Within the last few months, scandals from luxury brands Gucci, Prada and Burberry have rocked the fashion industry and captured the public’s attention. The general consensus is that these companies have created products that are hurtful and deeply offensive to many. There is a clear and evident need for a deeper understanding of diversity and inclusion, as there seems to be a lot of uncertainty and confusion within organizations. How does fostering a more diverse and inclusive workplace impact the development, marketing and advertising of products? Marketing professional Kerel Cooper sat down to discuss this question in more detail. Cooper is the Senior Vice President of Global Marketing at LiveIntent, Inc. and started a podcast called The Minority Report, which highlights individuals from diverse backgrounds in advertising and marketing.
Janice Gassam: So, the timing of this interview couldn’t be more impeccable. It seems like every other day we are hearing about companies under fire for creating products or ad campaigns that are offensive to the public. What were your initial thoughts when you heard about the controversy surrounding many of these well-known brands as of late? If you read the public reaction, there seems to be two varying beliefs. Do you feel like these missteps are the result of a lack of knowledge, awareness, and understanding or do you feel like companies do this on purpose to cause controversy and get more publicity, even if it’s bad publicity? From a marketing standpoint, what are your thoughts?
Kerel Cooper: …When I see these types of ads, lack of diversity within those organizations is really the first thing that come[s] top of mind for me…the other thing that comes top of mind for me…is as a parent of two young girls, these are certainly not the sort of images and wording that I want them to see when it represents people that look like them.
Gassam: What are some ways that companies can be more inclusive in their marketing to prevent situations like this from happening?
Cooper: I think there are…two main avenues. One is education, internally, about different cultures…people come from different backgrounds. The other part of that is hiring practices…there’s a lot of talk out there about diversity…and inclusion, but it’s time for a lot of companies, quite frankly, to stop talking and start taking real tangible steps and be actionable about what they want to do from a diversity and inclusion perspective…there’s plenty of stats out there that show more diversity…towards the top of the organization…is beneficial in a number of different areas…I think part of this is on senior leadership within an organization…but then also part of this is on your standard employees within the organization to hold not only their executives accountable but [to hold] their peers accountable…one of the things I’m doing here at LiveIntent as a senior leader is I am personally pushing our People Dev team to look at ways for us to be more diverse, whether that’s looking at the pay scale by gender and ethnicity…whether that’s looking at the breakdown of diversity within each department…even from a partnership perspective too…one of the things that we looked at when we were even hiring a P.R. firm is how diverse the company we wanted to hire was too…it needs to be everyone in the organization pushing each other.
Gassam: Do you think companies are able to recover from the marketing mishaps and snafus we have been hearing about?
Cooper: I do think companies can recover…but I think the way they have to go about doing it has to be authentic…and there has to be some action behind it…what I also do think is important, though, is that…we as a society not forget…which I think at times, we as a society do too easily…attention spans seem to be less and less…I think if companies go about it the right way and they’re authentic and there is action behind it, they can certainly recover from it.
Gassam: You have a podcast called the Minority Report. The focus of that podcast is on marketing and advertising. Can you explain more about the idea behind that?
Cooper: We started the podcast back in June of last year…the idea is to really create a platform for people of color, [from] diverse backgrounds, women, the LGBTQ community within marketing and advertising to tell their story…it’s less about marketing and advertising jargon and more about understanding the person’s background…their upbringing, how they got into marketing and advertising, their thoughts on diversity and inclusion in the space, and how we can make it better…and really giving advice to anyone that is currently in the space or anyone looking to come into the space…it’s to really give people a platform to be themselves and sell their story.
Gassam: Do you have any tips for marketing professionals hoping to foster a more diverse and inclusive workplace?
Cooper: Be yourself as much as possible…be authentic. I think that as a marketing professional, the only way you will be successful…is to be yourself. The second piece of advice is…to get involved in the diversity and inclusion conversation…it’s not for one group, it’s for everybody…hold your coworkers accountable, hold your executives accountable, and hold your partners that you work with accountable as well.