The Power and Relevance of Black Media

Another Lesson From the Jena 6

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Cynthia Perkins-Roberts, a VP at The Cable Advertising Bureau, said, as it relates to media and advertising, "Relevance is no longer an option, but an imperative."

Carol Watson Pepper Miller
However, one of the most frustrating marketing practices is underestimating the relevance and value of Black media. Since it's a given that more Black Americans are using general market media today, it's no wonder that the primary strategy for many marketers is to reach these consumers through general market media vehicles. Like the general market, Black Americans use a wide variety of media, but unlike the general market, they embrace Black media.

According to the Louisiana NAACP, on September 20th approximately 50,000 Black people, descended on the small town of Jena, La., to march in support of the Jena 6. (This wiki entry offers details and timeline.)

They arrived primarily by bus on the wings of Black radio, Black print, Black Internet sites and e-mails between Black family, friends and colleagues. During the subsequent weeks and months following the 2006 unfortunate events, Black media provided continuous information to the Black community without a peep, moan or groan from general market media, even right up to the date of march. As thousands of Black people organized and began traveling to Jena (including Karl Carter), top stories in the general market media (besides the war and the economy) were OJ's arrest, OJ's girlfriend (a look-a-like for the late Nicole-Brown Simpson), and a man who survived a barb in his heart after being stung by a stingray.

In support of Jena 6, Black media brought divided pre and post Civil Rights mindset Boomers and Gen Xers and Gen Ys together as a unified front. Black newspapers, urban and talk radio mobilized Boomers who were born before and during the Civil Rights movement, while Black online activists, bloggers and urban radio reached Gen Xers and Gen Ys born after the Civil Rights movement. In fact, James Rucker's San Francisco organization, the "Color of Change", an online activist organization, emerged as the "Black". After meeting with the families of the Jena 6, Rucker wrote the story about "everyday" racism, and raised $170,000 for the Jena 6's defense fund among its then 100,000 members. As the story spread (the power of Black word of mouth) so did Rucker's membership – it tripled.

Black Americans bragged about Black media's successful galvanizing of the Black community toward a "new movement". Many also felt 'dissed' by the general market media for coming to the party too late i.e. on the day of the march or not at all. (CNN televised an hour-long report, Judgment in Jena, which was rebroadcasted two days later). Heard on WVON Chicago talk radio just yesterday (9-26-07) was the following:

"There was nothing on channels 2,5,7 or 9. I expected to see an aerial view of all those Black people or something, and there was nothing!"
"No coverage by any major network? This was an obvious and conscious decision by the major media conglomerates"

I too was looking for, and hoping to see coverage on the major networks. I wanted America to understand our pain and celebrate our unity. Instead, I felt invisible and residual anger.

In 2004, Black media spending was less than 1% of the total US ad spending which was projected at nearly $264 billion. Nonetheless, Black media remains powerful, influential and relevant:
  • Arbitron's new Portable People Meter rating systems shows that radio maintains its standing as a very influential medium among Black consumers -- reaching 97% of all Black persons ages 12+ each week.
  • Black print media continues to be a major source of information. Credibility is given to Black print media since they are from "our perspective," with information being trusted in Black newspapers by nearly 80% and 87% in Black magazines.
  • As the digital divide between Blacks and Whites continues to shrink, Black Americans on the Internet persevere by seeking relevant material and information that empowers them at higher rates than white Internet users.
  • Separately, the Black church, particularly those that include social justice objectives, are powerful resources that appeal to and inspire the growing Black socially conscious mindset consumer.
Clearly, the Jena 6 protest provides yet another confirmation that Black Americans are receptive to and influenced by targeted messages in Black media. A fully integrated approach, such as the same that is used for the general market, which would include relevant radio+ Print+ Internet +TV+ Grass Roots, is also effective with Black media.

Black media continues to be powerful, important, and influential, and deserves to be recognized and used accordingly.
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