Can brands stay out of it?

What brands can do to stand up against divisive rhetoric following the US election

Last month, I moderated a panel for the Northern California chapter of the Business Marketing Association, and one of the panelists, Tom Stein, chairman and chief client officer of B2B agency Stein IAS, said something that stuck with me. I asked panelists, when it comes to moment marketing, whether brands should stay neutral and avoid tough social issues. Tom’s response: No way. “Brands need to take a stand.” Even B2B ones.

After the recent US presidential election, the comment rings even truer and is even more important. Brands can take a stand by focusing on inclusive messaging that appeals to the kinds of customers you have – and want to attract. Ditch the divisive rhetoric and spotlight the diversity of both your employees and your clients. You will be rewarded.

People are angry. What does this mean for brands?

The election was polarizing, and there are some realities we have to face: Hate crimes have surged in recent days. Demonstrations are exploding across the country. Influencers like activist and journalist Shaun King, who has been documenting via Twitter the hate crimes that have taken place since the election, have called for a boycott of brands based on their political connections.

One thing that this election has made crystal clear is that our nation is more diverse than ever before. Brands that embrace that now win new friends and nurture relationships with old ones. Our customers hail from all walks of life and have a multitude of different experiences – whether they live in NYC or Des Moines – and we have to reach them.

A close friend who was recently a part of an agency review board said it was a real concern that the mostly white, mostly male representatives of agencies competing for the company’s business weren’t diverse enough to connect with its customer base. The company ended up choosing the agency that looked the most like its employees and its customers.

So how do we let our audiences know where we stand?

One great way to signal that we don’t stand for divisive rhetoric and bigotry, as well as demonstrate our commitment to our customers, is to continue to call for more diversity and gender equality in our companies and in our industries. And not just call for it – because talk is cheap; we need to mean it and work hard toward making those goals a reality.

Grubhub CEO Matt Maloney netted the wrong kind of attention after he sent an email to employees suggesting that workers who supported Donald Trump were not welcome at the company. The message went viral, was a huge marketing fail and the fallout continues. We’re Americans, after all, and we rightfully chafe at the idea of being punished at our place of employment for our political views.

However, we can look to CEOs at tech companies, including Apple, Facebook and Microsoft, who all emphasized the diversity policies at their organizations after Trump was elected. In a blog post, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrote:

“Over a third of our engineers have come from other countries – 157 countries, in fact. We have employees from every race, ethnic background and religion. If there’s a language spoken on the planet, there’s a good chance that it’s spoken by an employee at Microsoft. And we’re committed to promoting not just diversity among all the men and women who work here, but the type of inclusive culture that will enable people to do their best work and pursue rewarding careers.”

Making public commitments to fostering diverse workforces is the very least we could do. We can go even further in our activism and emulate leaders like Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.

Last year he pulled his very popular trade show Dreamforce from the state of Indiana over its “religious freedom” law, which permitted discrimination against gay and transgender customers. After Indiana caved to pressure from multiple tech brands and modified the controversial law, Salesforce resumed business in Indiana and issued a thank-you video to the state.

This week, while speaking at the Code Enterprise conference in San Francisco, Benioff emphasized that diversity and inclusion were top issues in Silicon Valley and something that the Trump administration should promote.

Trust me when I say that your sincere efforts will be noticed by your customers. Making your missions public, demonstrating that not only are all kinds of voices welcome, but actively sought out, will only reflect positively on your brand.

Originally published at B2B Marketing on Nov. 17, 2016

Want to grow your event? Amplify underrepresented voices

Tequia Burt explores how increasing diversity at events can also boost the success of an event

It all started with a tweet.

After delivering a keynote at Content Marketing World in September, Moz CEO Rand Fishkin also delivered stinging criticism of the trade show via Twitter:

Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute and lead organizer of CMWorld since its inception in 2011, disputed Fishkin’s numbers.

“This was our best year [in terms of diversity], which is why Rand’s tweet hit me a little hard,” he said. “We tried so hard, we did our best, we really came through this year, and now somebody is tweeting about how we’re not doing our job.”

