5 Steps to Help Brands Avoid Fake Allyship

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By Amber Chenevert, PhD, Group Director, Strategy & Marketplace Diversity at VMLY&R

Many brands are quite stunned at the moment. They thought they were following the diversity, equity, and inclusion handbook by following government guidelines, checking representation boxes and running their business and their marketing in a fair and equitable manner. They thought they were doing enough. Turns out, their efforts have barely scratched the surface. According to the VMLY&R Report American Awakening: Exploration of the Racial Justice Movement, people expect brands to lead by example both internally and externally. Internally, people expect brands to consider the moment and review their approach to hiring and business culture. Externally, brands are culture influencers. People expect brands to take a stand and give back to the communities where they do business.  The task may seem daunting to many marketers. What do you do? Where do you begin?

First, take a deep breath and remember your role. You’re not a therapist, you’re a marketer

We are brand storytellers and business partners. We are not therapists. We cannot be open vessels for dumping guilt. Be clear that you are not a stand-in for an anti-racist support group, anti-bias training, or some other in-depth therapy. While these sorts of services may be great resources for your clients, this is likely not your expertise. Protect your mental health, but be prepared to offer a list of appropriate partners.

Slow down and do a 360 brand values assessment. Only fools rush in

Now, here’s where you can shine! This is your expertise. Get in there and show them what you’ve got. Ask the following questions: Who does the brand want to be in the world? What are the brand’s core values, and do those values still hold up in the present moment? Help your brand partners to decide what they should keep, and what they should make clearer. What are the brand’s current business and marketing practices as it relates to hiring, suppliers, partners, investors, supply chain, location, pricing, and consumer segmentation? Ultimately, do the brand’s business and marketing practices serve as an expression of their values? According to the American Awakening report, the brands that make people feel understood to share their values and beliefs. And then, these brands take action.

Close the gaps so you can practice what you preach

Now that you’ve completed your assessment, it’s time for brutal honesty. This process isn’t easy, but you have to face it head-on. Be prepared to hear inadequate reasons for “the way things are.” Be ready for resistance. However, remind your team that you’re identifying the gaps in order to build a plan to close them, not to judge them. Remind them that you’re there to help them work toward solutions – not be stalled by old excuses.

Execute a comms plan that plans for the worst and hopes for the best

No brand, no matter how benevolent, is above critique. Still, this is the time to stand on your flushed-out values without wavering. When you know who you are and what you stand for as a brand, then you’re ready to provide proof no matter the circumstances. It will be important for you to align with the appropriate communications team members on a short-term and long-term communication strategy that is aligned with the company’s values speaks to the moment and expresses relevant specifics to all stakeholders.

Go-to-market and keep showing up

The initial comms plan isn’t a silver bullet.  Real, lasting change takes a substantial commitment. It’s an investment in time and resources. But, in the end, your brand will be poised to engage new markets and find new opportunities for innovation. The United States will only grow more diverse, and the global marketplace is getting more connected by the day. Remind your team that doing the hard work now will prepare them for future success. They’ve got all the goods. They just need to commit.


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