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Diverse-owned media is having a moment. Let’s make sure it’s more.

October 23, 2023 | By Michael Riley, SVP, Partnerships and Global Client Innovation – Nativo @nativoinc

In recent years, there’s been a tremendous push among brands and businesses to increase their investments in diverse-owned media. From an advertiser perspective, the reasons and benefits of doing so are numerous. Over time, the hope is that these efforts will lead to much-needed systemic change within the media landscape and representation within it. 

For diverse-owned media outlets, the increased interest and investment have been a boon, with overall spend on diverse-owned media growing at an 80% annual rate from 2020 to 2022. Such sudden and intense focus can feel like a bit of a gold rush. However, it is important to remember that the whole point of this elevation of diverse-owned media is to lay the foundation for sustainable change. Both advertisers and diverse-owned media outlets need to act accordingly. 

For diverse-owned media outlets, the elevated awareness of the importance of varied voices in media is an opportunity. But it also brings challenges, hidden among the details. Here are a few key considerations for these organizations to keep in mind.

Honor (and protect) your voice

The value of diverse-owned media is about so much more than just helping brands bolster their investment in social causes. Diverse-owned media gives voice to different lenses and cultures. They elevate the visibility of underserved communities. They inform. They entertain. And, importantly: they influence.

As diverse-owned media outlets grow, they must remain strong and unapologetic in their voices. Their role is not to assimilate, but rather to break new ground and create a more-diverse set of entrepreneurs and voices in the media. 

At the same time, diverse-owned media outlets must dedicate themselves to growing in a sustainable way. From an advertiser perspective, brands are being reminded that the goal isn’t to throw money at these outlets and declare the problem fixed. It’s to help these companies flourish over the long haul. In the same vein, the goal of the outlets themselves shouldn’t be to succeed because they represent diverse voices. The goal is to succeed because they are strong media organizations, not just in terms of voice but also in terms of infrastructure and business model. 

Prioritize transparency in partnerships

As diverse-owned media scale, they will inevitably need to build the technology stacks and monetization systems required to deliver the targeting and advertising opportunities desired by their brand-side clients. These are not decisions to be taken lightly. Transparency in the advertising supply chain is paramount for all media organizations, and this remains true for diverse-owned media. 

It’s not enough to know which way advertising revenue is trending. Diverse-owned media should be working with partners and technologies that are dedicated to educating them on the share of revenue that they’re receiving within the broader ad tech supply path, as well as the bigger picture of how the media outlet is partnering with brands and agencies.

Diverse-owned media outlets need to have clarity into the brands they’re working with and, wherever possible, direct lines of communication. Advertiser support of these outlets, after all, shouldn’t just be about “checking boxes.” Both advertisers and diverse-owned media should be building relationships that, over time, enable the funding of larger and more meaningful projects. Only in having transparency into exactly how an outlet is being compensated and by whom can a media organization build and execute on a long-term vision for the future. 

Don’t let measurement be an afterthought

A lot has changed in a short amount of time within the media landscape, and that rate of change isn’t slowing down. For diverse-owned media outlets, that means they need to be able to pivot with future shifts, and doing so requires the ability to measure and understand what’s working. 

The ability to measure advertising and sponsorship outcomes will be especially important for diverse-owned media when it comes to fostering partnerships with brands and ensuring reinvestment continues. It’s imperative to be able to show brands and agencies not only an outlet’s ability to produce a powerful piece of content, but also that the powerful piece of content helps to drive business results. The capability to monitor performance in this way can’t be on an outlet’s “nice to have” list. It’s table stakes for growing a media organization in a responsible way. 

Preserve entrepreneurship in diverse-owned media

It might be tempting to think of diverse-owned media as “having a moment” right now. However, advertisers and publishers alike must look beyond current spikes in investment to ensure they’re planning for a future in which this kind of investment is the new normal. In this regard, the responsibility doesn’t sit solely with the advertisers who control the purse strings. 

As our industry deepens investment in diverse-owned media, we must simultaneously be creating a more hospitable environment for these outlets. Important work is being done by organizations like BOMESI, the Black Owned Media Equity and Sustainability Institute, through its BOMESI Accelerator, a first-of-its-kind initiative to support diverse-owned digital publishers that are driving lasting social change. This organization, and the spirit that inspires it, deserve industry-wide support. 

Part of the work being done right now should focus on making it easier for startups to become certified as diverse-owned outlets as they seek funding. Entrepreneurs in this space should be able to take funding from the partners best poised to help them grow, but they must also maintain the level of control needed to still qualify as diverse-owned.

Just as marketers formalize plans for long-term investment in diverse-owned media, so too do these media outlets need to be ensuring they’re worthy of those long-term investments. Particularly for entrepreneurs, that means not simply handing their businesses over to investors without considering their longer-term opportunities and responsibilities. What the world needs now is more diverse media entrepreneurs and voices–not more money being spent with large companies seeking to take advantage of a gold rush. 

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