According to Content Marketing Institute, men made up 55% of its speakers this year, women represented 45%, while 9% were people of color. For those that frequent marketing conferences, those don’t sound like such bad stats. And it was a marked improvement over the previous year (men 63%, women 37%, POC 6%).

Ann Handley
Ann Handley on stage at CMWorld 2016. Credit: Wetzler Studios/Content Marketing Institute

But when all was said and done, Pulizzi admitted CMI still has work to do – he pointed to the fact that he and his organizers hadn’t managed to land a female feature keynote in the past couple of years. “I know that we have an issue; that’s why I’m completely open. We’re trying to figure it out,” he said. “At the beginning of every year in planning, we know we need to have diverse points of view and people coming from all different backgrounds and ethnicities to make sure the show gives a real representation of what’s going on in marketing.”

Invest in diversity

Pulizzi is not alone in his efforts to open up the marketing events industry to a more diverse speaker field. Fishkin is also the organizer of his own very popular trade show MozCon. And he holds himself to the same standards when it comes to putting together diverse events in terms of gender, race and even sexuality.

In 2012 Moz decided to focus on gender equity in terms of its speaker roster, Fishkin said, and soon after the group broadened its search for even more underrepresented individuals. This year, 61% of MozCon’s speakers self-identify as female, up from 46% in 2015.

The organization has also taken the 50/50 Pledge, which is designed to promote equal gender balance at tech events.

Tara Reed
AppsWithoutCode’s Tara Reed on stage at MozCon 2016.

“We’re looking for people who add unique perspectives, people who are going to introduce our audience to ideas that they haven’t heard before, ideas that they haven’t seen or thought of before, and we’re looking for people who help us represent the marketing world that we want to live in,” Fishkin said.

“Here’s some people of color, here’s some people who are able and disabled, here’s some folks who are men and women, here’s some folks who are straight and here’s some folks who are on the GBLTQ spectrum. And that is going to help us give a terrific, diverse set of ideas,” he continued.

Fishkin said the best part is that amplifying the voices of those diverse speakers has led to increased growth and diversity at the event itself. In 2012, only 10% of MozCon attendees were women; this year that number increased to 43%.

“Every year we have sold more tickets, every year our speaker scores and event ratings have gone up and every year we have improved the diversity of our audience as well,” Fishkin said. “And those are all of the results that you want to see. The crap reasoning I always hear is ‘I don’t want diversity at my event; I want the best speakers.’ And the counterpoint to that is those things are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are one in the same.”

But Pulizzi said one of his challenges is simply that more men want to speak. “We had 500, 600 people submit to speak for Content Marketing World. It was [easily] 80% men,” he said. Because of that fact, Pulizzi said CMI needs to work harder in its outreach. “We can’t say this is just who we have to choose from. We can’t just rest on that and say that’s good enough.”

“The crap reasoning I always hear is ‘I don’t want diversity at my event; I want the best speakers.’ And the counterpoint to that is those things are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are one in the same.”

Rand Fishkin, CEO & founder, Moz

Create inclusive environments

Microsoft Search Evangelist Christi Olson, who has spoken at numerous digital marketing events, including AdWeek, and is slated to be a keynote at our USA tech show in March, said one piece of the puzzle is to create environments that are friendly to women. She is part of Janes of Digital, which was started in June 2014 by Microsoft Senior Marketing Manager Frances Donegan-Ryan. The panel events piggyback on the Search Marketing Expo’s main conferences and aim to give women a safe and inclusive place to have frank conversations about the digital marketing conference industry.

“There were so few women speaking at these search conferences, Bing decided to host a full separate event that allowed women to get together and talk about what was important to us in this industry and space,” she said. “Even though we invite our male counterparts to attend, the panels are mostly women who talk about what it means to work in a male-dominated workforce and what it takes to get out there and talk at different events.”

Most of all, Olson said, the most important factor for encouraging more diversity at events is attendees asking for more diversity – and then holding conferences to it.

“Both men and women alike need to hold the conferences accountable for their diversification of speaker. They need to be reporting back on [how many] men versus women are speaking, how many minorities versus white individuals are speaking,” she said.

“It’s holding the conference accountable and saying we want to see more than just white men.”

Originally published at B2B Marketing on Nov. 4, 2016