Independent Influence: W+K’s On She Goes encourages women of color to embrace the travel bug

Welcome to Independent Influence, a weekly series that spotlights the work, perspectives and inspirations behind independent agencies across the country. This week we're featuring Wieden + Kennedy's creation of On She Goes, a travel website for women of color.

There is no shortage of travel tips, information and recommendations online that detail everything from hotels that won’t break the bank to worthy tourist attractions, but too often these articles fail to address people of color - specifically women - and the different set of challenges and concerns they face when planning a trip.

That’s why a six-person group of women at Wieden + Kennedy recently rolled out a travel platform called On She Goes that is meant to serve as a resource for women of color who are looking for travel advice and stories that they can relate to and benefit from.

Launched in May of this year, the site was essentially an experiment born out of Wieden + Kennedy’s publishing arm last year as a way to learn more about audience development and how to build a following. When brainstorming about which audience they’d like to try and reach with their content venture, some of the agency’s staffers pointed out that there aren’t a ton of resources that cater to the needs and preferences of women of color who enjoy traveling or want to travel.

“When we did a deep dive of research, what we found was that women of color are traveling. They want to travel but they have different needs when it comes to travel,” said Dez Ramirez, assistant publisher at Wieden + Kennedy. “We didn’t really see too much out there that was addressing those needs. So there’s a little bit of a void I guess you could say.”

While Ramirez acknowledges that platforms like Travel Noire and Nomadness Travel Tribe have done a good job of establishing and fostering a black travel community, she said her team was looking to create something that would speak to all women of color, particularly since the core On She Goes founders all hail from different backgrounds: the team is made up of three black women, two Asian woman and Ramirez, who is Latina.

“The way we sort of approached brainstorming and developing content was meeting day after day and doing big brainstorms and thinking of story ideas based on our own experiences and our own observations in our lives,” said Ramirez. “Everyone just had really different perspectives to bring. It was super interesting.”

Much of the content on the site is written by the core On She Goes team and other Wieden + Kennedy staffers, but a good chunk of it comes from contributing writers who are eager to share their own stories and opinions with fellow travelers. While some of them are bloggers who are just starting out, others are established writers who’ve written for big-name publications like Ebony and Essence.

“We’re providing a resource for women of color, but we’re also giving back an opportunity to them to be content creators and get published and tell their story and let their story be heard,” said Ramirez.

Aside from written content, On She Goes also boasts regular video and podcast series. One of the video series currently running on the site, Travel Hacks, stars YouTuber and TEDx Portland host Lindsey Murphy as she discusses everything from road trip tips to must-sees and must-dos for women of color visiting Portland, Oregon.

Aminatou Sow, co-host of Call Your Girlfriend and co-founder of Tech LadyMafia, has her own podcast on the site where she hosts guests and dishes out advice on things like business travel and touring as a woman of color.

“Our big goal is to just foster a community around this platform,” said Ramirez. “Growing that community and feeling like their needs are being met by content that we’re making is a huge goal.”

Gaining traction

On She Goes is currently being fully funded by Wieden + Kennedy as part of the agency’s publishing department, which helps brands create “relevant and compelling content” for their most valuable audiences. The hope is that On She Goes will not only grow into a go-to travel platform for women of color, but also help the agency unearth valuable insights around what it takes to be a publisher in today’s world.

In addition to producing and filming video and audio content in-house, the Portland-based agency pays contributing writers $150-250 for their work. Although the On She Goes team isn’t opposed to exploring advertising opportunities down the line to support the site, they felt that it was important to launch it without any external investment to give themselves the freedom to explore and experiment.

“Had we put the burden of monetizing on it right out of the gate, I think that would have held the project back in some respects,” said Jessica Monsey, director of client services at Wieden + Kennedy. “We want to do everything in a very authentic manner. We don’t want this to turn into something that is traditionally ad supported.”

If and when On She Goes does decide to turn to advertising to help keep things up and running, Monsey said they’ll be looking for brand partners who can help them “provide opportunities for the women who are in our communities who are writing about their experiences.” For instance, an outdoor company could potentially help set up an outdoorsy outing or adventure for a group of contributors who could in turn write about their experience and share their perspectives on the site.

“The sponsors that we would be looking for are people who just want to create an increasingly valuable resource to these women as they go off to explore new parts of the world,” said Monsey.

Even though On She Goes is still in its early days, the platform has seen some promising growth: according to Wieden + Kennedy, the site has 31,000 average monthly users and 6,000 fans across its social media channels. Over the past four months, the team has been keeping an eye on what sorts of content is gaining traction and what people are responding to so they can get a better idea of what their readers are looking for.

