Until they reach about seven or eight months old, babies have little idea that things in the world outside their field of vision exist. For them, “out of sight” is quite literally “out of mind”.
Campaign is not in the habit of comparing advertisers to infants, but it provides an apt metaphor when listening to the views of some of the UK’s most well-known and established community media owners (sometimes referred to as “minority media”).
Some brands simply do not see these media owners, it is alleged, and therefore are not doing enough to reach minority groups through advertising campaigns.
“Mainstream brands aren’t quite getting it,” Kay McCarthy, sales director for Sunrise Radio, the UK’s most popular commercial Asian radio station, laments. Despite Sunrise being a paid-up member of Rajar and having been an established broadcaster for more than 30 years, McCarthy does not feel that the Black Lives Matter-inspired push for diversity last year has translated into more advertiser interest.
There is a similar sentiment at The Voice, the UK’s only national Afro-Caribbean newspaper. Its senior account manager, Getnet Kassa, says: ”When it comes to targeting the ethnic minorities who live in the UK, brands don’t do enough. Maybe they want to, but then once they have a huge budget, their media agency doesn’t necessarily approach us.”
Richard Ferrer, editor of the freesheet Jewish News, tells Campaign that it’s “very difficult” for his ad sales colleagues to meet brands and their media agencies. “The main reason we get is that they say that if we target the Jewish community specifically, we then have to target all other small communities. We have to go to the Muslim press and the Sikh press and the Hindu press... that’s why they will only come to us specifically at certain times of the year. And all the other times, we are not really on their radar,” he says.
"If 9% of the UK is black, Indian, Asian and multi-ethnic, then 9% of your media spend should go to media that reaches those demographics"
The idea that when it comes to minority media, brands are still struggling with “object permanence” – the ability to know an object continues to exist even though it can no longer be seen or heard – is puzzling, given the way that inclusion and diversity have shot up the agenda in the past 12 months.
Following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and the outpouring of anti-racist statements and commitments that followed, we were told that the ad industry was listening and learning. More than 200 ad industry leaders signed a joint letter calling for solidarity and action, codified in a 10-point action plan. Point nine of this manifesto specifically called on the industry to “represent at every level” and recommended advertisers “commit to amplifying and elevating black talent, working with black-owned businesses and supply chains”.
There has been some progress. WPP’s Wavemaker, Britain’s third-biggest media agency by Nielsen billings, has been particularly active in using diverse media and worked with its client, Nationwide, on a media targeting partnership with Deca, a subsidiary of diversity media planning specialist Brand Advance (see below).
Deca, which stands for Diversity, Equity, Culture and Action, offers brands “perception surveys to test and develop culturally relevant content”, a proposition it has developed in collaboration with media consultancy Ebiquity.
Emily Fairhead-Keen, Wavemaker’s strategy partner, explains that it is not enough for a brand to reach a diverse audience by buying large audiences with broadcast television and national newsbrands.
“Where [community media] add value is, as brands in themselves, they’re really powerful, have gravitas, [and] offer a community outreach piece, which mainstream media doesn’t,” she says. “From an efficiency perspective, it adds up because the engagement rate will be higher and stickier, especially among hard-to-reach audiences.”
Christopher Kenna, founder and chief executive of Brand Advance and Deca, is clear that a brand’s media spend should be directly proportional to the number of ethnic minority people.
“Look at the census, then look at your media spend, and make sure those proportions are how you’re dividing up your media spend,” Kenna advises brands. “So if 9% of the UK is black, Indian, Asian and multi-ethnic, then 9% of your media spend should go to media that reaches those demographics.”
On a macro level, the UK’s black and ethnic minority community represents a collective spending power of £300bn a year, according to The Black Pound Report, compiled by Lydia Amoah, a business coach and diversity consultant.
Amoah reveals to Campaign that an updated version of the report, due to be finalised this year, is set to estimate that this spending power has increased very significantly since she first analysed the figures in 2018.
She explains: “The difference between doing the research then, and doing it now, is I’m speaking to more brands that are showing up and saying: ‘Lydia, we want to get involved in this, we want to understand your audiences.’ Data tells a story and reveals patterns of behaviour. And that’s a brand’s dream, is it not?”
