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Why #BlackGirlMagic Is More Relevant Than Ever

The gap in management, representation and compensation leaves room for the PR industry to champion African-American women leaders

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The evidence is real. #BlackGirlMagic isn’t just a trending hashtag or catchphrase, it’s a real-time, quantifiable illustration of how the consumer preferences and brand affinities of African-American women are resonating across the U.S. According to African-American Women: Our Science, Her Magic, a new report by Nielsen, African-American women are driving total Black spending power toward a record $1.5 trillion by 2021. Insights reveal that we have enjoyed steady growth in population, incomes, and educational attainment. This rise in influence and buying power as consumers is a result of our increased success in business and our careers.

But, another stat is much less impressive. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016) reported that below 4 percent of women employed in public relations were African American (women overall make up about 70 percent of the industry). With all of our magical abilities to drive product categories and shift culture as trendsetters, brand loyalists and early adopters, there’s no reason more of us shouldn’t be leading in brands and agencies as decision makers. Make no mistake – we are here, and have been here for decades – but the gap in management, representation and compensation for African-American women leaders in the public relations industry must lessen as we’ve further proven our power and influence.

Here’s how we champion “Black Girl Magic” in the PR industry:

African-American women are best at creating and cultivating community.

Our magic is made tangible when we establish opportunities for dialogue and work to make industry diversity actionable and accountable. Such efforts like the E3 Task Force, a nationwide agency diversity effort led by Edelman’s DC President Lisa Osborne Ross, empower diverse candidates to elevate their voices and emerge as leaders.

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Credit: ColorComm 2016 C2 Conference

With the ColorComm (C2) Conference in Miami as the catalyst for the conversation, the task force went to work forming a quantitative study and hosting listening sessions, with mostly women of color in the communications industry across eight U.S. markets, to assess the barriers and dismantle the roadblocks to leadership. Similarly in advertising and marketing, there are still very few women of color in creative leadership roles.

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Credit: bohan Advertising

Ad Women For All Women, a program created and hosted by bohan, an independent, full-service advertising and marketing agency, introduces young women in high school and college to the opportunities available in advertising. The AWFAW program focuses on women and women of color specifically, but is part of a commitment to diversity and inclusion in a broad sense as well. Each effort, and so many others, indicates where we want to be and how we are willing to help one other get there.

 African-American women show a desire to lead and an ability to drive revenue.

Our magic is obvious as the Nielsen study reveals that 64 percent of black women agree their goal is to make it to the top of their profession. The study also reports that Black female entrepreneurs have grown by 67 percent within five years, totaling more than 1.5 million businesses with over $42 billion in sales and $7.7 billion in payroll. This kind of ingenuity is worth acknowledging and forces a response by placing more African-American women in PR leadership roles. Yet, in a survey of 51 agencies in North America, the Holmes Report and Ketchum Global Research & Analytics reported that women of color made $10,000 less than white women in public relations. This leads to the progression of African-American women opting out of agency life to create their own businesses or to leave the industry altogether. This is a clear sign of industry leadership passing on the untapped potential of ambitious African-American women, lagging on developing an organizational culture of inclusion and equity, and overlooking the intrinsic value we hold for leveraging business savvy for greater profits.

African-American women maintain a unique cultural capital.

Our magic is limitless as mainstream culture looks to us for trends and patterns. In most product categories, African-American women over-index against non-Hispanic white women for dollars per buyer and buying power, according to Nielsen. Also, 86 percent admitted to spending 5 or more hours each day on online/mobile platforms for consumer engagement activities and social media movements. As African-American women, our spending, watching, and listening habits are mirrored by other women and shape the way women of all ethnicities see themselves, states the report. While the behaviors, values and purchasing patters of African-American women have been long studied by corporations, our recent influence is proving that the cultural capital we embody has the power to extend beyond contributing a consumer point of view to now reaching leadership with a seat at the table in order to meet industry demands and address PR’s diversity deficit.

It’s confirmed. We are magic.

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We are an undeniable force as women influencers in public relations, as well as marketing, advertising and digital. Our position as creators, decision makers and game changers is indefinite, and will secure our presence as levelers in the future.

If the rest of the world is taking notice and recognizing “Black Girl Magic,” the public relations industry should be our greatest advocate.

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Five Things PR Pros Can Learn From #BlackTwitter

If you hadn’t heard, the Los Angeles Times recently added a reporter to cover #BlackTwitter.

