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Coronavirus: How diversity and inclusion during COVID-19 has flipped a key element of advertising

Lianna Brinded
Head of Yahoo Finance UK
Gathering for a DIAL Global Digital Summit, executives at the world’s largest organisations discussed how companies can lead and win through inclusion. (Getty)

The world is trying to navigate a new way of working amid the coronavirus pandemic. But leaders are keen to make sure that efforts to make the workplace as diverse and inclusive as possible are still high on the agenda. Ultimately, diversity and inclusion isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also good for business.

“It is a fact that a company with a more diverse workforce performs better financially. The business case remains robust that those with diversity on executive teams are more likely to have financial outperformance — those stats have strengthened over time,” said Leila McKenzie Delis, CEO of diversity and inclusion membership organisation DIAL Global.

She added that even if a company has improved its diversity, it still needs to be “bold” to foster inclusion and belonging and use Employee Resource Groups (ERG) and Business Resource Groups (BRG) to empower underrepresented groups.

Gathering for a DIAL Global Digital Summit, where Verizon Media is a strategic partner, executives at the world’s largest organisations discussed how companies can lead and win through inclusion and how organisations can craft better inclusion strategies for a competitive edge.

Christopher Kenna, CEO and founder of Brand Advance was on the first panel, alongside
David Grevemberg CBE, CEO of The Commonwealth Games Federation, and Ben Page, CEO at gold standard pollsters Ipsos Mori UK and Ireland.

READ MORE: DIAL Global Virtual Summit: Google, Amazon, Unilever execs talk about diversity and inclusion

Brand Advance is a marketing company that helps governments and brands reach diverse communities at scale. Kenna pointed out that during the coronavirus pandemic, he has actually seen the group’s revenue grow 400% globally due to governments and companies doing a complete pivot on the consumers they want to reach.

“Around three months ago, you would see likes of bus drivers and cleaners being called ‘low-paid workers’ — they are now known as ‘key workers’,” said Kenna.

“Previously, no marketers put much effort to reach that demographic, such as the over 50-years-old, those with disability, or from various backgrounds. Now every government and brand wants to reach key workers. There has been a whole of landmark change in how they want to reach people.”

Kenna outlined how, prior to coronavirus, brands and governments would see Brand Advance as an “outside agency” and would go to the likes of marketing giants WPP (WPP.L) for “mainstream” consumers and Brand Advance for the “Other.” Now, they are flocking to Brand Advance because they represent millions of people they want and need to reach during the crisis.

Kenna’s Brand Advance company also leads by example. Kenna says the groups is a “Noah’s Ark of diversity” as there’s “two of everyone.” Part of the birth of Brand Advance came from his passion to make the world a more equal place. He said “I am a black, gay CEO with two teenage kids — one boy who is mixed-race and one girl who is white and blonde.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Lockdown measures could widen gender pay gap in UK

“I want to make sure my children are treated equally and I will shout out every day until that happens. Everyone should be on even keel.”

In terms of the COVID-19 pandemic being a pivotal moment to create social change and business for the better, Kenna said “change happens a whole lot faster if there is a commercial change to show for it.”

He said that, at the end of the day, “advertisers and brands want to get their goods or services in front of as many people as possible and get them to buy things they didn’t even know that they wanted.

“Now they are reaching huge demographics and millions of people they didn’t necessarily do before at scale, and for a lot less than two months ago. I have a ray of hope that when [C-suite] look at their marketing spend in months down the line, they’ll realise that cost per acquisition fell down while reaching larger demographics” and that they will continue the trend in putting ad spend down in the same way.