Black-Owned Media Matters: The Power of Inclusion and Long Term Partnerships

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The ongoing challenge of diversity, equality, and inclusion in corporate America has been one of the year's dominant stories. In the wake of social unrest, there is sharp attention on the diverse (or lack thereof) composition of corporate environments across almost all industries. The recent Cynopsis webinar  "Black Owned Media Matters: The Ways You Can Include Us And Build Long Term Partnerships" brought together Byron Allen (pictured at top), founder, chairman & CEO, Allen Media Group, LLC, parent company of The Weather Channel and Entertainment Studios, and Natasha Alford, vice president, TheGrio to specifically address the realities of diversity within the Black-owned media space.

The advertising and media industries are long on rhetoric promoting DEI and very short on action. In a recent report authored by MediaVillage Founder/CEO Jack Myers, one of the primary recommendations is to re-allocate media spending appropriately (and disproportionately) value ethnic media. In the report, Myers writes, "Shift media budgets to BET, TV One, Univision, Telemundo, Essence, OZY and other ethnically focused media companies. In the process, correct the systemic cost-per-thousand inequities these media organizations have long been forced to accept."

Mr. Allen, who has spent the past decades consolidating one of the most expansive empires in media, is keenly engaged in Black-owned media. In that capacity, he has been an outspoken advocate for diversity in the owner's suite. He sees the issue as one of empowerment via media spend with advertising agencies having the capacity to focus on Black-owned media. That capacity has not led to opportunity, and he is unapologetic when addressing what he views as bias against Black-owned media.

Pulling no punches, Mr. Allen announces that "Black-owned media is done" after having been "obliterated." He points the finger directly at what he calls "systemic racism on Madison Avenue." Citing his own experiences and other insiders, he says that most companies have been unwilling to make an economic commitment to Black-owned media. "Very few companies have a bucket that says Black-owned media is important and it is something we are going to lean in on," says Allen, "so we are going to include this in our budgets and make sure the Black experience is engaged as it pertains to Madison Avenue." Absent an economic decision that can drive dollars to Black-owned media, the status quo remains tightly established to ghettoize Black-owned media implicitly.

The lack of diversity in advertising companies plays a significant role in the condition of Black-owned media. Allen directly takes on how the lack of diversity adversely impacts opportunities for Black-owned media, saying, "You're often pitching people who are tone-deaf and don't understand the importance of Black-owned media."

Allen then goes on to make a distinction between Black-owned media and Black targeted media. Black targeted media is often housed within predominantly majority agencies that recognize the importance of the Black consumer. As a result, any subsequent targeting remains within the dominant advertising model and, by and large, does not include Black-owned media. Allen shared example after example, explaining why Black targeted media's perspective will often be inadequate compared to Black-owned media.

The ability to understand and connect authentically with Black audiences is almost impossible using the lens of Black targeted media. The necessary cultural currency is merely absent in those spaces relative to Black-owned media.

According to Allen, the increased prominence of chief diversity officers might seem like a potential solution, but those roles are not sufficient for real change. Instead of a chief diversity officer, Allen claims what is needed is a chief investment officer. "Every Chairman and CEO in every major corporation in America needs to be a Chief Investment Officer. They need to make sure their corporations that are pulling billions of dollars from our community are leaning in and investing in the Black community with Black-owned media," states Allen.

Despite its checkered past, the relationship (or lack thereof) between Black-owned media and the advertising industry still represents an opportunity. Under the spotlight of social unrest and reckoning by Black advertising professionals, there is a chance to move in another direction.

Allen cites a few steps that can be taken if corporations are serious about their commitment to Black lives: (1) Lean in with budgets committed to Black-owned media (2) Move beyond doing just the "minimum" required (3) Recognize Black-owned media as a missed opportunity for authentic connection and (4) View the talent within Black-owned media as a conduit to foster new voices.

A blueprint has been provided, and it now remains to be seen if the power of Black-owned media will be leveraged.

Also read Simon Applebaum's review of Byron Allen's comments on racism among advertisers and agencies.

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