We hope the information we have shared starts a conversation that continues long after February, as Black History Month should be viewed as a yearlong commitment of honoring Black lives and talent. Check out our final thoughts, shared by our very own Camille Johnson.
In the 36 years since Black History Month was commemorated, it has served as a unique opportunity to reflect, honor, and remember Black leaders and innovators that have made this country what it is today.
Today is, however, in no way the period to the sentence. There is no “happily ever after” to this story of overcoming racialized oppression for Black and Brown people, especially in this country. There is still so much change and progress needed to make this world a more amicable and safer place for my Black men and women to live, thrive and survive. True change is nonlinear, and progress follows no storybook tale or outline.
Truthfully, this month has an impossible task. How can one month truly encompass the blood, sweat, tears, and triumphs of Black people? This is a near-impossible task for the technicolor sacrifices and triumphs of Black men and women to be truly illustrated in all its glory.
How is it possible, in 28 days, 672 hours – can the lives and the works of Black people be authentically and accurately amplified? Yet as communicators and marketers, we are tasked with a difficult duty to ask hard questions and drive the dialogue in the hope of a more inclusive and harmonious world.
At the beginning of the month, PACO kicked off the Black History Month agency discussion with a poem talk. I, Too by Langston Hughes was discussed, and the question was raised on who gets to sing America’s song.
As Black people, what song binds us to a nation that for too long thrived off the enslavement and the torture of our brethren? And as a nation, what song seeks to atone for these atrocities and rings true the reality that Black history is American history? The answer to who can sing America’s song rests in the individual and what they may hear – rather than by a rigid system.
In the early 70s, Tom Burrell, Founder of Burrell Communications, uniquely pioneered in the Chicago advertising scene what is now known as targeted advertising specifically toward Black Americans. While radically incorporating positive elements of Black culture that had never been spotlighted before, Burrell tailored ads that were created and aimed at the Black consumer base.
“I had to convince clients to understand that Black people are not dark-skinned white people,” Burrell explained, using a signature phrase for which he became famous. “Sometimes when you start talking to people about race and differences, implied in that is some kind of subordination, so I had to convince them that you can be different and equal.” There is an art to storytelling. There is an art of aesthetically and accurately creating messaging that reflects experiences that will connect with the Black consumer. The Black experience is not monolithic, but it begins with strategically and purposely listening to what this community holds dear.
2020 in many ways, changed the foundation of our lives forever, but also as marketers. It changed the road map that we must follow to ensure that performative inclusivity does not take place within our agency’s hall or through our client work. As marketers, we must ask hard questions; we must understand that targeted marketing and inclusivity do not end at print ads or commercials but in the inner working of the brand as a whole. Does the internal work of the client or company reflect the commitment to diverse representation? Does the make-up of executive leadership and stakeholders uphold diverse identities?
On a personal note, I grew up in Minnesota, where my identity was often told to me – that I had to dress this way, talk this way, and maybe just maybe, I would be the “right” type of Black girl. Yet, as I reflect as a Black woman, long removed from adolescence, I realize there is no such thing as the “right” type of Black girl or the “right” type of American. The power that I find now, after dedicating my life to inclusive marketing and storytelling, is that my story is distinguishably linked to the melody of America.
Through PACO’s inclusive work and this type of dialogue, the raising of our voices through our agency halls, on our client calls, and through our work, the stories and experiences of the voiceless can collectively ring a song so strong, no one can unhear it. In only 28 days – I, too, sing America.
We at PACO continue to incorporate these learnings into our work with our clients. Contact Us if you would like to learn more about how to boost inclusivity in your marketing strategy.