PepsiCo, Shell, TUI and Unilever have come together with some of the industry’s leading agencies and partners to launch an “unprecedented” cross-industry initiative addressing the lack of black representation in marketing.

Black Representation in Marketing (BRiM) aims to move the marketing industry from “good intentions” to “meaningful actions”, thereby creating long-lasting and measurable change. The ambition is to bring more black people into brands and the wider industry and enable them to thrive in senior positions, while ensuring they are fairly represented in marketing communications.

The CEO of Shell Brands International, Dean Aragon, says the marketing industry has “failed” so far to build a culture that attracts black people into its teams and leadership positions successfully. This leads to an absence of black people on screen, or “worse”, tokenistic portrayals.

“Lack of representation behind the camera leads to poor representation in front of the camera,” he says.

Earlier this year, the 2021 Marketing Week Career and Salary Survey revealed that of the 2,453 respondents, 84.6% identified as white – only a slight improvement on the 88% figure in 2020.

And while there has been a 15.3% increase in diverse representation over the past year in agencies, just 6.4% of those in C-suite positions are from non-white backgrounds, according to the 2020 IPA Agency Census.

At the same time, 2019 research from Channel 4 found that although black representation in TV advertising is gradually increasing, a third of black people have seen their community represented in a tokenistic way.

It takes all of us to make this happen, but leaders need to embrace this commitment with concrete, measurable actions. Not just words.

Dean Aragon, Shell

Yet, in a survey of 304 marketing professionals conducted by BRiM this month, 42% had not made any decisions to increase black representation in the past year. This is despite seven in 10 claiming to understand the need for it.

“It’s about time the entire marketing and advertising community truly confronts what needs to be done to address under-representation,” Aragon continues.

“It takes all of us to make this happen, but leaders need to embrace this commitment with concrete, measurable actions. Not just words. As an immigrant and person-of-colour in Europe, this is personal to me. I will do my part.”

Breaking the cycle

BRiM is therefore kicking off with the launch of a free framework to provide guidance for marketing organisations and “break the cycle” of under-representation. Supported by the Advertising Association, the framework suggests commitments that both large and small businesses should adopt and offers templates and tools to help bring those promises to fruition.

The document is the first phase in a multi-staged journey, according to the alliance, with further initiatives beyond the framework to follow later this year.

BRiM is calling upon marketing professionals to download the framework from 5 May and join the community. Individuals who join will be asked to feed into regular research to measure progress that they or their organisation are making in representing black people fairly. The data will be shared publicly, but anonymously.

If we want to see systemic change in society, we need to see systemic change in our industry.

Aline Santos, Unilever

According to PepsiCo’s general manager for UK & Ireland, Jason Richards, the framework is a “focused and practical” way to make a difference when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

“It’s targeted, measurable and committed in the long term which provides an opportunity to deliver real impact and practical change,” he says. “The excellent advice and guidance provided through the initiative will educate individuals throughout the marketing industry, helping to build knowledge and confidence, which in turn will drive appropriate, conscious action.”

The agencies joining Shell, PepsiCo, TUI and Unilever on the BRiM steering group include BrainLabs, Deloitte Digital, Dentsu, Droga5, Facebook, Omnicom Media Group, Universal Pictures, VCCP, Wise and Wunderman Thompson. Facebook’s EMEA vice-president, Nicola Mendelsohn, chairs the group.

Unilever’s executive vice-president of global marketing and chief diversity and inclusion officer, Aline Santos, says there is “no excuse” not to accelerate change in the representation of black people. “If we want to see systemic change in society, we need to see systemic change in our industry,” she adds.

An advisory panel made up of industry diversity, equity and inclusion experts is supporting the initiative, chaired by IPA president and VCCP chair, Julian Douglas.

Later this month the findings of the All In census will be revealed, providing a view over the gender, ethnic and socio-economic breakdown of the entire marketing industry’s workforce.

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