied models to look like amputees. Yes, that really happened.

The ethical responsibility of advertisers — especially during a paradigm shift that places the consumer at the center of media — is to provide content that fulfills the marketing agenda, without alienating, disrespecting, or deceiving any members of the intended or unintended audience. But we all know that every brand doesn’t deliver on that responsibility. Apart from when ads speak specifically about disability, disabled people are overwhelmingly absent from the narrative.

Breaking down barriers

Research conducted by the United Kingdom media agency UM discovered that while consumers wanted to see more people with disabilities in advertising, some 62% of respondents honestly admitted to feeling “uncomfortable” when they did see it. Also, 43% agreed that advertisers who showed people with disabilities risked making the ads “unappealing to people,” while 34% said that people with physical disabilities are “not attractive.” So how can advertisers go about breaking the taboo and being more representative?

The marketing and advertising industries have a chance to help break down social stigmas around disability by making it more visible. To change perceptions and promote progression, ads need to normalize disability — by plugging the rich, everyday lives that disabled people live beyond their disability.

Showing the world as it is

The under-representation of disabled people in advertising is largely due to the lack of diversity in creative roles. If more disabled people were employed as creative directors, copywriters, graphic designers, etc., we’d start to see a natural shift towards a more authentic portrayal.

Representing people with disabilities could be the final frontier in diversifying advertising, with more brands having already moved towards LGBTQ+ inclusion (Coca-Cola’s ‘Pool Boy’) and aiming at different types of families (multicultural and single dads, etc.).

Aside from being the right thing to do, diversity in ads has the potential to generate tangible benefits. Brands are undoubtedly leaving money on the table by not appealing to a wider range of audiences. Striking a chord with consumers is no longer about serving them images of perfection, since social media has helped to change how people view images. People with disabilities, as both recipients and agents of change, can fast-track the process towards truly inclusive advertising.