In recent years I’ve been working heavily within social media and influencer marketing, building influencer networks for various brands to promote fashion and beauty products. I work visually so rather than names on a list I make boards with faces, I like to see what my little crews look like together, and something I’ve always been praised on is how diverse my networks are. I’ve worked on campaigns in Europe, South Africa, Australia, Israel and Japan and in each of the countries I’ve been able to find a diverse group of people to fit within my client’s needs. I’m part of a large friendship group of curly-haired influencers who “look a lot like me” and as easy as it would be to just fill the lists with these friends, I take my time to make sure what I’m proposing is diverse and welcoming to a large audience. This is something I’ve found to be uncommon within a lot of marketing & PR teams and it’s infuriating.
A few months ago, before I went freelance, I was on Instagram and I became engrossed with a big brand’s influencer trip to LA. I was clicking through to the influencer’s, videographer’s and PR manager’s stories, basically feeling like I was there with them. Five/ six influencers were flown from London to LA for the launch of a new product, all were women who looked almost identical; same style, same skin tone, same straight hair. The only feature that made me slightly happy was that they were all brunette and not blonde. The purpose of influencer marketing is to widen your audience through reaching the influencer’s following. If these women all looked and dressed the same, I imagine their demographic would be pretty much identical too.We tend to follow people on social media that we look like or aspire to look or be like – hence why my feed is filled with black mixed race curly-haired women who share their haircare tips, and female founders who share their business tips. From school to university, a lot of jobs and even nights out, I am and have been the few. One of very few people of colour in the room. It’s something I’ve learned to live with and be comfortable with throughout my life through necessity, and it’s something a lot of my colleagues, friends and even family don’t ever have to think about or experience. When you look around the room and everyone looks like you, it’s easy to think that there’s nothing wrong. Generally, in London when marketers or PRs look around their offices they are one of many pretty, white, females who have been hired by middle-aged white men to market a product. When they are building their influencer networks, where are they looking? At their Instagram feeds that are full of people that look like them and who they aspire to be. And if on the rare occasion they are asked to add a bit of diversity to the mix they call on one of ten influencers of colour that are on rotation, normally not caring if they actually fit in with the brief or would actually use the product they’re being asked to promote.
My good friend Simone Powderly is a model and mental health activist, a few months ago she met with a very well known talent management agency about getting on their books. The conversation she had makes me laugh to this day. The woman (white woman may I add) told her there wasn’t room for her on their books at the moment as they already had three models with her “look”. The other models on their books that had Simone’s “look” all happen to be friends of ours and LOOK nothing like Simone. Completely different body types, face shapes and hair lengths. However, what was similar was their skin tone, all of these girls were light skin, black mixed raced women (the acceptable version of black, but that’s another blogpost).
There are many brands that are actually nailing it when it comes to diversity, the likes of ASOS, PUMA, Nike, United Colours of Benetton, but there are so many brands that have a LONG way to go. I remember getting sent through a campaign from a massive Italian fashion house that needed to be signed off imminently. The tag line was INSERT BRAND NAME is the new black, and the model they used for all the campaign imagery was black… come on. You had months to create this campaign and this is what you’ve come to me with. I had three hours to change their catchphrase before the weekend hit and the global team were hit with all the bad press. Nobody else in my team saw a problem with this but when I put it out to my trusted (and diverse) WhatsApp group they confirmed my suspicions. Safe to say we removed the tag line.