More ad spend is going toward Black-owned media, but will it last?

“This could very much only be a moment instead of a movement, if we let it,” Detavio Samuels, CEO of Revolt, told us.
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Francis Scialabba

· 5 min read

After advertisers made promises to sustainably invest in Black-owned media last year, publishers feel cautiously optimistic as the 2022 upfronts begin.

Rewind: A year after the death of George Floyd and a swell of corporate statements regarding the disparities and gaps facing Black Americans, some of the largest media agencies, including IPG Mediabrands and GroupM, made public commitments to invest in Black-owned media properties, which advertisers have chronically under-invested in.

Crucially, these were commitments to Black-owned media, not Black-targeted media.

So, uh, how’s it going?

Last year, GroupM asked clients to spend at least 2% of their annual media budgets on Black-owned media. In June, 20 of its clients—including DoorDash, General Mills, and Target—agreed to.

Gonzalo Del Fa, president of GroupM’s multicultural division, told Marketing Brew that GroupM’s coalition is on track to clear its goal, as 1.8% of their collective budgets have been allocated to Black-owned publishers. At least 10 of the 20 clients hit the 2% goal by the end of 2021, he said.

“This is a little bit of a learning curve that we are all going through and, even though we were already spending with minority partners before meeting [our] inclusion initiative, we have a much stronger commitment now, and we want to follow through with that commitment,” said Del Fa.

Dani Benowitz, president of IPG agency Magna US, said that IPG is making “significant progress” on its commitment to invest at least 5% of client spend in Black-owned media by 2023, but declined to provide specific details.

In March, TV entrepreneur Byron Allen hosted the Black-Owned Media Upfront, and at this year’s IAB NewFronts presentations, one morning was allotted to the topic of inclusion, where three Black-owned publishers gave presentations.

And yet

Some Black-owned publishers say that, while they have made gains, they are still not equitably invested in.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, in terms of actual spend with Black media,” Detavio Samuels, CEO of Revolt, told us. “I would say it’s a nervous optimism. There’s a view that…the ones that were going to move may have moved already.”

Pitching the media company has gotten easier and buyers are more aware of Revolt, he said. Since 2021, Revolt has worked with 100 new clients and advertisers, including Amazon, Meta, and Walmart, and the company’s digital revenue increased five-fold between 2020 and 2021.

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Samuels is expecting about 50% growth year over year in 2022, though he declined to provide specific figures. “This could very much only be a moment instead of a movement, if we let it,” he said. “We are moving with such urgency because we don’t know that this money is going to be here in a year, or in 18 months, or two years.”

Simone White, SVP of revenue for Blavity, a media company with six brands under its belt, said the biggest shift she’s seen is the way agencies approach the request-for-proposal process; previously, they were generic, but now, they’re tailored towards Blavity itself.

Blavity’s net-new advertising investment increased 20%–40% between 2020 and 2021, White said, and existing advertisers upped their spend during that time period, though she declined to name specific brands.

“Started at a deficit”

Progress may be happening, but issues persist—and some say these commitments are ringing hollow. Both White and Samuels were critical of brands that rely on programmatic advertising to fulfill their commitments, with Samuels calling it “performative,” as easy to switch off as it is to turn on.

“It needs to be a significant product mix. Programmatic buying is fine. With that being said, if they really want to reach Black audiences, then they’re going to need to do more than just run ads,” White told Marketing Brew. “Invest in customer content, invest in display media with custom creative, invest in event productions...Otherwise, their investment is shallow.”

These investments aren’t universally felt throughout Black media. Other publishers, like Roland Martin, CEO of the Black Star Network and host of a YouTube news series called Roland Martin Unfiltered, called the promises “lip service.”

“What most of these major brands and agencies have done is reward us with meetings,” he told Marketing Brew.

GroupM’s Del Fa countered the criticism, arguing that not all Black-owned publishers are getting media spend from clients. “Of course, you’re going to have partners say, ‘We’re not seeing that money from GroupM.’ Of course, we did not do that with everybody, but we did that for many, many partners,” he said.

And despite its flood of investment last year, Samuels was quick to point out that Revolt “started at a deficit. We started with scarcity.” It remains to be seen what the rest of the year—and years to come—will bring.

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