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Karen Blackett: Embracing Diversity Through Media

Media Jury President Karen Blackett is currently Chairwoman of MediaCom, the largest media agency in the UK. She’s appeared on Britain’s Most Influential Black person in the Power List, (the first business woman to be named) is President of NABS, (the advertising industry charity which focuses on health and wellbeing in the workplace) and in 2014, Karen received an OBE in the Queen's Birthday honours.

Working in the industry for over 22 years, Karen has seen the communications landscape change beyond belief. Ahead of D&AD Judging, Karen offers some valuable insights into the state of media today and shares how the medium can be used as a force for social good.
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I’d like to make a suggestion that I believe is a win-win-win. It’s good for agencies. It’s good for our clients. And it’s good for the nation as a whole.

It’s something I’ve been passionate about for a while, but the events of the past year have made it even more important.

2016 has been a bit of a shock, to be honest.

If you’d suggested at the start of the year that Donald Trump would be president, that we’d be on our way out of Europe, that Nigel Farage would be the most prominent British politician on the world stage, that Team GB would win more medals in Rio than they did in London, and that Leicester would walk away with the Premiership, quite literally no one would have believed you.

The unexpected sporting moments were worth celebrating. The political shocks, less so.

The immediate after effects of the decision to leave the EU saw a surge in anti –immigrant hate crime in those areas that voted to leave the EU.

The UK has experienced a 57 per cent nationwide increase in hate crimes reported by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) in the aftermath of the referendum. The narrow minded and hateful few seemed to feel vindicated by the referendum result, which was a shock and extremely disappointing. But this is not the UK that I know and love.

The UK needs healing. And I believe the advertising and marketing industries can play a role in helping to heal it.

Admittedly we’re not always the first group of people you think of as agents for positive social change; but the output of our industry has a huge impact on the culture, and we can choose to use that impact for good.

As one of the few black women in a senior media role, I have long had a burning passion to ensure my industry embraces diversity of all types.

Aside from any moral argument, I firmly believe it is essential to the continued success of advertising and media agencies – and indeed of companies in all other sectors.

Business success comes from deep understanding of the lives, wants and needs of your customers. If a company’s workforce does not reflect the diversity of the population it will struggle to understand all its potential customers.

Diversity is good for business and good for the economy. This is not wishful thinking. The stats prove it. McKinsey’s Diversity Matters Report showed that companies with more diverse senior management teams outperform their more homogenous counterparts: “When companies commit themselves to diverse leadership, they are more successful. More diverse companies, we believe, are better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making, and all that leads to a virtuous cycle of increasing returns.”

And yet, according to the Parker Review, 53% of FTSE 100 boards still have no BAME directors!

The Nobel-prize winning novelist John Steinbeck said, “if a story is not about the listener, he will not listen” – pointing out the eternal truth that whether we’re reading a book about wizards or watching a movie about pirates, on some level, we need to be able to identify with the heroes of the stories.  The same is true of all advertising content. If people do not see their own lives reflected in a company’s marketing communications, they will not want to engage with that company. They will simply conclude “that brand’s not for me”.

So companies that reflect the diversity of our population in their workforce will have a business edge, and agencies who develop and distribute content that reflects that diversity will appeal more to consumers. There’s two of the “wins” right there.

The third win is that – at a time of increased tension – there is a real power for someone who might otherwise be feeling marginalized in simply seeing yourself on screen, realizing that people “like you” are considered part of the popular culture.

If our work reflects the diverse population it can also help to reassure and bring together that population.

Of course the heavy lifting in this area has to be done by politicians and by community leaders. But, as an industry, we can choose to help. And since – by doing so – we will also be making sensible business decisions, why not?

 

If you think you have a campaign that deserves a Pencil, enter your work into the D&AD Professional Awards and see if our judges agree. When it comes to awards, nothing matters more.

For more creative inspiration and the opportunity to get up close and personal with the world’s best design and advertising, join us at D&AD Festival.
 

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