What is #BlackTwitter?… I’m glad you asked.

Over the past few years, Twitter has become a platform for breaking news, public discussion, trending topics and cultural concerns. On occasion, a hashtag will emerge among the chatter. The hashtag #BlackTwitter has grown as one of the most popular colloquialisms associated with African-Americans who use Twitter, many of whom are tastemakers, public figures and intellectuals collectively setting the tone for daily dialogue related to real-world issues that would have been seen as rather taboo or sensitive for mainstream media.

Conversations around the murder of Michael Brown or scenes from ABC’s hit TV show “Scandal” are examples of how the hashtag reflects the variety in which African-Americans are passionately tweeting among themselves to raise awareness, celebrate interests and disrupt the narratives of mainstream media. Searching the hashtag means you will find discussions about everything from the calling out of a celebrity for making a cultural offense to running jokes about stereotypes shared among African-Americans.

PR pros are increasingly seeking ways to drill closer to the lifestyles, behaviors and sentiments of ethnic communities with social media as the source. Though hashtags have risen in popularity, use for audience research can be selectively evaluated and subjectively filtered. This is a critical place to pause and caution PR pros to think deeply about strategies designed to tap into a diverse ethnic community through social media.

Black Twitter Aerial EllisHere are five things PR pros can learn from #BlackTwitter:

African-Americans use Twitter frequently…

There’s a hint of consumer insight to be gained from #BlackTwitter. African Americans use social media more than any other ethnic group and access Twitter by roughly 22 percent as compared with 16 percent of whites, according to a study from the Pew Research Center. The study also revealed that 73 percent of all African-Americans using the Internet are on Twitter. Brands and organizations can build and benefit from access to this population and the dynamics of engagement that await discovery.

But this isn’t a solely “black thing” – it’s simply the nature of online communities…

The great thing about social media is that it provides a space for conversations that have been long had offline to find a home online. The essence of conversations within an ethnic group that derived mostly from their unique experiences is now open to observation for all. As in any online community, members are more likely to bond around a core commonality, follow each other, develop their own terminology, and create consensus around commentary. The knowledge of values and complexity is unlimited with #BlackTwitter because conversations can change overnight. However, this dynamic allows diverse groups to dominate conversations with an authentic voice.

Because their influence motivates movements…

The presence of African-Americans on Twitter established a history for the #BlackTwitter hashtag and the subcultures it birthed. When African-Americans felt mainstream media overlooked or ignored issues that impacted their community, they took to Twitter. For instance, the hashtag #BoycottSororitySisters was created by VH1 viewers to express their disappointment and embarrassment with a new reality show that chronicled the lives of African-American sorority sisters focusing on stereotypes among the women instead of the sisterhood and service these organizations are known for. After the backlash, brands such Hallmark, Honda, Domino’s and State Farm used Twitter to announce that their advertisements would be pulled from show and VH1 later confirmed the show’s cancellation.

That’s why newsrooms are watching…

Whether for profit or production, media has shown an increased interest in ethnic communities. Although there remains a deficiency among people of color working in newsrooms, outlets are getting smarter about how the history of diverse groups is researched and how the issues of race, gender, and identity within a community are reported. Content creators have to be responsible enough not to surveillance tweets for subject matter or copy and paste screenshots but instead work with users to tell broader stories through interviews and leverage access to the relationships of users to build diverse connections. Content creators should also be keen on the differences between a trending topic and a story of substance.

And remember, anyone can use a hashtag.

Careful not to use #BlackTwitter as a window into this consumer base from the comfort of your laptop without a true historical context of the audience and the issues they tweet about. Ethnic groups are not monolithic. Trends among people of color especially can be hard to assess. One member’s voice cannot cover the complete sentiments of the whole. Acknowledge the patterns but recognize that perspectives, interests and needs of a group cannot be teased out of a hashtag.

It’s enlightening to see the cultural phenomenon of #BlackTwitter proving the power of people-centered platforms but it’s more important that PR pros explore the intersectional issues discussed by people of color via social media through the advancement of inclusive conversations.

Where Innovation and Funding Meet – Buzz from the 2015 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit

The Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit is always a great place for networking and an important moment to invigorate as an entrepreneur. This year’s event held in Atlanta was buzzing with topics, tips and tools for small business owners new and seasoned.

Here are a few highlights on my Storify story. http://sfy.co/f0bvK

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