Are Brands and Agencies Making Good on Promises to BIPOC Media?

In 2020, in the wake of George Floyd’s and other high-profile racially charged murders, along with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, American brands and agencies promised to up their spending with Black-owned media organizations. In a recent report, Ad Age investigated whether these promises are being carried out.

Target Supports BIPOC Entrepreneurs

Retail giant Target is one of the brands making good on its promise to shift 5% of its media spend to BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color) media companies starting this year. Target is working with Sean “Diddy” Combs’ media company Revolt on Bet on Black, a new business pitch competition series similar to Shark Tank. In addition, Target is making $500,000 available to back BIPOC entrepreneurs on the show, without requiring the customary equity stake in return — meaning that the entrepreneurs will retain full control of their businesses.

Detavio Samuels, Revolt’s CEO, told Ad Age that his firm gained 75 new clients last year, including AT&T, Cadillac, and Comcast. In addition, he believes many other Black-owned media companies have experienced growth due to the awareness raised, potentially as much as doubling advertising revenue. However, he stressed that commitments need to affect systemic change and not merely be a box-checking exercise.

General Motors Hosts Diverse-Owned Media Summit

In response to allegations that it wasn’t meeting with Black media leaders, General Motors hosted a summit last year for diverse media. The event saw an attendance of more than 200 companies. The automaker has committed to directing 4% of its media spend to Black-owned companies by 2022 and 8% by 2025. To date, it is ahead of schedule, having increased its Black-owned media partnerships by 150% and increasing spending with all of them. It also offers 30-day payments to BIPOC media firms.

Other brands pledging their support include Coca-Cola, which has committed to directing a minimum of 8% of its annual advertising spend to BIPOC firms by 2024. Verizon has promised to spend at least 2% of its ad budget with Black-owned media. Tony Wells, chief media officer of Verizon, told Ad Age the company would exceed its 2021 targets, but said it was focused on collaboration in addition to financial targets. He declined to comment on any of Verizon’s new media partnerships.

Ad Agencies Invite Their Clients to Come to the Party

US agencies have also committed to empowering BIPOC-owned media businesses. For example, last May, WPP’s GroupM pressed its clients to commit at least 2% of their marketing budget to BIPOC media.

At the same time, IPG Mediabrands promised a 5% BIPOC spend across all its clients by 2023. Within eight months, the IPG-owned agency had increased its BIPOC spend by 245%, albeit off a small base. This includes new partnerships with ReachTV, Ebony and Jet magazines, and Group Black, a BIPOC-focused media collective and accelerator. IPG Mediabrands is also planning to repeat its Equity Upfront event, which was inaugurated last March for BIPOC media companies that historically are excluded from upfront dealmaking activities.

Lynnwood Bibbens is the founder and CEO of ReachTV, which operates approximately 2,500 airport TV screens across North America and the UK. He told Ad Age how his partnership with Mediabrands had given him predictable revenue streams, which empowered him to create original programming. The firm also reached deals with IPG’s Magna and NBCUniversal. Bibbens told Ad Age that 2021 was the first year his firm had a strong lean-in and agency buy-in.

Local and Regional Organizations Aren’t Experiencing the Same Growth

Unfortunately, experiences like those of Revolt and ReachTV seem to be limited to companies with a national presence. Many local and regional BIPOC media firms say they’ve not experienced any particular interest over the past year and a half. That’s the case even for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, the oldest Black-owned newspaper in a state that’s become an epicenter of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Minnesota is also the home of several major corporate headquarters, such as Best Buy, Target, General Mills, and 3M. Of these, Best Buy has committed approximately 10% of its media spend to BIPOC companies in the next three years. Meanwhile, 3M and General Mills have signed onto GroupM’s minimum 2% pledge.

It seems that at a national level, matters may have improved, but smaller BIPOC media companies are largely excluded. This is most likely because it doesn’t make strategic sense for companies to allocate budget to multiple geographically-dispersed small firms. URL Media, which represents nine independent minority-owned media companies, on the other hand, has experienced increased investment. This suggests that the answer may lie in smaller firms banding together.

Is It Enough?

Media pledges are focusing on companies with Black ownership; however, some voices within the industry are asking for recognition of other aspects, such as majority Black workforces. Byron Allen, CEO of Entertainment Studios (aka the Allen Media Group) and owner of The Weather Channel and other networks, is openly critical of media pledges, saying they’re not close to enough. With Black people making up close to 15% of the American population, he wants a corresponding commitment of media spend going forward and compensation for past years.

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David Geithner

David Geithner

David Geithner is a senior finance executive who draws upon nearly three decades of experience to serve as EVP and COO, IMG Events and On Location.