They share a common belief: “As industry professionals, it is not enough to just stand in solidarity. We need to act in solidarity.”
Katie Kern and Lee Deas founded Agencies Act In Solidarity based on that clarion call. They are committed to eradicate racism and positively impact opportunities for Black industry professionals.
“As leaders, we must use our platform to speak up,” said Kern, who also heads Media Frenzy Global. “Every agency can do better across the board. We need to take this opportunity and look inward to truly make a difference.”
She formed Agencies Act in Solidarity with Deas, who leads her own company, Obviouslee Marketing.
“There is a lot of work to be done in our company and in our industry,” Deas said. “We are encouraged to see how many other marketers want to be a part of this change.”
Together they talked with digital marketing expert Madalyn Sklar about why now — more than ever — people should publicly voice their beliefs on social justice issues.
“These issues are now more pervasive than ever before in the workplace,” Kern said. “Even if your employees aren’t openly talking about them, you can bet many of them are likely thinking about them or are distracted or impacted by them.
“Ignoring social justice issues that your workforce is dealing with outside of work can, in turn, affect productivity and morale in the workplace,” she said. “Ignoring polarizing social justice issues can even increase unconscious biases that could wreak havoc on your culture.”
“If we seek change, we need to be bold and transparent about our personal beliefs and our company’s core values,” Deas said.
Stand in clear sight
These messages will clarify and reinforce business-to-consumer connections.
“Voicing your beliefs on social justice issues informs people about where you stand,” Sklar said. “Consumers are expecting brands to speak up and share their beliefs and policies. They want to make sure they’re supporting brands that align with their personal values.”
Businesses can support social justice issues on social media in ways that go beyond sharing their own posts.
“As a business, it’s important to show your support to clients, vendors and most importantly, your team,” Kern said. “There is strength in numbers. Transparency is key internally and externally. Your employees need to know you stand for something, and so do your stakeholders.”
Effective marketing is the result of a well thought out plan.
“Curating content is always a great strategy on social media,” Sklar said. “Find other creators who are speaking out and providing valuable information for others to learn from. Share their content, and start conversations around it.”
Even if their organizations lack diversity, employees ought to feel free to endorse social justice issues.
“They should feel comfortable speaking out for change,” Sklar said. “Nothing will happen if we all quietly sit back. Don’t be afraid to talk about the social justice issues in your heart.”
Companies and workers need to take on causes as a joint effort.
“Speaking up about social justice issues is a personal journey,” Kern said. “Businesses should support and encourage their employees in any way they can. We can all learn from one another and do better if lack of diversity is an issue.”
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Communicate from top to bottom
“If you notice issues within your organization, discuss it with someone higher up,” Sklar said. “Voice your concerns and ideas on how to fix problems. Having a team meeting specifically to address this would be very beneficial.”
Deas added that the keys are education, training and providing tools to actively learn and combat racism, pointing to “excellent workshops” at The Racial Equity Institute.
“We have to learn how to communicate with each other about social issues, like race,” Kern said. “The more we educate each other and hold each other accountable for making things right, businesses will move in the right direction.
“You can’t fix social issues overnight,” she said. “You have to put a plan in place. Acknowledging you have a problem is the first step.”
Business owners need to seek talent who do not look or act like the person they see in the mirror. Accept that there are other points of view and that management does not automatically have all the right answers.
“Entrepreneurs must strive for change, whether that’s hiring a more diverse staff, making sure everyone is treated fairly and so on,” Sklar said. “Put policies into place that represent the action you’ll take moving forward, and stick with it.”
Deas advocates “leading from a place of honesty, transparency and the willingness to get to work.” Agencies Act in Solidarity developed a plan to work on its own path to more diversity, including tips to help others.
“Diversity is a broad term,” Kern said. “If we are talking about what is happening as a response to the George Floyd murder, businesses have to acknowledge they have a race problem. Then the conversations and the healing begin.”
Inevitable, yet manageable conflict
Backlash is expected no matter if you address social issues specifically or any potential change. People love their comfort zones — until they realize how others are made uncomfortable.
“All strong beliefs will most likely come with backlash,” Deas said. “But if the options are silence and complicity or potential backlash, opt for potential backlash.”
Disagreements are openings to deeper conversations.
“It’s definitely common to receive backlash when discussing social issues,” Sklar said. “There’s always going to be someone who disagrees with you, and that’s fine. It doesn’t mean you should be afraid to share how you feel about a situation or issue.
“That’s why it’s smart to know how you’ll handle these situations ahead of time, especially if you’re representing a brand online,” she said. “You’ll always be prepared this way.”
Conflicts might not necessarily be genuine.
“It’s very common for businesses to receive backlash for supporting social issues if it’s not coming from an authentic place,” Kern said. “With that being said, never shame a business for wanting to do and be better. We all deserve grace. This is how we grow.”
When online, remember that social media has a device called a plug. Don’t feel like you have to stay and take backlash. Outside of the online bubble, the world seems to go on, and it’s a nice place to take a break.
“When dealing with backlash, be respectful,” Sklar said. “It’s not worth adding more fuel to the fire by responding in a nasty way. Politely respond to the criticism you receive. You never know when you might get people to change their mind.
“If someone is obviously trolling you by sharing negative posts to intentionally cause drama, there’s no need to engage,” she said. “You can ignore or block or mute those accounts.”
Worthy risks for causes
Adventurer and entrepreneur Richard Branson has said, “Every risk is worth taking as long as it is for a good cause.”
“In terms of backlash, we would hold to our beliefs and be open, listen and communicate where we need to do better,” Deas said.
In a perfect world … well, there is no perfect world.
“Deal with backlash on social media with honesty and transparency,” Kern said. “We all know you will never make everyone on social media happy. Businesses have to be OK with it.”
Activism is equally important online and off.
“Taking action outside of social media is just as important when it comes to social justice issues,” Sklar said. “Find organizations that you align with and donate to their cause if you can.
“Another option is to donate your time to help with any events they may be holding,” she said. “There are plenty of things you can do that don’t require money.”
Kern urges businesses to get involved in their communities.
“Make social justice and community involvement a part of your company culture and values,” she said. “It’s a game changer for overall morale.”
The solution for Deas comes down to one word.
“Vote,” she said. “And allow time for your team to get out and do the same.”