Uncomfortable Conversations: Black podcasters need brands to invest long-term
This is part of a recurring series of Q&As called "Uncomfortable Conversations," taking on the sometimes tough, but always necessary, discussions about inclusion in advertising. This series will spotlight the many diverse voices that make up this industry—at all levels and in all disciplines—highlighting their personal experiences to illustrate the importance of inclusion and equity throughout the entire ecosystem.
Today we talk with Gary Coichy, an Ad Age 40 Under 40 and CEO-founder of Pod Digital Media, a podcast agency he says is the first to work with multicultural podcast creators who are looking to monetize their channels, and with advertisers looking to reach diverse audiences. Before launching Pod Digital Media, Coichy spent 15 years working at agencies like Mediacom and Laundry Service, and brands such as Lacoste and Verizon.
The following interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
You created the first company to amplify multicultural podcast creators and send advertising dollars their way. How critical is this business and the amplification of diverse voices, especially right now?
It's extremely critical, as we’ve noticed an influx in voices of color entering the podcast market to tell their own stories. Right now, brands have an opportunity to support a critical addressable market in a meaningful way. As more podcasters of color create compelling content, they generate large followings and they’re committed to connecting their listeners with brands that support their audiences. Our podcasters are leaning on Pod Digital Media to navigate advertiser relationships and build their revenue, and we’re asking advertisers to lean in as well.
In a letter to your podcast network telling them their voices matter now more than ever, you mentioned that you are “truly moved by the show of support from our brand partners and ad holding companies who have publicly responded with compassion, unity and commitments to racial equality.” Can you discuss some of the good responses you’ve received so far?
We service more than 100 advertisers, between agencies and direct relationships, each year and recent events have lit a fire under some of our partners to increase their investment in more meaningful ways. For example, Cricket Wireless by AT&T, a global beauty and personal care company to subscription services, such as StoryWorth, are among those who have committed to #SupportBlackVoices with additional investment.
Why did you want to send that letter?
It was a no-brainer. So many people expressed mixed emotions and were asking “where do we go from here?” This moment, for me, was about leadership and encouraging and inspiring podcasters, especially our Black podcasters, to continue sharing their voices and experiences on their platforms. Furthermore, I got in this business to advocate for underrepresented voices, from the boardrooms to the balance sheets, and it was important for us to keep those lines of communication open between podcasters of color and advertisers who want to reach them.
You challenged “brands to #SupportBlackVoices in meaningful ways.” In what ways would you like to see them step up?
I love this question because there are so many ways brands may #SupportBlackVoices. When I speak to Black podcasters, the most common things they want brands to do are:
Listen to Black voices. Whether it be in the office or through their podcasts, Black experiences matter and if you want to sell to them, you’ve got to get to know them.
Invest for the long term. Now is the moment to make investments in Black podcasts part of your evergreen strategy. While one-off investments are nice, they don’t actually build the relationship and trust that makes both parties desire.
Amplify their content. Platforms where podcasts are found can adjust their algorithms or create playlists of Black podcasts to make them more visible to the masses.
What are you hearing from your podcast community right now? What do they need to feel supported?
The multicultural podcast community wants consistency from the brands who are spending money with them. Period. They were barely seeing ad dollars, and since COVID-19, they’ve seen slim to none when it comes to feeling supported. I spoke with three podcasters over the weekend and they don’t feel that they are getting value out of brands that only spend with them for one month and not return for another four. They want brands to demonstrate that they hear their concerns and “not brush it under the rug,” one told me. Investing for the long-term is necessary.
In your previous roles at companies like Mediacom, Laundry Service, Lacoste and Verizon, do you feel like you were adequately supported as a Black man working in this industry?
I am fortunate that generally, despite being one of a few Black employees in some situations, the leaders I reported into were supportive of my career. For example, at Resolution Media, I had the opportunity to hire and bring in talent to run my teams more efficiently, enabling me to create a diverse team. I would love to see all companies really embrace inclusion of their multicultural voices and take time to invest in their success from advertising with them, to diversifying supply chain and hiring and retention.
Do you have any early mentors who helped shape your career?
Coming up in the advertising industry isn’t easy and there are so many colleagues and friends I appreciate for supporting me on my journey. Among them, two stand out most to me right now. Christopher Clemons mentored me on how I can navigate the industry as a young Black professional, when we worked together at Source One Marketing. Also, Dean Gardner, a managing director at Ominicom, who is well-versed in the media space and really took time to invest in my success. He steered me through the agency and helped my work get the visibility needed for advancement opportunities.
What do you want to see from the overall advertising community (agencies, brands, adtech) right now?
I echo the same sentiments and calls-to-action of the 600 Black professionals who call for an end to systemic racism: make specific, measurable and public commitments to improving Black representation at all levels of the agency; hold yourselves accountable by tracking and reviewing the data; regularly audit the workplace for equity both in how people are treated and how they are compensated. Ultimately, more inclusion and more diversity.