It would be easy to point to the pandemic as the reason for the relative lack of action by brands and agencies. Are community media owners unfairly judging advertisers for not increasing spend among “minority” media channels when advertising activity plummeted last year amid Covid-19 lockdowns?
Community media owners’ most common response to this challenge is to single out the supermarkets, where sales ballooned during Covid-19 as people were forced to work and entertain themselves at home.
Despite this, media owners tell Campaign the big grocers have generally not increased their spend with community media and, at best, seem to advertise with them only around religious festivities.
McCarthy says: “I find it really difficult to understand why the grocery sector isn’t advertising with us. Morrisons and Asda are advertising over Ramadan, but why are they not advertising all year round?”
Ferrer paints a similar picture: “M&S [Food], Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, when they’re doing a kosher range for Passover or something very specific, targeted, and they need to reach the niche, they will come to us. What has been incredibly difficult is getting them on a regular basis.”
Kenna insists that Tesco has made significant efforts in the past year to increase its adspend with so-called “minority” media owners, but admits the market-leader’s rivals have been largely absent.
“The other supermarkets? I’ve not really heard a word from any of them,” Kenna says with a weary sigh. There is “a lot of lip service” but Tesco is the only one that “has put its money where its mouth is”, he says. He credits Tesco’s head of media and campaign planning, Nick Ashley, for “taking the bull by the horns”.
One brand leader, who handles a media team for one of the UK’s biggest advertisers, confided that it still had a lot to learn on this issue but wanted to ensure its wider diversity and inclusion strategy was in place first before starting to commit more spend with community media.
The executive says: “You could boil the ocean in this space, which is part of the problem that many brands feel – that sometimes it’s quite difficult to define the groups you want to target.”
This person went on to say: “There are so many [community media] offerings out there. Obviously, like every advertiser, we rely on our media agency to bring the best partners to us, as well as having those direct relationships ourselves... It may be some of these media brands might not be relevant or appropriate, and everyone is learning how they navigate this.”
"It's still a bit like [the] Wild West in multicultural media"
The UK’s biggest media agencies have certainly taken notice since last summer and the Black Lives Matter protests that drew attention to the industry’s lack of diversity.
In September, MediaCom launched a tool, alongside ISBA, the Advertising Association and the IPA, that would track representation in front of and behind the camera in TV ads. The WPP shop, which happens to be Tesco’s media agency, announced it would shift its media planning approach to always focus on diverse audiences.
Havas Media also launched a “social equity marketplace” to help brands support underrepresented groups through digital media.
But it takes time for these initiatives to bear fruit, Kenna admits. “There’s a 12- to 18-month cycle on planning media,” he explains. “Because everyone pledged it last year, it can only really get into their strategy this year… they’ve spent the last six to eight months [planning]… there isn’t this tap that can just be turned on.”
Even when that “tap” does begin to flow, there remain several structural supply and demand obstacles that have stood between community owners getting their “fair share” of media spend.
Key among these issues is scale and measurement. Many community media owners have much smaller audiences than brands are used to seeing on media plans, and it may be considered too costly to spend resources with them for little audience gain in return.
The measurement itself becomes an issue when media agencies are accustomed to national measurement companies like Barb, Rajar and ABC: are they able to accurately sample for minority demographics?
This is even an issue for bigger community media owners, such as Sunrise Radio (pictured above), which, as mentioned, is a member of Rajar alongside giants like Global and Bauer. McCarthy believes that Rajar may actually underestimate Sunrise Radio’s audiences because national samples need to be extremely large to properly capture the distinct group of people who tune in to their channel.
Serhat Ekinci, managing director of OMG Unite (formerly OMG Ethnic), the specialist diverse media planning unit of Omnicom Media Group, says he is now advising clients to “move away from unconscious exclusion to conscious inclusion”, which means accounting for sampling bias.
He says: “Barb has got 5,000 households in it, although it’s representative overall of ethnic minorities, which, let’s say, is 7% – that equates to 350 households. How can we expect that 350 households will represent so many different ethnic minorities who have so many differences within them?”
This means, ultimately, brands must take a “calculated risk” by underweighting Barb, Rajar and ABC reporting, if they want to truly reach a meaningful level of diverse audiences in media.
