How the advertising industry can help empower racial equality

Nishma Robb / September 2020

A third of us come from working class backgrounds, but only 10% break into what’s considered elite careers1. When we talk about equality in the U.K., we need to talk about income equality.

I’ve seen a lot of change for good during my 25 years in advertising and media. But as a woman of colour from a working class background, I understand that while representation matters, equity matters most.

I took to the virtual stage at this year’s Advertising Week Europe with pioneer of Grime, member of So Solid Crew, and founder of Black Pound Day, Swiss, and serial entrepreneur, business mentor and best selling author, Bianca Miller-Cole.

We talked about the reality of economic inequality in the U.K., how we can empower Black-owned businesses, and how the advertising industry can be instrumental in bringing about racial equality. Here’s a recap of the session.

The realities of being a Black business

We’re in the middle of a pandemic and the worst recession on record. Not many entrepreneurs would be brave enough to start a business in 2020. But barriers to Black business are a reality every year.

Black-owned businesses are more likely to be rejected for an overdraft and charged higher interest rates than their white-owned counterparts.2 And 73% of Black-owned businesses had a higher than average risk rating, compared with 47% of SMEs as a whole.3

We're the least seen businesses on the high street and the least seen online

So it shouldn’t come to a surprise that people of colour are not represented in British business. 250,000 of the U.K.'s 5.9 million businesses are owned by ethnic minorities, and approximately 40,000 are Black-owned. This is equivalent to 0.6 of the business base, while Black people account for 3.3% of the population.4

Miller-Cole works to support Black business owners and says it’s about levelling the playing field. “For me, it's a case of giving them that economic empowerment and creating more businesses that are sustainable, that are being paid the right money, that are getting themselves and their names out there,” explains Miller-Cole.

And because Black-owned businesses are underrepresented it’s harder to find and support them in our local communities. “We're the least seen businesses on the high street and the least seen online. It's hard for me to spend with the Black businesses in my community. It's hard for them to get in and actually be on the same playing field as other cultures that are within our society,” says Swiss.

“They have to get less stock and they're paying more for that stock. Therefore, they have to up their prices in order to make the money back that they need to make to keep themselves running,” explains Swiss.

Supporting Black businesses: How Google is helping

We know that minority groups are disproportionately impacted by a crisis. We need to ensure that economic recovery means nobody is left behind. Digital will play a crucial role, so that puts a responsibility on Google to help equip people and minority owned businesses with digital skills and know-how.

Five years ago, Google set out to address skill gaps across communities by launching Google Digital Garage. We’ve been training people across the U.K. in all things digital and not just with Google products. We helped people start new businesses, grow their business and helped them find new jobs and careers.

We want to ensure that free advice and support is accessible to all

When the pandemic hit we knew we needed to do more. We’ve pledged to help restart the U.K. and committed that by the end of 2021 we will help one million small and medium-sized enterprises stay open by being found online, deliver 10,000 hours of mentoring, commit to distributing £25M in advertising credits and grants, and upskill 100,000 people with our Google Digital Garage training. And with free tools like Google My Business and reviews, we’re able to help businesses be more discoverable online and drive engagement with customers.

We want to ensure that this free advice and support is accessible to all. To reach Black owned businesses we’ve developed partnerships with organisations like YSYS, M&C Saatchi Saturday School, and Out The Box and some of the biggest trade organisations in retail and hospitality. We’re actively looking to partner with more organisations so that we can ensure we get the help and support to those that need it.

As well as supporting small businesses, we have been supporting startups with tools, best practices and funding. Europe has 99 unicorns — that’s 99 businesses valued at over $1 billion. But we're not seeing parity with the levels of investment in Black-owned or Black-founded startups.

As ad men and women, it’s called doing our jobs

Google for Startups’ mission is to level that playing field. If we want technology to work for everyone, we need to make sure that it's built by everyone. We’ve created acceleration programmes for high-potential startups. And in September, we kicked off our Immersion for Black Founders — a programme for 12 startups from the U.K., France, and the Netherlands. There’s a global commitment to back Black business too – in June, Sundar Pichai, our CEO, announced a fund for Black owned businesses.

What racial justice looks like on Google Trends

One of the heartwarming things about working at Google is that you’re in contact with how people search. At the beginning of the pandemic we saw Searches for “how to help” hit an all time high and trends increased for “local” and “near me”.5

Then news hit of the killing of George Floyd and search trends changed again. Black Lives Matter reached an all-time high in search interest in June 2020 as more than ever people around the world searched for “what is racial justice”, “how to be anti racist”, and “what can white people do for racial justice”.6

Support for Black Lives Matter helped put racial justice at the top of global mindsets. But it also helped people focus on racial equity and the importance of Black bank accounts. U.K. searches for “Black owned business” reached an all time high in June — which in part was thanks to Swiss.

How the advertising industry can help empower racial equality

Swiss says he was inspired by the protests to the killing of George Floyd and launched Black Pound Day. “I've never seen Black, whites and Asians and other ethnic minorities come together as much as we did. And that really did move me. And I thought to myself, this is the first time I've seen this. This is historical”.

If we don’t address economic disparity across racial lines then addressing racial equality becomes harder and harder. We need to support the Black community and buying from Black-owned businesses is a great starting point. Google is helping all businesses be found with our Google My Business product, we’re offering free digital skills training via Google Digital Garage and we’re offering British businesses free 1-2-1 mentoring with our new mentoring programme. Google is also offering investment into startups and advertising grants to help businesses and charities.

We’re advertisers, so let’s make ads

Supporting business owners is only part of the plan. We need to make sure we're encouraging people to support Black businesses all year round. We need to be able to discover them. As ad men and women, it’s called doing our jobs.

We want to help shift the U.K.'s shopping habits to become more inclusive, more thoughtful, empathetic and purposeful

“Buy from a Black business online or in your local community, take a picture of that business or that product. If you're on social media, you post that, you hashtag and also recommend that business to a friend or family member,” explains Swiss.

In the coming weeks we’re launching a new campaign spearheaded by Anthony Joshua, called #DearLocal. Based on new research by Google and YouGov, 88% of consumers who are now shopping more locally say they will likely continue to do so in the future7. And 51% of local businesses believe online reviews can boost business8. We’ve been relying on local businesses more than ever before, and now it’s time for us to show them some love. Our ambition is to kick start a national conversation and drive this awareness ⁠— encouraging people to support their favourite neighbourhood spots.

We want to help enable the U.K.'s shopping habits to become more inclusive, more thoughtful, empathetic and purposeful. And, in turn, grow the Black economy and Black communities.

Taking a cue from history

As an industry we do have a long way to go and I see commitments and efforts to deliver real change but we need to go further than just our plans for recruitment and culture in our teams ⁠— we need to consider pipeline of talent, the communities we live in that will ensure that opportunity is not a competitive advantage but a equal right for all.

To achieve this we have to support racial equality in education and economic opportunity ⁠— we need to make sure Black children are not disadvantaged and that their parents can afford to support their education, and that they have the same chances of success as others when they choose careers or go it alone in their own business.

October is Black History month in the U.K. We can’t rewrite history but we can take a cue from it. I recently found out the original meaning of Martin Luther King Jr's speech “I have a dream” was in fact about the economy. I hope in coming together we can realise that dream now and for future generations.

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