#Transformation2017: In the media industry, focus on the small wins, for your own sanity
by: Devaksha Vallabhjee - 4 May 2017
A year ago, a colleague and I came up with a body-positive content series to run in opposition to all the “summer body” features that women are bombarded with in the months leading up to summer. The content would include fashion and health advice and personal experiences, but mostly positive affirmation in the form of inclusive imagery.
Our two non-negotiables were that the content needed to be inclusive of all skin tones and body sizes. We pitched the idea to one of our leading sales managers in the company, in order to get sponsorship from a brand. After listening to the idea, she said that she had just the right brand in mind. It was a self-tan lotion product.
Diversity in media is important
I remember feeling deflated and infuriated. In my mind, I was flipping the table over and clapping between each word, “Dark-skinned. People. Don’t. Need. Self-Tan.” In reality, I sat dumbfounded. That moment has become an anecdote that I often tell friends when we’re on the topic of diversifying the media industry.
To me, it sums up the challenge of transformation perfectly. The people in leadership positions are often white. And while there are plenty of self-congratulatory meetings and strategy presentations, it rarely translates into meaningful changes.
Working as a content producer, I found out that while you can push for diversity and transformation from those in higher positions, rather than waiting in frustration for those things to happen, it’s more constructive to focus on the smaller things that you can change yourself.
We focused on the small transformation wins
With the (at most) two other women of colour on my team, and white colleagues who were supportive and committed to transformation too, we focused on small wins. Things that we had the power to change ourselves with little to no rules or long processes holding it up, and that we could celebrate getting done.
We started making sure that women of colour were more represented in the images we used on our platforms. We started to make sure that influencers of colour were prioritised more in every partnership and campaign. We tried to commission as many black contributors as possible. We also called out content that was exclusionary where we could.
Those were relatively easy things to change, and the positive effect on our audience was immediate. We saw our traffic grow as the content resonated with more women. There was higher engagement on social media and positive feedback as readers noticed the change. Someone on Twitter applauded the “new direction” the brand was taking.
I also saw the positive effect of thinking of small wins on myself. The more I made content that I could relate to personally, the happier I was. Focusing on small wins helped us to stay motivated and determined, in a space where it’s easy to become hopeless. That said, there were still the larger company-wide transformations that had not happened, and as far as I can see, still haven’t happened.
What would it take to get real transformation in media?
Since moving to an agency, I’ve realised that even more that no amount of pressure to transform from staff will convince media owners to transform, or at least not that alone. They need to feel it from the people who matter most to them, their advertisers.
When the brands that media relies on for revenue start to demand that the people creating their content are representative, media owners will make the commitment to transform their teams and reevaluate their content. I think that process is starting to happen very slowly, which means it might be a while before it starts to come to fruition in the industry.
I often wonder, if this approach I’ve taken is not radical enough, taking off a bite that I know I’m more than capable of chewing instead of stepping up to the challenge.
But in an industry where there’s often one black person in the room, an earthquake of demands can jeopardise your own position, which ultimately helps no one. A slight tremor however, is a minor disruption to them. And a small win for us.
Holding image by Evil Erin via Flickr
Project Demo finds the voices of young people in South Africa, amplifies their stories and turns their cause for change into a reality. Tell them your issue. They’ll take it on and campaign with you.