We’ve all seen the racist or homophobic ads and the inappropriate super bowl (possibly funny?) commercial that leaves us cringing and wondering “What were they thinking?” Yet, when we talk about what we’ve seen with our friends and colleagues, we find that reaching consensus on the appropriateness of these matters is not always achievable. My experience suggests that even within organizations whose business it is to monitor the landscape for potentially offensive words and images, there is often disagreement about the boundaries.
As companies try to be edgy and innovative, the impact of a well thought through diversity and inclusion strategy is often overlooked. As communications professionals, one of our responsibilities is to minimize risk for our clients. I think the big question we need to address is this: How can we provide useful insight to clients who want to be “edgy” without offending or excluding the very people they want to reach?
If the company or any of its brands has had a legacy of issues with diverse audiences, or if it is simply an unknown quantity with no real investment in diverse communities, you may need to rethink the execution. Putting a process in place and getting diverse perspectives to weigh in may not be a bad idea, and you may want to consider engaging stakeholders early on in the process.
Our clients don’t need to stifle creativity when it comes to communicating with diverse audiences, and marketing teams will not take too kindly to a process which polices and neutralizes potentially fun, engaging and provocative (in a good way) concepts. In fact, the right process might even provide greater insight that can lead to greater differentiation and an even greater connection with all audiences.
The diversity “mindset” can be a true catalyst for innovation in today’s global village. Whether you are communicating to the diverse communities in the United States, or to a broader international audience, looking at your audiences through a multi-colored lens not only mitigates risk, but spurs the creative innovation we are all eager to achieve.
Nelson Fernandez, managing director of APCO Worldwide’s New York office, provides counsel to APCO clients on corporate communication, corporate giving, issues and crisis management and media training. As a member of the New York office’s leadership team, Fernandez is also responsible for developing new business opportunities and new products and services.