By Black Conference

The year 2020 has been defined by pandemic, protest and economic peril. But the upheaval may also lead to lasting change in the way the media industry addresses diversity and helps advertisers connect with communities of color. That’s according to industry leaders who took part in last week’s National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters/Power of Urban Radio: Global Agency Panel. And while it’s not the only way to reach consumers, radio’s personal connection with listeners makes it a powerful vehicle for such change, panelists said.

Moderated virtually by Radio Advertising Bureau SVP of Insights Annette Malave, the panel was part of the 20th annual Power of Urban Radio Forum. The speakers were on hand to “help us get a better understanding of the $1.5 trillion black consumer market and how urban radio can effectively reach this consumer segment,” said organizer Kevin Jenkins, EVP of Corporate Sales, with Service Broadcasting in Dallas.

While the pandemic has forced businesses to tackle the challenges of working remotely and make economic adjustments, there has also been an “increased focus on diversity” said Danielle Atanda, Managing Director at OMD. Within OMD, she said, a “black leadership network that has been around for a while... now has the power and backing of senior leadership.” Atanda said that while most of the advertisers working with her company have made statements in support of racial justice, some OMD clients have done more, citing a $100 million commitment by Apple as one example.

There has been a “much needed broader awakening to systemic racism,” added Tiffany Kirk, EVP and Managing Partner of Horizon Media. Kirk said Horizon’s effort includes training, re-evaluating recruitment and developing an inclusive culture. “It’s a positive pivot for something that’s been a negative year,” she said.

Clients are taking “the movement and communities of color very seriously,” said Vanessa Vining, who leads Fluent 360’s media department. Fluent client “Nissan and Infiniti have given back to organizations that support community efforts [like the] NAACP,” she said. “Nissan also wanted to elevate their presence around the BET awards... so they actually donated their airtime to Black Girls Code, an amazing organization.”

That multi-faceted approach can be effective, according to Jennifer Hungerbuhler, EVP in charge of local broadcast buying at Dentsu Aegis. She described how one unidentified client started with campaigns across TV, radio and podcasting. “They then took it a step further and began [working] with minority ownership groups [and] African-American content producers” while helping minority-owned media partners grow and attract investment.”

Part of the challenge, Vining said, is to help clients “think about diversity differently” and reach audiences of color in “a voice and tone that’s not offensive.” Responding to a question from moderator Malave, she said this is especially important with radio messaging. “You want to be very careful” about word choice, she said.

However, most of the panelists believe companies need more than well-worded radio spots to reach consumers. Consistency between message and action is the key. “This isn’t your ‘new marketing campaign,’” said Shelby Saville, Chief Investment Officer of Spark Foundry. “It’s bigger than that. It’s the values you hold as a company and how those values translate to consumers. Your diversity and inclusivity cannot be separate from your business outcome.”

Younger consumers are diving that push, Vining said, ingraining “permanent change instead of change for the moment.”

As for delivering that message, radio remains an effective platform, panelists said. “Radio personalities have always been a great influence in African-American communities and are even more of an influence in periods of social unrest,” Atanda said. “They’re not afraid to talk about the politics, they’re not afraid to address social justice head on. Listeners want that unfiltered voice and they’re looking for that relatability [and] reliability.

“Radio’s [biggest asset],” Atanda concluded, “is that the listener and personality truly become a unified community.”