The summer of 2020 ushered in more than a life-shifting pandemic. At the time, the murder of George Floyd was considered the mark of collective reckoning, a definitive tipping point as multiple industries honestly and, in many cases, publicly reevaluated their tacit participation in systemic racism.
While protesters across the globe demanded equal and just treatment towards Black civilians, Corporate America made hefty promises to make better strides in inclusion for both professionals and consumers. For brands, that meant making a concerted effort to invest in diverse-owned—and, more specifically, Black-owned—media.
The robust response did not go unnoticed by Bleulife Media’s DéVon Christopher Johnson and Her Agenda’s Rhonesha Byng.
“[We saw] these brands discussing ways to shift budgets around and put ad dollars toward diverse-owned media,” Johnson told Adweek. “What is going to be the mechanism that holds those statements accountable? We took on that charge for ourselves.”
Then came the a-ha moment: the indie publishers joined to form the Black Owned Media Equity and Sustainability Institute—or BOMESI—an organization dedicated to providing resources and support for Black-owned media companies. Johnson and Byng recognized an opportunity to connect these platforms to brands aiming to support Black media, a goal voiced by major names like Target, General Mills and DoorDash, to name a few.
“It was overwhelming the statements,” said Byng, “and we were really motivated because there was no organization that existed to represent the interest of Black-owned media.”
Three years after the outpouring of corporate allyship, the BOMESI co-founders find their efforts to be more necessary than ever as brands still struggle to understand what sustainable support looks like.
Diversifying spend is key
With a mission to uplift as well as educate, BOMESI has curated an extensive, up-to-date database of existing Black-owned media companies to help potential supporters better find platforms in need of funding. With close to 200 entrants, the online database spans across digital, print, audio and film/TV production and is free to access. Johnson and Byng maintain the hub alongside fellow founders Kay Lucas (Mediasense) and Anastasia Williams (The A List).
“We essentially just want to, with our organization, eliminate the excuses because they say they can’t find us,” said Byng. “That’s one of the first things that we created. We also make it very easy for people to submit other publications.”
That visibility is as crucial for the media companies as it is for the brands actually serious about pursuing them. Though 20 major companies committed to spending at least 2% of their annual budgets on Black-owned media through GroupM’s media inclusion initiative back in 2021, there isn’t enough evidence of those commitments reaching smaller or indie publications.
It’s indicative of a core issue that both Johnson and Byng identify with as indie publishers themselves: many of these companies, and others like them, tend to flock to the same small handful of highly publicized publishers.
“There are those common five Black media outlets that have been getting business consistently,” Johnson explained, naming BET as one of the more popular options among partnering brands. “We’re offering you an opportunity to explore, to have more. We have a list of vetted, truly Black-owned media outlets, not just Black-led.”
Johnson clarified that the distinction between Black-owned, which are platforms fully owned by Black publishers, and Black-led, or companies that are led by Black execs but owned by non-Black entities, is key in understanding who largely benefits from this kind of support.
In short: when brands spend with a media tentpole like BET, that ultimately benefits its owner, Viacom, not Black media owners.
Said Johnson, “A lot of agencies and brands still have BET on their [Black-owned media lists] because there’s scale at BET, especially with amplification through. They think they’ve done enough.”
But as Byng explains, brands have a chance to leverage their dollars in a way that not only supports Black media, but actively helps it expand: “The excuse we hear often is that there’s not enough traffic with [smaller] Black-owned media publications, but why do you think that is? You’re not including them in deal flow, so they’re not getting access to key revenue sources so that they can then grow and scale.”
Commit to the long haul
For BOMESI, partnership remains a key factor and sustaining growth not just for themselves, but also for the media companies within its growing network. The organization teamed with Colors of Change to secure its own multimillion dollar commitment to Black-owned media companies, garnering the early support of brands like HP, GM and P&G.
“[HP was] one of our early partners that put their money where their mouth was and has been in alignment with us from the moment they started to engage,” said Johnson. “We need more brands to follow that example and try different things out.”
As for P&G, which recently took Orlando’s ANA Masters of Marketing conference stage and made a public commitment to increase its investment in Black media, Johnson says the partnership has since waned.
“Although P&G was supportive in the beginning, we never received the full amount of the grant we were awarded. We were only given half,” said Johnson. “As the distance of George Floyd and the social unrest of 2022 has widened, so has our relationship with P&G unfortunately.”
When asked to address Johnson’s claim, P&G responded with the following statement: “P&G remains 100% committed to growing the Black-owned media ecosystem as evidenced by significant investment increases, creator development efforts and multipartner programs. We remain committed to investing in BOMESI and other substantive efforts that lead to stronger, sustainable, investment-ready Black-owned media entities.”
Make growth a shared goal
Since its inception, BOMESI has expanded its outreach to include the first-ever Black-owned media weekend summit in Tulsa and an accelerator program that leads to solid financial support, just to start.
“As a young organization, we’re putting our money where our mouth is and giving each media company in this program $25,000 to put towards their infrastructure so that they can grow,” Byng shared. Because a lot of the time, diverse- and Black-owned programs will mentor you to death. We need money to actually take action on this advice that you’re giving us.”
Overall, Johnson and Byng hope that brands will not only get to know BOMESI, but also rethink how they show up for Black media in a more meaningful way—which is something that the organization helps facilitate.
“There’s room for more support, more engagement, more opportunity to spend dollars and more diverse publishers,” he said. “And we’re doing the work for you to get them ready for deal flow. All you have to do is include them.”