Ramirez said one of the site’s most successful pieces of content to date is an article titled ‘Six Latinx-Owned Restaurants in Portland You Need to Visit.’ According to Ramirez, the article “caught like wildfire” this summer after two white women in Portland made national headlines for selling burritos from a food cart that were made using recipes stolen from Mexico. The pair were accused of cultural appropriation and their business shut down shortly afterwards.

“This thing happened, and coincidentally one of our writers who is Latina had written a piece for us completely separate from the situation,” said Ramirez. “God bless her, she just started re-sharing that in her network. She just responded to that situation with an action item. We saw how well that did and how much people were interested in that piece.”

Seeing that the topic of cultural appropriation proved to be popular amongst readers, On She Goes has since published other pieces on the subject, like ‘Be Better: A Guide to Avoid Cultural Appropriation’ and ‘Five Black-Owned Restaurants in Crown Heights, Brooklyn’ (the latter of which was written shortly after a white woman was accused of racism and gentrification for opening a trendy restaurant in the neighborhood and touting its “bullet hole-ridden” wall).

“We’re writing editorial like that because we want to encourage women of color travelers and travelers that just end up seeing that content to make more conscious decisions as they’re traveling around food and around businesses that they’re supporting,” said Ramirez.

Changing with the times

Even though On She Goes is a digital-only platform, the site has taken a page from the magazine world’s playbook: every quarter, On She Goes unveils a new theme to curate content around to help keep things fresh and give the site some structure.

The site’s launch theme was ‘We Belong Here,’ which Ramirez said “explored the notion of women of color belonging everywhere and feeling comfortable and safe in the spaces that they want to be in.” The current theme, ‘Make It Work,’ is exploring the highs and lows of obligatory travel, like work trips and weddings. In November, On She Goes will unveil its third theme, ‘Homeland,’ which will focus on what it’s like to return to your roots.

“We are going to be curating stories around what it’s like to go back home and what it’s like to go back to your motherland and experience your culture,” said Ramirez. “I think a lot of our content contributors are really excited about that one.”

Aside from the quarterly themes, the site is also spotlighting different cities each quarter via features and articles that are meant to serve as city guides of sorts for women of color. So far, On She Goes has spotlighted Wieden + Kennedy’s home base of Portland as well as Los Angeles. New York City is on deck for next quarter.

While it may seem odd to choose Los Angeles and New York since both harbor diverse populations, Monsey said they chose to feature them because they’re two of the easiest cities to become overwhelmed by and get lost in.

“From a data perspective, Los Angeles and New York are two of the most traveled cities for women of color within the United States,” said Monsey. “Despite the fact that you have huge communities of people who are representative of the audience in those cities, they can also be the most unwieldy to visit. A lot of people go to New York City and get sucked into the typical tourist destinations. It’s sad to go to a place that can be as stimulating and amazing as New York or Los Angeles but spend a week there and feel acutely unfulfilled because you don’t feel like you actually tapped into the parts of the culture that would most resonate with what you care about or are interested in.”

Just like most of the content on the site, the city guides feature both practical advice for women of color as well as pieces that deal with more serious subject matter. Case in point: the ‘Portland’ hub features both an article about where to find black hair care in Portland as well as a longer piece titled ‘So, you’ve decided to move to Portland?’ that details why the largely white city is a “deeply complex vortex for people of color to call home.”

Since stories like the aforementioned aren’t likely to be published in the latest issue of Travel + Leisure, Ramirez is hoping that On She Goes can help fill a void for women of color travelers who are looking for answers to some of their most pressing questions.

“In this day and age you do see diversity attempts within travel media and travel publications, but it doesn’t feel genuine or authentic to us,” she said. “There are nuanced experiences that women of color have while they travel. They’re down to the littlest things like hair and personal care products, and understanding how they’re going to be perceived in certain countries. Those stories we're just not seeing in mainstream travel media.”

Whether or not On She Goes will become a premier destination for women of color remains to be seen, but in the meantime, Wieden + Kennedy is happy to keep investing resources into it to see where it goes and what kind of impact it could potentially have.

“We’re not an organization that rests on our laurels,” said Monsey. “We’re constantly experimenting and trying to figure new things out. The reason why this project was really interesting to us is we think that at it’s heart it might be the kind of thing brands need to start thinking about creating more often in order to provide value to the audiences that are valuable to them and to their business.”

Independent Influence is supported by Choozle, an independent digital advertising platform.

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