Ekinci argues that there is now a sufficient body of brand-tracking studies that report significant uplifts for brands that increased spend on so-called “minority media”. “It does drive an incremental reach, which in most cases other [smaller] channels don’t, they’re more like a frequency builder,” he adds.
Both Barb and Rajar told Campaign that they have a weighting system or add “boost points” for ensuring that their respective data estimates are representative of different age and ethnic groups. However, a Rajar spokeswoman acknowledged that: “Unfortunately, the boost sample that is placed doesn’t always return listening to community stations.” She also said that “larger sample sizes reduce data variability and this would benefit channels with lower audience levels”.
Some community media owners think the cost of third-party audience measurement is no longer worth it. The Voice, for example, does not subscribe to ABC auditing because its management does not feel the reassurance for advertisers merits the subscription cost.
“Our managing director was telling us that to pay that fee is huge,” Kassa recalls. “We know our audience and we know what sort of numbers that we do... it wasn’t making any difference in terms of advertising with big brands. We’re not audited [now] and it still doesn’t make a difference.”
Come together, right now?
Being small as a media owner has also proved problematic because, many report, they often lack the levels of sales professionalism or nous to convince mainstream brands and media agencies to put them on media plans. This is particularly salient as more media is traded online via automated platforms and advertiser spend may come under increasing scrutiny by a brand’s procurement department.
“It’s still a bit like [the] Wild West in the multicultural media, in particular, in that they’re not standardised in their rates,” OMG Unite’s Ekinci says. “We had a European-wide money transfer client [that was] quoted a full-page ad for £1,500 [by a print media owner]. Then one of the contacts from that print title reached out to the client directly from another country and was trying to charge £6,500.”
Ekinci believes that community media owners need to unite by pooling ad sales resources and know-how to improve their selling standards and form better relationships with brands. “If they group together and create a bigger reach, and if they unite to educate both agencies and brands about the value of their channel, they’ll do much better,” he says.
This is important because, as Wavemaker’s Fairhead-Keen notes, community media are “not part of [brands’/advertisers’] standard implementation” and putting them on the media plan “requires additional time and planning rationales – we’re committed to doing this at Wavemaker”. There is also, she warns, a general “nervousness of new territory for brands to be authentic, to get the messaging right”.
In short, perhaps community media need to set up a joint sales house, or at least a commercial trade body. “Why don’t we have something like that?” Amoah asks. “More alliances with agencies are required.”
Ferrer reveals that three years ago there were conversations between the Jewish News and another Jewish newspaper about setting up a “halfway house” ad agency. “It didn’t work out in the end, for the simple reason that too much of the advertising was local and regional… But I probably would look into that again. We’ve worked with The Muslim Times, [and] a Christian newspaper, and we’ve worked on co-sponsored events with them. That is absolutely the way forward: a concerted effort on the part of different faith-based major organisations or small interest titles to offer a more compelling prospect.”
Whether more collaboration happens or not, Kenna believes the industry will see a “resurgence” in community media in the next two to three years, but it will take more progressive marketers such as Jerry Daykin [of GSK] and Chris Laad [at Nationwide] who are “prepared to stand on stage and admit we haven’t done enough about this”.
“You know the real reason it’s not moving as fast as we’d like?” Kenna asks rhetorically. “Because change means agencies will have to admit to their clients – and clients will have to admit to their consumers – that they were doing it wrong before. Nobody wants to do that.”
Nationwide’s diversity boost
Back in July 2020, Nationwide challenged its media agency, Wavemaker, with a simple provocation: “Are we truly speaking to all of UK society, nationwide?” The start was to review the existing media plan. The WPP agency built in-depth audience segment analysis through a “diversity lens” and began reporting reach and frequency versus different audiences, as well as broadening its media plans.
It worked with Ebiquity and Deca on diversity audits and held inclusive planning and activation sessions, question-and-answer panels and speed-dating-style meetings with diversity-owned media partners.
The campaign ran in November and December 2020, after which Wavemaker said it had invested more than £350,000 with new media partners for better inclusivity, and recrafted its OOH holdings to better resonate with diverse communities. On TV, it made shifts in buying to improve delivery versus diverse audiences by using Barb data. This enabled planners to understand how to adapt channel selection to boost its delivery among diverse audiences.
The campaign increased overall reach by 8% and 9% for audiences of Pakistani and Indian heritage, respectively.