Claire McAlpine and Helen Brain, Joint Heads of MediaCom UK’s Social Change Hub, reveal how they are working with clients to make a difference on DEI and sustainability.
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With each campaign, clients are increasing the pressure on their communications agencies to be more inclusive and more sustainable. We are celebrating that pressure. It’s exciting to see clients using their marketing budgets to drive change.
In our experience, such efforts are most powerful when DEI and sustainability is built into the ‘business as usual’ ways of working for every campaign. It’s also most impactful when they are considered as an interconnection of responsible media and messaging across both DEI and sustainability. There are important intersections between these topics and change is most powerful when these issues are seen as a combined People and Planet initiative.
This is also reflected in GroupM’s mission of ‘Advertising that works better for people’, which is best reflected in the Responsible Investment Framework covering not only DEI and sustainability, but also other areas of ethics such as responsible journalism and data ethics.
We want to share here some of the ways of working within the agency-client relationship that can deliver the most exciting progress:
Are your DEI and sustainability goals built into your agency briefs?
We particularly love to see your positive social impact goals within your briefs. It’s a powerful way of setting the expectations at the beginning of the creative process. It drives your agencies to work together to improve authentic representation of your audiences within your campaigns, to diversify your supply chain and to work towards the net zero goals of your business. Ask your agencies to actively include diverse voices throughout the creative process, to increase spend with diverse publishers and to deliver net zero in your campaigns. And importantly, ask how you are tracking and measuring your progress in these areas? We’re seeing clients such as Uber, British Gas, Mars and Tesco consciously calling out the moral imperative of social impact within their briefs. More of this please.
Is DEI and sustainability being built into your 'always on’ and ‘business as usual’ campaigns, and not just the ‘cultural moment’ campaigns?
The period around COP26 last year saw a huge increase in brands talking about sustainability and there are moments across the year that we see a spike in DEI comms and media spend such as during Pride and Ramadan. But are you also seeking authentic representation and working with diverse and sustainable partners throughout the year? Are you making deliberate choices about increasing spend with diverse and sustainable publishers within your ‘always on’ campaigns? Are your brand safety measures and exclusion lists inadvertently blocking diverse publishers?
We know that many LGBTQ+ people, for example, feel that they are only spoken to during Pride, which can feel tokenistic and negatively impacts on whether the LGBTQ+ communities feel authentically represented within advertising. If you are looking to drive cultural relevance and effectively connect with your audiences, this needs to be driven by authentic insights. Brilliant campaigns recognise that these audiences engage with your brand all through the year, not just during Pride, Ramadan, Black History Month or on Earth Day. We’ve created Inclusive Planning and Sustainability Planning toolkits, including data tools to help clients identify where their brand underperforms, media buying solutions to help diversify supply chains as well as our unique Carbon Calculator, which allows clients to run net zero campaigns through offsetting.
Do you centre diverse voices within the process and empower colleagues to drive systemic change?
Our industry is not yet as diverse as it should be – as shown consistently by WFA’s own DEI Census and the IPA’s All in Census. This means we all need to be conscious that diverse voices are heard and acted on all through the campaign development, and particularly when identifying the audience insights and making decisions on points such as creative direction, talent, media partners, producers and much more. The WFA’s ‘Diversity and Representation: focus on media planning and buying’ produced in conjunction with GARM, in which GroupM plays an active role, does a brilliant job of highlighting this.
At MediaCom, we do this in two ways, firstly through our internal Sustainability and Inclusive Planning leadership networks and, secondly, by working with Cultural Consultants and Future Creatives, our network of individuals, platforms and collectives outside of our agency.
Our leadership networks enable our media specialists to apply their technical knowledge to drive systemic change within the business. We work hard to centre marginalised voices within these networks, to ensure that lived experience of diversity is heard and acted on. With our Cultural Consultants, we co-create campaign insights and ideas to develop work that truly speaks to and benefits the communities we want to reach (also making it more effective for our clients). This can range from interventions in casting, scripting and set design through to more fundamental projects that shift the shape of the media plan, plus creative and financial impact of our work.
Is this built into your business behaviours?
Marketing is only one part of any business and how you behave as a company on DEI and sustainability will affect the impact of your campaigns. Does your business demonstrate equality both within your own organisation and in behaviours within your wider community? Is a Net Zero policy being implemented across all touchpoints of your business? People are increasingly aware of the difference between words and deeds, so it’s essential that comms are not used for green/purpose/rainbow washing. One way to demonstrate real intent is to create a lasting legacy. Our work with Reebok, for example, led to internships and a three-year creative relationship. We have also built lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with new wave media companies such as Guap Studios.
Ultimately, it’s by working together that we can drive real change, both as client and agency partners and as an industry. Doing this will not only benefit society but will also help improve the impact of your communications spend for your brand and your business.
It’s essential for both the future of your business and your planet.