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Open Mic Diversity and Inclusion Media

The commercial case for intentional media investment - and how to ensure its success

IPG Mediabrands


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March 6, 2024 | 8 min read

Intentional investment in diverse-owned media has historically come packaged with a moral or societal agenda. But, says Chloe Barnes (senior vice president of equity investment at Magna Global), it also represents an increasingly smart play for brands seeking a commercial edge.

Intentional media investment creates a more equitable media landscape. Proactively allocating advertising dollars to diversely-owned  media businesses increases representation, elevates diverse voices, closes economic gaps, and drives positive social change. 


And whether it goes to outlets that are owned by Black, Indigenous, LGBTQIA+, women, veteran, or any other underrepresented group, intentional investment also makes commercial sense. 


But progress in this area still has room for improvement. 


In the wake of the social justice movements that stirred people to action in 2020, for example, many advertisers pledged to direct more spend toward Black-owned media outlets. These commitments  led to tangible increases – advertiser spending in Black-owned media has nearly tripled since 2020, reaching $880m in 2022 according to Afrotech. This is progress. But it still only accounts for 1.16% of total US advertising spend.  


However, since the pandemic and its recessionary aftershocks, advertising budgets have come under extreme pressure. Many agencies and marketers have reverted to reliance on more familiar and, what they believe to be, more cost-effective solutions like programmatic advertising. This, among other factors, has slowed intentional investment in smaller diversely-owned or focused media – not all of which have the scale or technical infrastructure for this automated approach.  


It’s time to re-think these notions and strategies.   

Why intentional investment is essential 

For the purposes of this article we’ll focus on the commercial rationale or business case for sustained intentional investment.  

The diverse and changing consumer landscape 

Audiences are changing. A 2022 Gallup study showed, for example, that while overall 7.2% of US adults identify as LGBTQIA+ , this figure rises to 11.2% among millennials, and to 19.7% among members of Generation Z. But by 2045 it is estimated that fewer than 50% of the population will be non-Hispanic white.  


With this growing diversification of the consumer landscape, intentional investment is key to organizations staying connected with – and relevant to – audience groups who shape culture and have the purchase power to move the economy. 

Authenticity equals impact   

Brands that only focus only on broad mainstream outlets miss the huge and growing commercial opportunity such consumer groups represent. 


Audiences are not monolithic and a person’s behavior and life experiences are often influenced by the intersection of multiple overlapping social identities. These lived experiences shape their media engagement. And brands can better connect with customers by aligning their media strategy, message, and ad content to the customer’s purpose and preferences for being on certain platforms. 


Niche media that emerged to fill the void left by mainstream outlets have built authentic connections with underrepresented and intersectional communities (such as being black, female, and LGBTQIA+ in America). And many of these communities represent a growing financial opportunity for brands. The Selig Center estimated the buying power for African American, Asian American and Native American consumers, is up from $458bn in 1990 to $3tn in 2020


A different way of looking at ROI 

Intentional media investment offers organizations a unique opportunity to maximize return on investment (ROI). 


With comprehensive media sourcing, taking in the full spread of diverse-owned media partners, intentional investment enables a new level of segmentation. When brands truly know their customers, they can then carefully select diverse audiences and markets where they have a higher chance of engaging authentically. This foundational work  has the potential to yield a far higher ROI on time and money.  


7 steps to intentional investment success 

Even with good intentions, energy, and motivation, embracing intentional investment successfully can be challenging. It requires the will to push past  established (sometimes easier) processes. Here are seven key steps to help along the way. 

1. Strategic alignment 

Make sure that your strategy is aligned to prioritize equity investment. Intentional investment needs to be an integral component of your overall strategic plan from the outset. It cannot be an additional or discretionary line item to consider once principal budget allocation across standard media options has been considered. Media strategies aligned in this way increase the likelihood that investment will continue to go to large, general market publishers and efforts to scale diverse-owned publications won't be prioritized. 

2. Broaden success metrics 

Traditionally, if you’re just looking at scale or reach as campaign success measures, the 'long tail' majority of smaller diverse-owned publishers are at risk of being dismissed. It’s important to re-evaluate what success looks like. Consider measures such as: 

  • Unique reach or audience engagement (such as time spent, repeat visits, social sharing) and how they translate to outcomes such as sales enquiries. 
  • Qualitative insights into brand perception and favorability, both inside and beyond the diverse communities reached.   

Expanding your range of legitimate success metrics can help level the playing field for smaller media by providing more holistic proof points of value from diverse-owned media partnerships. 

3. Source strategically 

Take in the full range of intentional investment options. If all media partners under review are based on decades-old retrospective relationships, it doesn’t allow for newer, nuanced, equity players to figure. 


Consider a request for information (RFI) process to draw in information from a broad spread of diverse-owned media partners. This enables the collation of information relevant to your success metrics, and allows brands to more objectively determine the diverse-owned media publishers best positioned to meet their business needs.  

4. Don’t think narrow, think specific 

Gaining the specificity of engagement offered by intentional investment might feel like a narrowing down of options. But anything lost in audience breadth is gained in audience depth – depth of understanding, engagement, and impact. It’s about connecting authentically with the best audiences for your brand.  

5. Ensure creative and UX authenticity 

Every step of the customer journey needs to be shaped by authentic audience engagement. It’s now more important than ever to ensure alignment with brand values and tailor campaign creative and end-to-end user experience to the audiences. Everything needs to be singing the same song because when it’s not, that’s when that authenticity and connection piece is broken. 

6. Look beyond tentpole advertising 

Intentional investment needs to be more than timing sporadic ad spend to intersect with annual cultural moments or tentpole opportunities such as Women’s History, Hispanic Heritage or Pride Month. This risks being seen as opportunistic and is unlikely to form valuable audience connections. Such advertising is better folded into sustained, strategic campaigns across relevant diverse-owned partner media. 

7. Invest with confidence 

Spend the money. Have faith in the commercial rationale behind placing greater media spend with diverse-owned media partners. It’s a proactive investment, future-proofing advertising campaigns, setting yourself up for success in an increasingly culturally diverse market.

Intentional investment – beyond a moment in time 

True intentional investment encompasses far more than media spend for specific social justice initiatives or tentpole events. Brands that fail to fully integrate it into their marketing strategy risk dilution of authenticity for their audiences. 

The real commercial advantage comes with sustained and proactive intentional investment, connecting with authenticity and engaging with a more inclusive and representative group of customers. This is the foundation of campaign success, now and in the future as consumer behavior, demographics and psychographics evolve. 

There is a long way to go in this journey, and it will require vigilance and commitment to action, but the benefits – both commercial and societal – make every step worthwhile. 

Open Mic Diversity and Inclusion Media


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