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“Brands need to reach diverse audiences or they won’t survive”: Brand Advance on authentically inclusive advertising

Going from five to a hundred staff in 2020, the consultancy and creative agency has become a leading partner for brands who want to reach beyond a straight, white customer base.

A New Angle is an editorial series that aims to give a platform to creative industry changemakers who make it their mission to disrupt the status quo. Each week we’ll chat to a person or team doing important work in the sector, making it a fairer place, championing vital causes, supporting underrepresented groups and tackling pertinent issues facing creatives everywhere.

This week we speak to Mitch Bailey, creative producer at diversity media network Brand Advance. Founded by Christopher Kenna in 2017, the business set out to connect brands with under-served audiences, ie. people of colour and LGBTQIA+ communities, working within the advertising industry to offer insights and consultancy on how to do so. It grew slowly, then in 2020 the Black Lives Matter movement saw brands and agencies unilaterally make promises to change their ways, and many looked to Brand Advance for help. This saw the company grow from five to a hundred staff in a short time, broadening its remit to span creative content production, among other things. Mitch tells us more about this crazy year and the work it’s continuing to do.

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INT: What is your mission, and what about the creative industry are you hoping to change?

Mitch Bailey: Brand Advance launched at a pivotal time for society and our industry, with the mission to help brands reach diverse audiences at scale authentically, through our diverse media network. However, it wasn’t until 2020 when we really started to see an uptick in brands putting words into action. In turn, we saw significant growth as a business, with a 400 per cent increase in Black media advertising spend. This presented the ideal time to expand the business to meet the growing needs of brands and advertisers, so we launched Brand Advance Creative to support them at every stage of their campaign journey.

What makes us unique is our team is made up of the diverse audiences we are aiming to reach, which means we are able to assist in developing innovative content that is created by the community and demographic brands are looking to reach. This means every campaign we work on is uniquely representative of its target audience and most importantly, completely authentic. We have already worked on some great projects with, L’Oreal, Kiehl’s, GSK, Dial Summit 3, and Brixton Finishing School, and I’m very excited to continue to help how we can.

INT: Tell us a bit about your background, or the background to the organisation, and what led you to this point?

MB: I started my career working in the merchandise industry, where I was designing toys based on films for some big brands as well as well producing TV licenses, quite the eclectic mix. I then made the jump into advertising in 2019, when I took a freelance position with Brand Advance to edit a six-part documentary series capturing the LGBTQIA+ community in London. The rest is history! I think the real starting point for the business was when CEO Chris Kenna noticed that brands were targeting his white daughter and mixed-race son in a significantly different way. He wanted to create a platform to help educate brands and marketers on the importance of reaching diverse demographics at scale, and so Brand Advance was born. Since its launch the business has grown alongside the increased demand from brands for more diversity and inclusion strategies for their campaigns.

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INT: What are the major challenges you’re facing, and why?

MB: It’s no secret that diverse groups are significantly under-represented in the media. In today’s world, brands need to reach these communities, or the reality is they won’t survive. So we’re here to be the partner that can help them do this. Our biggest challenge is getting people to stop and listen and understand that the key to being truly diverse and inclusive begins and ends with authenticity. If you aren’t authentic, people won’t believe it and it won’t stick.

The last year has been challenging to say the least. We found our feet and adjusted to a new normal, however, it wouldn’t be fair to say it has been all bad, it’s a time that has encouraged positive change within the industry. The Black Lives Matter movement shone an important light on issues many were aware of but weren’t talking about. It was a time where we saw key workers from underrepresented backgrounds given the chance to be seen and heard. Although there is a long way to go, I expect continued positive steps from the industry in the right direction, as we come together to enact this necessary change.

INT: How are you tackling them?

MB: We are helping brands prove that they can create effective campaigns for diverse communities, using tools that assist us with media planning and audience insights. Our mission is to help brands reach such groups in a meaningful and purposeful way, with the focus on putting words into action and helping brands realise their diversity dividend. One of the ways we do this is with our 7/10 rule: each campaign we work on is measured against a focus group made up of the audiences and communities we are aiming to target. There’s no legroom here, each campaign must have at least a 70 per cent approval rating before it can launch.

INT: How can the creative industry help your mission?

MB: Diversity should and needs to be at every part of a campaign and media strategy, only when we all start to have this mindset will we begin to see real long lasting change. The key to enacting this change is collaboration, brands and creatives need to come together as an industry. The more we lean on one another for support, the greater chance we have of utilising talent from all backgrounds in every field, to create advertising that is a true reflection of society.

The first step is to be more aware of the diverse talent in the industry and how we can retain it. Looking within to promote talent but also hiring from all backgrounds is essential. By marginalising certain communities we are seriously harming our ability to be able to create the best advertising we can.

Brands need to look past the acknowledgement that change needs to happen and start actually taking action. We are here to help and we want to where we can.

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