Chris Kenna, Brand Advance Group: “Nothing about us without us”

“Nothing about us without us”

Inclusivity, pride, and diversity should be a priority all year round - not just during designated months. We still need to raise awareness and educate people on the importance of observing things like Pride Month, Black History Month, and Women’s History Month. Fortunately, people are out there fighting for inclusivity and equality within society, in organizations, and in advertising.

In the latest episode of our Identity Architects podcast, InfoSum's VP, Corporate Marketing, Ben Cicchetti, sat down with Chris Kenna, founder and CEO at Brand Advance Group, to discuss inclusive advertising, DEI, pride, and more.

“I've started the company, I would say to fix the issues that were happening in creativity. There wasn't enough people from different communities [...], none of this was being shown enough in ads. None of this had its own channels for them communities, etc, and there wasn't enough magazines for these communities. But also, in the back of my mind, it was to fix them real-world issues, it was because of what I've watched with my kids, and that fire still burns. [...] I've tried to make sure that the things we do now, the things I do, I work with lots of friends and family within Brand Advance Group because we all have the same passions to make a difference, to just leave this place a little bit better than we found it.”

Indeed, working towards making the world a better place for future generations is vital. This effort hinges on diversity to ensure all people are represented and ensure future generations have role models they can identify with.

“We have one motto: nothing about us without us. So, hiring people from them communities to make content to reach them communities to help brands, to stick their brand in content or to make advertisements that can sit in that content and feel like it should be there. And to help fund, not just fund the content, but fund the content makers, to keep that sort of circle of marketing life going.”

It’s about marketing, reaching the right people with the right message.

“If people spend on that content, if they spend time investing into them people, then you can then have authenticity within them communities. You can sell more stuff to them communities, and then it'll give you more reason to invest more [...]. We think we just do marketing, but actually, there is a bigger effect of it, that thirty-second ad beaming into people's houses can make them understand a community they didn't understand before.”

Advertising is certainly a powerful avenue for societal change. Many underestimate the influence advertising, and the wider media industry, have to shape public perception and opinion. 

“It's making people more aware and, therefore, more tolerant, and I think that's the great power that we sometimes forget we've got.”

Ad spend fuels much of our industry, and when it comes to diversity, there are two sides to the equation that are both equally important. Firstly, minority-owned brands need to be given wider exposure across media properties, and then mainstream brands need to spend across minority-owned media companies to support their sustainability but also ensure a more diverse media landscape.

“Everybody is all in that one part, and then nearly half the world now actually sits outside what everybody calls mainstream. [...] Nobody's saying you should shift all of your budget to diversity media [...]. What we're saying is, don't take money from that budget and use it to spend over here in the diversity. [...] You've got a fight on your hands with the mainstream because every other brand and every competition you've got is going for that part. So why not just add a bit more budget and reach it over there and that's what we advocate for. That's what the industry should be doing. So, you still spend exactly what you're spending on mainstream media. You're just adding a new consumer base. You're adding the media where you know they are now.”

It’s crucial not to shift budgets from other areas to fund diversity initiatives and programs. Instead, businesses must assign specific budgets to avoid conflict and budget debates. Diversity and inclusivity should be a priority all year round and not just during designated months, for example, during Pride month. It’s also important to remember that Pride Month is more than just a celebration; it's a poignant reminder of the ongoing struggles for equality faced by the LGBTQ+ community. 

“Just remember it's not a music festival for you to bring Arianna Grande and have the time of your life. There is a reason why it's there. And yes, you can move Pride to places where you can sell more tickets and have a bigger upstage, but across the road on Canal Street that is where people have been fighting for our rights for many years. [...] What I do need them to do is to get their voice back or to hand over to somebody that will take that voice. [...] We just need to get back to what are we doing here.”

Completely agree. It's crucial to remember that these events are not merely about having a grand time; they are about spotlighting and addressing the persistent inequalities that still pervade our society today. Let’s hope that 2024 shapes up to be a better year from that perspective.

“We will talk about it if it's not done. That's fact. We'll talk about it. We'll make documentaries about it. We will do what needs to be done to get that voice out there, and if we have to, we'll come up with an alternative. [...] There's so many people out there that will just not sit down and let it be another year where voices are not heard, where people are not standing up for the right.”

There’s still so much work to do, so much hate in the world, and so much inequality. Companies and leaders within those companies can have an incredible influence.

“We've all been brought up and conditioned in certain ways. So if we need to change that then it takes time to change that, and we've got to appreciate that, but we got to work on it as well. And it's consistent work. [...] But also, there's a duty for companies to not expect people from them communities that work for them to fix the problem for them. [...] But don't expect it. Don't allocate them. [...] Leaders can ask and really listen. I think the companies can make sure they're not just forcing people to do it.”

Engaging with and genuinely listening to a diverse group of individuals is straightforward yet pivotal. It’s also essential to regularly check in with those advocating for diversity and inclusion. 

“What you can do is help to look after the mental health of the people that are pushing in the company, that are having to speak about trauma one month every year so that you can understand the community better. We can all, as a human race, look after people. [...] For the leader as well. You know because it can feel like the weight of the world. [...] And you still got to do your day job. You still got to make decisions.”

An important aspect that doesn't get talked about enough is the pressure when you are an LGBTQ+ leader or any kind of diverse leader. These individuals often bear the responsibility for highlighting critical issues, and the emotional toll it takes can be substantial. So, checking in and providing support for these leaders is not only necessary but imperative for fostering a truly inclusive environment. 

Thanks, Chris, for the chat!