The agency argument for brands to embrace #blacklivesmatter

Kara Sax and Tamara Keller and CEO and COO respectively of Sax, a Los Angeles-based branding and marketing firm with clients including the Golden State Warriors, Howard University and the State of California.

At the ESPY Awards earlier this month, one brand — arguably one of the largest in the world — took a stand. The National Basketball Association opened the ceremony with four of its key faces, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade, urging their fellow athletes to respond to the tragic police shootings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and so many other black men that have enraged the nation with a call to, “Speak up, use your influence and renounce all violence.’

Then Digiday’s Shareen Pathak asked us how we advise our clients about Black Lives Matter and it got us thinking even more. We are two biracial women leading a branding and marketing agency — and we have to wonder why aren’t more brands getting involved? And why aren’t the biggest brands out there taking a leadership position for others to rally behind?

Yes, in this country, speaking on race in any setting outside of family and friends is historically taboo. But being a female and minority owned firm, diversity is our business. We win projects over larger firms with white male leadership all the time—partly because we’re simply not afraid to talk about these things.

Do we advise our clients, whether they are in education, sports, or other sectors to speak up? Yes! Not only because the minority dollar is increasingly powerful but also because we refuse to believe it’s bad business to stand up against injustice.
And with the recent rogue shootings of police being used by some to cast doubts on this peaceful, pro-unity movement, major brands standing up now can help diffuse the terrifying environment of hate that seems to be growing.

We cannot value money before we value lives. Leaders must take a stand. For better or worse, brands are the biggest influencers in the world — they effect what we wear, what we drive, what we eat, what we read and watch and do. They affect how we see ourselves and how we show that to the world.

Presumably, behind every brand are people, hopefully people that look like the real world. Those people have hearts, souls, a pulse and dreams and they come from all different races, religions, sexual orientations and abilities. It’s not just a nice option for a brand to dabble in pushing for good. Their immense influence means they must be held accountable. If a giant brand squanders its chance to make an impact when so much is at stake, then they have violated an essential obligation of doing business in America.

Are you scared to have your brand support #blacklivesmatter? Hmm, we seem to remember you putting a Martin Luther King Jr. quote on your Facebook page on January 15th and subsequently tweeting a salute to Rosa Parks on February 1st. Does this mean you want to take those back?

(And please refrain from the urge to say “All Lives Matter.” That’s like going to an AIDS benefit holding up a sign that says “Cancer Kills Too.” We get it.)

Perhaps you’re nervous about looking like you’re jumping on a bandwagon and exploiting this for a buck. If that’s your fear you haven’t done the simple work of learning to make sure what you do is honest and authentic.

Here’s how to start get your brand on the right side of this, on the right side of history: Talk about it now. Whether your company is large or small get everyone together and start the conversation. You’ll learn something, maybe something that worries you. But you’ll get to a place where responding to the crisis rocking the country doesn’t just start to become feasible, it becomes real and vital and believable too.

We believe we need to organize, educate and transform our communities to end a cycle of racial profiling and killings that continue to senselessly claim countless lives. We proudly voice our beliefs. But more importantly we work with our clients —some of them with the ability to sway millions — to help them find the courage to jump in and make meaningful change.

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