PRs: beware unconscious bias when choosing influencers

Yep, here comes an opinion piece from a straight white woman talking about race and diversity.

But I guess that’s the point, because until we all get a lot more people from under-represented groups into our organisations, I represent 92 per cent (what a statistic, right?!) of our profession – and me and the other white people have a lot of work to do.

Like many of you, I have completed my employer’s unconscious bias training. It took several hours, was marginally insightful, I ticked the box and moved on.

In the past few weeks I have reflected on unconscious bias. The anti-racism protests at home and abroad have made us all question how we advocate and act on anti-racism – or at least I hope they have.

But what of the role we play as client counsel? Here’s where the white woman thing comes in again. How is our unconscious bias contributing to important issues like who we are shortlisting to be the face of a brand campaign, or influencers to create content with? This is an extraordinarily important role and power that we hold. Simple awareness could quickly start to make an impact on BAME (black, Asian, and minority ethnic) representation across the media; its significance cannot be underestimated.

Our starting point is always the audience. How do we find the insight that makes the connection and gets the attention? We spend a lot of time analysing the brand’s audience data and community insight – what is their gender identification, ethnicity, world outlook?

However, when we are building influencer ecosystems, or deciding on which celebrity to launch a campaign with, it isn’t enough to just hold a mirror up to the audience and show an image of themselves reflected back. That’s just a visual echo chamber. The brand’s job, with our guidance, is to normalise the inclusion of other ethnicities in mainstream comms.

And that’s before we even start on the parity of pay between influencers of similar community size, but different races. Hopefully, most of you are like us and grade pay on factors like reach, not race; but we know it happens – the chatter within the influencer community is evidence enough.

We have to be very deliberate and considered when it comes to making recommendations to clients of who they should be working with and what that person looks like. It is too easy for that bias to creep back in, and we have to help our clients remain aware of the same from their side.

Brands have such a fundamental role in how our society sees itself, they have the power to both reflect and illuminate the communities they serve.

We are so often the gatekeepers of the faces brands choose to show on their social channels; we give the guidance on who gets invited to launch events, who from their business is profiled in the media, which stars feature on billboards and on film. It’s time to give HR a call and ask them to book in an unconscious bias refresher. We have the chance to make the society we live in a better one, one partnership deal at a time.

Lucy Hart is head of insight & strategy at Engine Mischief

PRWeek UK is committed to having a more diverse selection of commentators in our articles, and is compiling a list of BME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) PR professionals who are willing to be quoted. To be added to the list, please email and include your specialist areas of expertise, and/or preferred subjects for commentary.

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