Yes, Black History Month Is Over… Now What?! Here’s How Marketers Can Celebrate Black Talent Year-Round for Our Collective Benefit

green yellow and red waves on black

By Mary Finch, Head of People for the Americas at Iris

The time for talking without action is over. Case in point: 2020… all of it. The whole year.

What did we learn? What you say and do matters. As a person. As a community. As a company. As a brand.

As marketers, we need to be keenly aware of the fact that people care what the businesses they buy from, support and engage with—say and do, 24/7.  Think back on a statement made by a well-known retailer claiming they stand with the Black community and then their employees called them out on social media. Which is to say that what you do and how you act behind the scenes—in those moments the customer may never see—also matters.

Want to know the best way to do that? The absolute best way to ensure that your back-of-house is shored up and thoughtfully diverse? Hire us. Bring Black talent into the fold and allow us to gently shake things up a bit and inform your processes, your ideas, your ways of moving forward. We’re part of your key demographic, after all. So allow us to share in those brainstorms, sit in those meeting rooms and bring our whole selves to the table.

You honestly can’t afford not to. And if for no other reason, note that dollars are on the table. Your reputation is on the table, too, and that’s arguably priceless.

So yes, you may have put something out during the month of February celebrating Black History Month. Great—Good for you. But what are you doing to demonstrate your commitment to support Black culture every other month of the year?

I’ve honestly seen it too many times, as have my peers. As soon as March begins, the messaging fades. And yet, we know that consumers’ eyes are zeroed in on brands now; gauging whether their posts and statements were simply lip service. They’re waiting for you to make good on those commitments.

Exposure and experience are key to all D&I efforts, including honoring Black history. Host conversations with community leaders for your organization. Bring activists and storytellers. Use every resource you have to educate your staff. During Black History Month in particular, it is a given for me to acknowledge my history and culture through storytellers. But we want others too as well.

These true trailblazers present a commitment to making a difference in our communities. On multiple occasions, I was honored to invite and host a conversation with Johnathan Jackson, history-maker, philanthropist and son of Reverend Jesse L. Jackson Sr., to discuss social justice and racial inequity in the workplace.

On another occasion, I invited Jahmal Cole, a well-known Chicago native, community activist and founder of My Block, My Hood; My City, to talk with our North America offices and offer support around local ways to get involved.

If marketers want inclusion in the workplace, the key is to step outside of the office and invite community leaders to educate, promote and support the continued celebration of Black history, Black people and Black culture, beyond what feels like the sole responsibilities of the employees within the companies.

So here’s the opportunity. In two months’ time, we as a country will be honoring the second anniversary of George Floyd’s death. And for every brand—big or small—that puts out a statement claiming support for the Black community… they’re at risk of being called out for not making good on those statements. So listen up, marketers: Take the time now to look inward and sense-check your brand, your organization, your clients.

If you think you can’t do that as well as you’d like, look at who’s around you. Have you intentionally hired team members from various backgrounds, races and intersectionalities? Are the communities you’re speaking to as a brand, reflected within your team?

If not—or if you see a gap—ask yourself why. Is it because you haven’t intentionally brought in Black talent to feed into, steer and guide your BHM or BLM messaging? If you haven’t, why is that the case?

Get honest with yourselves. Take steps to address those gaps. Embrace Black talent all year-round and I can promise you this: Your campaigns will be the better for it. Shift your approach and mindset and make actionable changes that will help you be better informed, connected and relevant as a market—Your customers will notice it, too.

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