A coterie of 20 big advertisers — General Mills, L’Oreal and Nestle among them — has vowed to spend between 2% and 5% of their annual media budgets on Black-owned media outlets, part of a growing effort on Madison Avenue to raise ad dollars in support of multicultural media venues.
The group of marketers, which also includes AARP, Mars, Pernod Ricard, Danone, DoorDash, Target and Tyson Foods, is working through GroupM, the large WPP media investment unit that helps allocate billions of dollars each year to various media venues. Several big media agencies, including Interpublic Group’s Mediabrands, have worked to make the process of buying commercial inventory from media companies owned by people of diverse backgrounds, an easier one to navigate.
“We have had ongoing initiatives around programs that recognize the world is changing,” Kirk McDonald, CEO of North American operations at GroupM, says in an interview Tuesday. “We are asking, ‘How do we actually close the equity gap” between large traditional media companies and smaller ones owned by people from diverse backgrounds “in a healthy way that is a business accelerator for our clients?”
Much of the debate around allocating new dollars to minority-owned media comes in the wake of the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police last year, a seminal event that has spurred new conversations about how people in America treat one another. In recent weeks, Target, Verizon, General Motors and Procter & Gamble have also demonstrated new willingness to work with Black-owned businesses or forge partnerships with Black creative executives. GroupM said several weeks ago that it intended to “invite” clients to spend 2% or more of their total annual media budgets on Black-owned media over the next 12 months.
There are several challenges to getting things accomplished. Advertisers are typically driven to generate wide reach via media, and many of the minority-owned outlets, while still reaching prized niches, remain small. Most advertisers are still looking to reach large crowds through TV and other venues. But as digital media gives them the power to aim more precisely at specific swaths of consumers, the advertisers are growing more interested in reaching smaller groups of the people most likely to buy their goods and services.
GroupM’s programs “are not just about what we need to do to support today’s owners,” says McDonald. “But how do we make sure that diverse ownership grows in the future? We are talking about both of those legs.” In addition to its pledges on spending, GroupM also has efforts in place to support writers, producers, directors, talent and production companies in the development, funding, distribution and marketing of premium content for clients.
The marketers taking part indicated the spending commitments were part of a larger movement to spur diversity and equity. “This partnership with GroupM focusing on Black-owned media is an important part of our anti-racism work and in line with our commitment to double supplier spend with Black-owned businesses,” Travis Freeman, global head of media and social at Uber, said in a statement.
“Evaluating our media investments to ensure they are spent with Black-owned media companies is an important step in combatting racial inequality and creating new economic opportunities for diverse communities,” Terrance Irizarry, head of inclusive diversity for Danone North America, said in a statement. “This is part of our larger journey and our work toward enhancing the overall diversity in our content, and our partnerships with diverse suppliers in the industry.”
Target intends to spend 5% of its budget each year with Black-owned media companies starting in 2022. “The health and longevity of Black-owned publishers is essential to an equitable and representative media landscape, and we recognize an opportunity to drive meaningful change,” said Maurice Cooper, senior vice president of marketing at Target.
The new pledges represent early maneuvers, says McDonald. “We actually hope that this means the share of ownership in the media” in the future “is more equitable than today,” he says. “We are looking at this as one step at a time.”