Diversity Advisory Council – Guest Blog Series with Diana Lu, Germantown Info Hub

It’s been one year since Slice Communications has launched our Diversity Advisory Council. This committee of business leaders with diverse backgrounds and life experiences have shared their expertise on several projects for clients to ensure all messaging, campaigns, and content is inclusive and thoughtful. 

To celebrate this milestone, some of our Council members shared their thoughts on the importance of DEI in marketing through a guest blog series.

This interview is with Diana Lu, Coordinator at Germantown Info Hub.

As it relates to marketing and communications, what does DEI mean to you?

In this instance, DEI to me means asking who are we writing to, whose stories are we telling and for whom, and who controls the narrative? Especially if you work for a majority white firm, it may not be as easy as an overhaul of staff, so what can existing writers/content producers do? Taking that into consideration, who is your target market or audience? Even if your client says something like ‘single women aged 18 to 34,’ I would challenge them to think about different types of women, including ethnic, cultural, educational, working backgrounds, with consideration for womxn and non-binary folks. This may mean thinking about who they have targeted in the past, and who they may have excluded. This then goes to whose stories and for whom? A shortcut would be to stick with the same marketing and communications messaging, but inserting a stock photo of a woman of color. Is that to appease someone’s discomfort or to check off a box? Do you have any other plans for DEI in your company culture besides a photo swap? Or, could you be using a photo taken out of context, without doing the research to see if it speaks to your intended audiences? In working in community-based journalism, I have often encountered people who are part of marginalized communities who have had their image, experience, or story taken out of context, to benefit someone else’s narrative. This is hurtful and counterproductive, but easy to do in a pinch.

How do you think the role of DEI has evolved over the past year and a half in marketing and communications?

I think that since the racial reckonings of the past year and a half, most industries are rethinking DEI. Some firms have made ‘anti-racism’ statements or have helped their clients with BLM banners on their website and diversity statements on their company page. I imagine that more clients are now also asking for proactive measures, instead of preparing for backlash. I see more campaigns for larger companies using imagery of care, mutual aid, solidarity, more inclusive (race, skin tone, gender, ability, etc.) emojis and graphics, and messaging to support national nonprofits.

To be honest, I am not fully confident yet if DEI has evolved or if this is a response measure to current events. Some of the language I’ve seen in current DEI campaigns could be interchangeable with sustainability campaigns from 5-10 years ago, with new celebrity faces. This is concerning to me.

Can you share a story that demonstrates DEI and marketing being successfully incorporated? Or an example where it missed the mark?

Colleges and universities don’t have a great track record of showcasing a diverse student body. I have some first-hand experiences that I’d like to share. I was recently with a group of non-white colleagues, and we had each had an experience where our image was taken out of context to showcase the diversity of an institution. One had her image posted on a Masters of Social Work (not her degree) site and another’s wife had her image in a brochure (not her university). For myself, someone once told me that there was a framed poster of me in her office, and there I was, as part of a diversity initiative that I wasn’t a part of. All of these campaigns were used to recruit students and staff of color. This is deeply misleading DEI marketing, and also insulting and confusing for those of us who learn about our images from friends, colleagues, or strangers.

What advice do you have for someone working in marketing and communications?

My advice for those working in marketing and communications: Think about who you’re writing for, whose stories you’re telling or whose images you’re using, and who is the ultimate intended audience. If these elements don’t connect with each other, you need to dig deeper. I would avoid stock images in your DEI initiatives because they look tacky and often disingenuous. If your client provides photos, I would ask them where/when they came from, and do your own research to see if they’ve used the same few DEI images for years (for example, if they happened to have a function where there was more diverse attendance than normal) and if they still have working relationships with the stakeholders in the images. If possible, consider running your campaign by someone who does not look or think like you (or your client) for a pulse check, and be prepared for honest feedback.

Thank you to Diana for participating in our guest blog series. And be sure to learn more about our Diversity Advisory Council members.

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