How to Address Gender Inequality in Advertising on a Large Scale
Jeanine Liburd, the chief marketing and communications officer for BET Networks, will be honored as a Brand Innovators Top 100 Women in Marketing & Advertising on Oct. 3 at Viacom. She will also appear on-stage at Advertising Week New York in the ‘The Power of #BlackTwitter Voices in Hollywood‘ panel on Oct. 4. But first, she kindly sat with us for an insightful Q&A in which she talked about gender, diversity, and the future of media.
As a Brand Innovators’ honoree, how do you see the current state of the industry regarding gender equality?
This March we saw the launch of the Times Up advertising initiative created to address some of the inequities facing women in the marketing and advertising industry. The launch of the Times Up initiative illustrates that there is still so much work to do around gender equality and parity across the industry. I think that as women, the biggest thing that we can do beyond speaking up and having a voice regarding the importance of this issue is to be mentors to the next generation. Provide guidance and mentorship to women that are starting their career and help guide and empower them through the tough times as well as celebrate them when they achieve success. As women, we have to look to each other and find strength in numbers to really address gender equality on a large scale.
What are some of your organization’s most successful initiatives when it comes to empowering women?
BET has a deep commitment to empowering women as evidenced by so many of our projects and initiatives. At more than 10 million strong, and in control of $20 billion in buying power, the African American woman is an increasingly powerful, yet often overlooked consumer. So in 2014, BET saw an opportunity to create a television network designed entirely for black women, and we named it BET Her. Today, BET Her is one of our stand-out properties featuring programming and films that speak about the unique experiences of black women. In addition to BET Her, for the past eight years, BET has partnered with DJ, author, and philanthropist Beverly Bond to bring her signature awards event to the big screen by producing Black Girls Rock! Affectionately known as BGR!, Black Girls Rock! has become the ultimate destination to celebrate Black Girl Magic and this year we honored Janet Jackson, Lena Waithe, Mary J Blige, Naomi Campbell and so many others. But we also use BGR! to honor unsung heroes like Tarana Burke and Naomi Wilder to show our audience that we rock across so many disciplines and sectors.
What are some of the challenges that brands face when addressing potentially controversial topics in their advertising?
Authenticity! And what I mean by that is; don’t create a diverse advertising campaign because it’s the hip, “of the moment” thing to do, without having a diverse workforce at the highest levels of your company. Don’t take on a highly charged issue in your marketing campaign, yet your company has no history of corporate philanthropy or cause marketing. And finally, don’t create content for people of color if people of color do not have a seat at the table when creating that content. Brands have to be authentic at all times, but especially when addressing controversial topics. It’s imperative that brands take a 360-degree approach to hot-button issues and are honest about who they are as a company, if not their audience might turn on them.
There is no doubt organizations are recruiting more inclusive teams at the junior and mid-levels, but how do we close the gender and minority gap in the C-suite?
Often times brands feel good about themselves when they walk into their office and see diverse faces throughout the office; they think they have figured it out. But I always encourage brands to do a simple litmus test. The next time you are in a senior leadership meeting, a meeting where high-level decisions are being made about branding, business development, sales, acquisitions, etc., take a moment and look around the room. If you don’t see a critical mass of women or minorities in that room, sitting at the table with you, then you have work to do as a company. At that point, it’s time to start really assessing your company culture, your hiring practices, your retention issues and start to make a plan. But avoid making that plan in a silo. Brands should consider hiring diversity and inclusion consultants to help them on this journey because closing the diversity gap won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
What excites you about the future of media?
What excites me about the future of media are the diverse voices that are coming to the forefront to tell their unique stories. The internet and social media have democratized access to content and voices that may not have gotten a meeting with a studio head or a well-known producer, can now create their own content and connect directly to their audiences. Creators like Issa Rae, Lena Waithe, and Ava DuVernay to name a few, these are women that are shattering perceptions around what it means to be a black woman and the type of stories we are expected to tell. To me, the future of media is so bright, and it’s only just the beginning.
Jeanine D. Liburd is the Chief Marketing & Communications Officer for BET Networks, a unit of Viacom Inc. (NASDAQ: VIA, VIAB) and the leading provider of quality entertainment for the African-American audience and consumers of Black culture globally. In her role, Liburd oversees all facets of strategic and creative brand development, consumer marketing and cross-business initiatives.
Liburd joined BET Networks in 2007 after working with various divisions under the Viacom banner in 2000. Most recently, she was Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications for Viacom, where she oversaw all media relations initiatives and corporate messages for the company’s business units, including MTV Networks, BET Networks and Paramount Pictures. Prior to that, she was Vice President of Corporate Communications for MTV Networks.
Before joining MTV Networks, Liburd was Vice President at Robinson, Lerer and Montgomery (RLM), a strategic communications firm, where she worked with clients such as Oxygen, CNBC, AOL and Showtime. Prior to communications, she worked on urban and family policy within New York Mayor Dinkins’ administration, Donna Shalala and the Department of Health and Human Services and with the Clinton administration.
Affiliated with a number of professional, civic and cultural organizations, Liburd serves on the board of ColorComm, the Corporate Advisory Council for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board for New York Public Radio, the Apollo EmpowHer steering committee and the Board of Directors for the Weeksville Heritage Center.
She is a graduate of Vassar College and holds an M.S. in Urban Policy from The New School University for Social Research.