Marketers evaluate shifting media spend to BIPOC outlets in the upfronts
Following nearly a year of promises by brands and agencies to help support diversity and inclusion, both within their own organizations and through consumer-facing efforts, the TV upfronts and digital content NewFronts present real opportunities for these companies to prove they are willing to allocate dollars to the cause.
Media agencies are using the weeks leading into the annual spring ad haggle—when media companies vie for a share of ad commitments for the fall season—to educate and guide brands as they assess budget allocations in the hopes that some of the dollars typically awarded to the usual media giants will shift to minority-owned media companies or outlets that target more diverse audiences.
IPG Mediabrands and Mediahub, for example, are hosting events geared toward diversity-owned and targeted media in an effort to educate clients and help minority-owned businesses market to larger ad agencies and brands. Similarly, Dentsu has been hosting individual sessions with minority-owned and targeted media companies, and its planning and buying teams.
“A $100,000 budget for some of these companies could change the trajectory of what they are and what they are able to do,” says Carrie Drinkwater, exec director, investment activation, Mediahub. “They might not have the right measurement or tools, but they are speaking to such an important audience.”
Under the radar
One major hurdle in getting brands to invest in minority-owned media companies has been the lack of Nielsen measurement and deep analytical tools that brands have come to expect and rely on from media sellers.
Oftentimes some of the smaller, minority-owned media companies don’t surface when agencies are looking for reach extensions for clients in planning tools, says Matt Sweeney, chief investment officer, GroupM. “We need to evaluate these companies differently. They may not be measured, or show up in your tool, but the reality is they are more contextually relevant to some of these audiences than a general market campaign; so carve out some of that spend and make sure you are supporting those businesses. They have these incredible audiences we just assume you can reach in general market, and that thinking is misguided,” he says.
Media agencies will be urging clients not to apply all the same rules to these types of buys.
“If you are buying on really complicated data sets, regardless of who owns them, they can’t compete with Google and Facebook. So you need to think of ways to work around that,” says Mike Law, president, Dentsu’s Amplifi. “This doesn’t mean we are going to ease up on restrictions around brand safety and suitability, but are willing to consider alternative ways to look at things.”
Law says the agency has worked on its planning and strategy tools to ensure biases have been removed from those systems to prevent them from allocating away from smaller media companies.
Horizon Media has also updated the process with which, as an agency, it is looking beyond the standard analysis points to find “the legitimate reasons why our clients should be buying these networks that might not have been considered as strongly in the past,” says David Campanelli, exec VP, chief investment officer, Horizon Media. “We are looking beyond the standard data and why it might not be reflective of the full audience. Even if the data says one thing, we should be considering all factors.”
Nielsen has started working with minority-owned companies to figure out more cost-effective ways for them to be rated. In November, the measurement giant updated its broadcaster reporting policy to include estimates for non-subscribing minority-owned and nonprofit stations, even if they don’t meet a listening threshold.
Scale is another obstacle. “For a lot of minority-owned businesses, they tend to be a little smaller in scale,” Law says. This is why it is important to invest in them, so they can scale and grow. “That is beneficial to the brands as well because it gives them more options in the marketplace as well as the ability to connect better with audiences,” he says.
And from a creative perspective, Drinkwater says some brands are hesitant to buy on these networks because they don’t feel like they have the right creative to speak to these audiences.
At the most rudimentary level, there's the need to identify and explain the difference between minority-owned companies and diversity-targeted brands. Byron Allen's Entertainment Studios is perhaps the most high-profile minority-owned media company, while those targeting diverse audiences include networks like ViacomCBS' BET and Discovery's OWN Network.
For a long time, brands have tried to argue that they are already reaching BIPOC audiences through general-market programming. Historically, Law says, brands will say they have reached Hispanic or Black audiences through their total audience buys. “Yes, you reach them,” he says, “but do you connect with them?”
From awareness to action
While much of the work this year will be around awareness—Byron Allen’s group, for example, spoke with Omnicom Media Group’s entire investment team a few weeks ago to re-educate them on their offering—the goal is really to figure out how to operationalize and activate with those partners, says Geoff Calabrese, chief investment officer at the agency.
To this end, Omnicom is looking to create sustainable change by delivering aggregation of scale. This means not just picking one partner, but a series of partners, Calabrese says. He sees the biggest opportunity to create sustainable change on the digital side.
Like other agencies, Omnicom created private marketplaces that target minority-owned supply to more-efficiently buy inventory from multicultural media companies at scale. In this way, Omnicom is helping to remove the supply-chain costs associated with programmatic buying by working with a supply-side platform partner with the hope that publishers can then repurpose the revenue back into their businesses to build scale and reach, and develop content.
This is part of Omnicom’s MATE initiative, which stands for multicultural ad tech enablement, with the goal of creating more access for minority-owned businesses.
Some marketers, like Procter & Gamble, have been more vocal and aggressive in mandating that a certain percentage of their budgets go toward minority-owned and targeted media.
P&G’s Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer, said during a speech in November that the company would be working directly with minority-owned media providers, and was developing programmatic buying capabilities to better buy from them.
“We’re working to eliminate systemic investment inequalities by directly reaching out to Black-Hispanic-Asian-Pacific-Native-American-owned and operated media providers to give them full access to P&G,” Pritchard said during the Association of National Advertiser’s Multicultural Conference. “We’ve joined forces with industry groups such as the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters to find these businesses. We’re developing programmatic media-buying capabilities to create easier access for investment. We’re working with media owners to build data and measurement systems. And we’re setting expectations with brands on spending, relevance, and resonance—not just reach and CPM. It’s starting to make a difference with new investments in BET, Central City Productions, TV One, Telemundo, Univision and LATV, to name a few. But there’s much more to do. Our aspiration is to double spending, then double it again.”
But many other brands are just trying to catch up to where they should be, media buyers say.
The biggest difference for 2021, says Michael Roca, managing director, multicultural, PHD, is brands are being more proactive. For the first time, Roca says clients are approaching him and asking, “What’s the Hispanic opportunity, what’s the Black opportunity?,” which is something he wasn’t hearing 18 months ago. “It’s not just me going in and showing brands opportunities,” he says. “It is a proactive dialogue.”
Industry leaders will discuss the importance of investing in minority-owned businesses at the Ad Age Town Hall on April 5. RSVP for the free event here.