Blackout Tuesday is a collective action to protest against police brutality and racism.
On Tuesday, June 2, businesses taking part were encouraged to stop operating and show their support in different ways. My social feed was full of black squares tagged #BLM, #BlackLivesMatter, #BlackoutTuesday, and #TheShowMustBePaused – the hashtag created by two women as a day of reflection and conversation for the music industry.
It felt like more brands were on board and speaking frankly – using the words ‘black businesses’ rather than ‘diversity’ for one. But are they doing it out of genuine compassion and a desire for change or because of peer pressure and corporate crisis management? It’s easy to post a black square online and hashtag a movement, but there's not much point unless you're taking action behind the scenes.
Will the interest in black-owned businesses continue beyond the current news cycle, and create lasting change?
Courier magazine interviewed Ali and Jamila, the founders of Brooklyn Tea in New York, to get their take on it. They believe it’s a mixture of things – a rise in interest in black-owned businesses, some peer pressure and corporate crisis management, but also genuine compassion and a desire for change. Most people want to do something to help – and pledging economic support is the fastest and easiest way to take action.
The shift in brands and celebrities becoming more politically active is in part driven by Millennials and Gen X. We expect them to take a stand on social issues and use their economic power to drive change. When a brand pledges support online it raises the bar for others in their sector. Social media is also helping to bridge the gap between rich and poor. We have a call-out culture which means we ask questions and hold people to account. We prefer to buy from companies that share our values and beliefs - especially during a global recession. And if political leadership is weak, we turn to brands for help, which is what’s happening across America.
Courier asked Charlotte Williams, founder of SevenSix, a diversity-focused social media & influencer marketing agency in London, how companies can demonstrate inclusivity. You may have posted a black square, diversified your feed, and tagged a few black businesses, but that doesn't mean you've finished the work. If you don't speak up, people will ask why. As Netflix said in a recent tweet, "To be silent is to be complicit" - we have a platform and we must use it to help others. Ditto, Ben & Jerry’s.
The work needs to be done behind the scenes, in the boardroom, and beyond. And it will take time – as Charlotte’s PR colleague said, "You can't end 400 years of systemic racism with one week of strategizing internally."
So, what can we do now?
Here are seven steps brands can take to communicate better values, show they care and want to see change.
Do the work behind the scenes – Mark Ritson in Marketing Week: 'If 'Black Lives Matter' to brands, where are your black board members?" He did some research and came up with 46 examples of companies who claim to care about black lives on social media yet have managed to construct a leadership team that’s all-white. "Companies need to become the change they are tweeting about. Walk the walk before you tweet the tweet."
“One black COO is worth a billion Black Lives Matter tweets”.
Donate to causes – "Open your purse" has become a rallying cry on social media for celebrities, brands and organisations to put their money where their mouth is – criticism of Disney, Spotify, and Amazon, amongst others, for their working practices.
Beauty brand Glossier is one of the first to do so – pledging $1 million to Black Lives Matter and black-owned beauty businesses. Lego has called for the marketing of all police-related products to be removed and donated $4 million to support black children and help fight racial inequality. Pokémon, YouTube, and many others have stepped up.
If you use George Floyd's name in your content, then make sure you donate to his official memorial fund.
If you can't donate to a charity because of company rules, then set up your own fund against social oppression. Offer grants, internships and mentorships to support underrepresented BAME communities in your industry.
3. Use your social platforms. Rather than just posting black squares and hashtagging BLM, use your channels to share useful info and resources that can help the movement. Host black-owned businesses on your platforms and share their content with your audience to help them gain more exposure.
4. Take your time to build a solid strategy – don't feel pressured to post immediately just because everyone else is. Not all brands have to speak out on political issues. And there's not much point if you're not taking action behind the scenes.
Good example of this from Yorkshire Tea who posted this tweet in response to a far-right activist who said she was ‘dead chuffed that Yorkshire Tea hasn’t supported BLM. 😁’.
Please don't buy our tea again.
We're taking some time to educate ourselves and plan proper action before we post. We stand against racism. #BlackLivesMatter
PG Tips and Teapigs also chipped in. Solidaritea.👏 👏
5. Set some targets to hire diverse talent and support organisations that are campaigning for change. Tip from a reader in the Ann Friedman Weekly, "Set an alarm on your phone for 3, 6, 9, 12 months from now and when it goes off, look at your life and count how many Black businesses, orgs & artists you're still supporting. How many antiracism resources are you using? How many of your own bias have you addressed?" I'm on it!
6. Look at your supply chain. Do the brands you're working with have values that match your own? Involve black businesses in your supply chain. Look at every level of your business and commit to diversifying things.
7. Educate yourself on black history, white supremacy, and racism issues. Talk to kids about race, justice and inequality. Speak to black-owned companies, find anti-racist charities, books to read, organisations to support. Good round-up here from Time Out.
As Tommy Rufal, senior account executive, Wimbart PR, says in PR Week: "There needs to be an understanding that diversity is a necessity rather than a trend and if we're going to see meaningful change, it's going to take a long-term commitment to self-reflection, education and some uncomfortable conversations."
Which is what’s going on with call-out culture on social media - hopefully, it will lead to more uncomfortable - and constructive - conversations in the boardroom. It’s also what we've been doing this for the last 12 weeks of lockdown so let’s keep at it!
Huge respect and thanks to everyone working hard to find ways to create change.