Cultural Affinity Groups Can Help Agencies and Clients

They Make Sense for Both Diversity and Business Efforts

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Carol Watson
Carol Watson
The ad industry is still fairly young (some would argue just delayed) compared to media and client-side marketers in its path down the bumpy and pothole-filled diversity and inclusion trail. One of the basic strategies in building recruitment, retention and the business case for diversity and inclusion is the creation of affinity groups among employees. These ad-agency employee groups are still in their infancy and have met with mixed results and support from behind the doors of senior management and employees across cultures.

The most common approach to affinity groups -- or Employee Resource Network groups (commonly called ERNs) -- is to create groups open to all, but focused on the needs of a targeted demographic. Black, Hispanic, Asian, GLBT and Women are the most common groupings. Holding company Interpublic and agencies DraftFCB, McCann-Erickson, BBDO and Ogilvy have some of the most-developed programs. (Many other agencies simply do not have enough diversity among their marketing staffs to support the formation or effectiveness of these groups.) The programming has evolved over the last few years from primarily internal event components (which, for example, might reflect the food of different cultures) to professional-development seminars on leadership, communication styles, community outreach, college recruitment and networking events.

MediaVest, which has had its own version of affinity networks for a few years, this week held a Diversity Council Week of events themed Perceptions 2010. Kendra Hatcher-King was asked to lead the Diversity Council by Laura Desmond a few years ago and works with a cross-cultural team, including Michelle Lee and Kimberly Lyons, across disciplines at MediaVest. In framing its mission, the MediaVest Diversity Council made sure to include business-case components in addition to the traditional goals. Among those, connecting clients to an increasingly diverse consumer population and encouraging new business opportunities.

One of the presentations earlier this week, "Behind the Scenes with MV42 & Connective Tissue," offered one perspective on the current debate and controversy among multicultural ad professionals regarding the topic of general-market agencies tapping into multicultural budgets. (MV42 is the multicultural media agency Forty-Two Degrees at MediaVest, part of the SMG multicultural family, which also includes Chicago's Tapestry.) Based in New York to align with general-market counterpart MediaVest, MV42 focuses consumer programs on Hispanic, African-American, Asian-American and emerging-market strategies.

In an effort to find solutions to the void in TV and digital content targeting the black and Hispanic market, they presented some of the creative ideas, ROI and lessons learned from branded-content programming created to support client needs. For example, the P&G "My Black is Beautiful" program is airing for the second season this spring on BET; it attempts to provide content for black women that is not currently available on TV. The presenters offered honest portrayal of the challenges of finding content opportunities in a digital age and how MediaVest has and will evolve the content, production values and expanded outreach online of My Black is Beautiful to ensure that the target consumer is fully part of the conversation. Such multiplatform initiatives demonstrated the uptick in business that is possible by finding creative solutions and a long-term commitment for the multicultural market.

Gloria Ramirez presented the Hispanic case study to the group from M42. Up for examination was deModa on Yahoo En Espanol, which launched five months ago to support P&G brands targeting Spanish-dominant Latinos. The brand-preference metrics are already quite positive. Anthony Roasara presented the success in reaching bicultural young Latinos on Mun2, showcasing a concert series and monthly vignettes for Starburst in Wrigley's first foray into Hispanic marketing. The brand also experienced a lift in sales with this initial effort.

The void in TV content, particularly in the African-American market, has inspired some early efforts, headed by Danielle Cherry, at an African American Content Alliance Forum which brought together the various interests to tackle the issue. Production companies, distribution, TV networks, marketing dollars and creative concepts are all vital components required to find solutions beneficial to clients, consumers and agencies -- which won't be an easy accomplishment.

By tacking such tasks -- as well as by sharing consumer insight throughout the company and reminding senior leadership that these things require long-term commitments -- Employee Resource Networks can help agencies AND brands evolve as the population shifts.

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