For Black History Month, I had the utmost privilege of planning and moderating “Lunch Talks: Diversity Panel” at Porter Novell’s Toronto office. The topic was diversity in the PR, media and influencer landscapes in Canada.  As most of us at Porter Novelli know, diversity and inclusion are key business imperatives and following the Black Panther movie release, a candid conversation about this topic was both timely and relevant. The expert panel featured three professional women of colour: a social media coach and personal branding expert, a business strategist and a beauty, fashion and lifestyle influencer. All three women are dynamic and influential, passionate about what they do and even more passionate about diversity, which made the discussion lively and insightful from the onset.

Here are 8 key insights I garnered from this inspiring panel:

  1. Diversity means having “more than one” Person of Colour (POC) in the room, having a variety of backgrounds and experiences and, if meant to be effective at an organizational level, diversity initiatives should be intentional and purpose-driven.

2. Influencers who can literally “see” themselves reflected in a brand’s image (ie through their Instagram feed) are more compelled to work with them, buy their products or use their services. Beauty, fashion and lifestyle influencer Carcia Campbell of HerCastleGirls described how Canadian start-up skincare brand basd body care reached out to her and shared the company’s Instagram feed in their pitch, which depicted a diverse group of women and men. These images ultimately inspired her to collaborate with the brand. It felt like a natural fit.

3. When brands make an effort to normalize seemingly uncomfortable conversations that black people regularly have with friends and family, (ie P&G’s My Black is Beautiful™ featuring “The Talk” campaign), it shows empathy towards the black experience and a deeper understanding of the black audience. The effort also makes this segment more likely to support the company by purchasing its products.

4. Contrary to popular belief, influencers don’t always have the same background, beliefs or values as their audience. So, to gain real insight, it’s important to look at who an influencer’s followers are and what they’re talking about. The topics that a blog covers are typically what attract followers, versus the influencer themselves. For example, Carcia is a black woman with a variety of diverse interests and has white women of all different ages and backgrounds coming up to her on the street, gushing about how much they love her blog.

5. Black influencers and other influencers of colour are extremely underrepresented in Canada for two reasons:

  • Socio-economic barriers prevent many in this segment from fully participating in the consumer culture of purchasing luxury items or other expensive goods, which in turn accelerate widespread social popularity. This system favors influencers with higher socio-economic status, and grows their follow counts at a much faster rate than their non-white counterparts.
  • Frustration that brands don’t give them a chance to participate in PR campaigns because they have a smaller audience reach, in part due to the problem mentioned above, and because they aren’t on the brand’s radar. As a result, otherwise talented content creators, photographers and videographers discontinue their blogs and exit the influencer space from lack of support.

6. The rise of the micro-influencer could be a solution to tackle the lack of diversity problem among Canada’s influencers, suggested social media maven Cher Jones of Socially Active. For example, Rihanna’s game-changing Fenty Beauty cosmetic line collaborated with a range of beauty influencers – from top-tier to micro – to garner both reach and engagement across social channels.

7. Black women in North America spend $7.5 billion annually on cosmetics and skincare, the most of any other segment, yet they are not included in as many advertising and marketing campaigns as white women, shared Carcia of HerCastleGirls.

8. Numbers don’t lie. In a multicultural country like Canada, and in a metropolitan city such as Toronto, incorporating diversity strategically into a client’s business has the potential of attracting new customers by tapping into segments where they were previously unknown. Kay Layne of Kayambi Media and Training explained this, and provided the example of a client’s law firm which tripled its business in a short timeframe after offering services in several different languages. The takeaway: investing in diversity reaps real business value.

The panel discussion provided an incredible opportunity to share valuable insights, exchange ideas and start thinking critically about the ways in which diversity can – and should – inform PR strategy. I encourage you to take the knowledge gained from this panel and incorporate it into your own practice areas for more purposeful and fulfilling work. Let’s make diversity both our strength and competitive advantage as a global agency!