How Digital Media Can Stay One Step Ahead of the Diversity Revolution

At a NewFronts town hall, moderator Monique Nelson warned that 'culture eats strategy for breakfast'

Screenshot from NewFronts town hall
A NewFronts town hall on diversity brought together agency, digital, finance and mass media for a critical conversation on racial equity. NewFronts
Headshot of Mary Emily O

June 2020’s upheaval around racial justice has been at times painful, at times empowering and hopeful, and at times humbling. In the professional sphere, there’s not an industry that hasn’t felt the impact of the latest iteration of the Black Lives Matter movement.

That’s why this year’s NewFronts includes a critical town hall discussion on race and inequality in digital media.

Moderator Monique Nelson, chair and CEO at UWG, described the year as a “trisis,” with three major crisis moments: the pandemic, the recession and the police killings of George Floyd and other Americans that kicked off global protests. She was joined by Jonathan Hodge, svp of wealth management at UBS; Cavel Khan, chief revenue officer at Tumblr; and Lena Wasikowski, vp of global client relations and content distribution at WarnerMedia.

Nelson said that each organization’s response to diversity and inclusion overhaul should include what she called the “three A’s:” acknowledgement and assessment, an action plan and accountability. And yes, that does include putting your money where your mouth is.

Hodge said that when it comes to the financial industry, “Black wealth has a different perspective on things.”

“It’s about investing and creating long-term wealth that can be passed down through generations,” Hodge said. “This moment creates an opportunity to talk about that.”

Some of that wealth can be driven by the digital industry itself.

“You have agencies ready to take on multicultural RFP’s, but you rarely see multicultural agencies being given the opportunity to pitch for general market,” Khan said. He suggested that brands take the lead on changing that by working with more Black-led and diverse teams and agencies in general—and by refusing to work with teams on general market campaigns unless they are diverse.

“This isn’t just our moment,” said Khan. “But is shared by all of the diversity groups across the country.”

90% of the market growth is coming from Black, Latino and Asian communities, said Nelson. And because “culture eats strategy for breakfast” and Gen Z will settle for nothing less than seeing their values reflected, the industry had better be ready—yesterday.

Wasikowski said that as a white person who wasn’t born in the U.S., she’s felt a responsibility to educate herself about Black American history, and to take the pressure off her Black colleagues. From a content perspective, WarnerMedia has done things like make films—such as Michael B. Jordan’s Just Mercy—available to the public for free.

Nelson wrapped up the session with a reminder that racial justice work is a marathon, not a sprint. She asked each panelist, including herself, to offer one word to summarize this moment. Together, those words were: strength, community, hope and resilience.

@MaryEmilyOHara Mary Emily O'Hara is a diversity and inclusion reporter. They specialize in covering LGBTQ+ issues and other underrepresented communities.