Joining me on this week’s episode is Jennifer Gonzalez, the senior vice president of multicultural strategy at C+C. Jen and I are colleagues, and we had a great ethics discussion recently, so I invited her to be a guest. Jennifer discusses a number of important ethics issues, including:
- What to do when you know your prospect’s multicultural program does not align with the community’s needs
- Ethical issues in partnering with community-based organizations
- Why sometimes being equitable requires you to say no
For those that don’t work with you, why don’t you tell us more about yourself and your career?
I’m a multicultural communication strategist. I also consider myself a storyteller at heart. This is what I love doing, telling stories. As the senior vice president for multicultural communications at C+C, I bring more than 20 years of experience in this field, engaging with multicultural audiences, helping clients to communicate in ways that are the most relevant and appropriate for the communities they are trying to reach. I also provide guidance in general as to how to bring more diversity, equity, and inclusion values into all the work we do as marketers and communicators.
Ethical challenges evolve with the times. The issues we faced a few years ago, and definitely very different from what we’re doing now. In my career of more than 20 years, I’ve seen a few, but I can tell you the type of challenges as a professional I was dealing with 10 years ago are very different. Back then, our biggest challenge really was walking into these new business meetings and trying to convince potential clients about the importance of marketing to multicultural audiences. We had to come equipped with all these data and studies and the latest research proving what the Hispanic market meant in terms of buying power and why it makes sense to invest and all these different things.
Now we’re being approached by organizations that are asking us to bring more equity and representation into their existing programs. In a way, this is a great thing for us. We like doing this type of work and we feel really excited when we are approached with these types of requests. But what I find challenging is that more and more is becoming evident that some of these clients and organizations are doing it out of the need or even a requirement to check a box. Tempting as it is, it is not always the right thing to do. There seems to be sometimes a lack of understanding of the communities that some of these organizations want to reach. We are being approached with these programs and demands that are simply unrealistic or just not the right feel for these communities.
I have an example. I was recently involved in conversations with a potential new client. To give a little bit of context, this was a very large organization that we would of course love to work with. They approached us with this idea for a program that required seeking partnerships with community-based organizations to help them promote a product that would be considered by the majority of us as a luxury item. Now, they had a very appealing offer with a 50% discount on this item for people who would sign up through the CBOs that they wanted to engage with. It sounded lovely. I would’ve wanted to be part of the program and get this special item at this special prize, but the client specifically wanted to enroll community members with low income, because of this whole equity approach.
There was a very clear disconnect here. We felt that as much as this product was attractive for most people, when you’re trying to reach low-income populations, we have to understand that they have other priorities in terms of where their money goes. There’s also the aspect of working with CBOs, or community-based organizations. We know from our work that it’s clearly very important to know how they operate the communities they serve, what matters most to them, and to be respectful of those things. When you take the time to build those relationships, you don’t want to come to your CBO partners and present them with a program that you know just from the get-go that is not going to be the best fit for their community members or even respectful of their actual needs.
We discussed this internally. We put together our point of view to share with this potential client explaining why this wasn’t the right program to engage with CBOs. We even presented a couple of different approaches that we thought would be best. To our surprise, the client pushed back. They had a very clear directive to create an equitable program, in quotation marks, for this specific product. To the best of their understanding, engaging with CBOs to promote the product was the best way to go. The ethical challenge for me and my team here was, should we try to win this client over by giving them what they want, knowing that this is not right for this community and for these partners, and eventually not even good for them in the long run, or stay true to what we know and pass on this opportunity by pushing back on the ask?
We pushed back. This is one of the challenges we’re facing more and more, how to be honest with our clients and explain what is really happening and guide them in the right direction and when that is not being received the way we expected. We just have to make a decision not to pursue it if it’s not the right thing to do.
That’s a great example Jen. I spoke with Candace Hamana a few weeks ago about performative ethics and really how a lot of these actions right now fit that category or tokenization. My question is this, how do you really work through convincing others? Because a lot of us may come from a legitimate feeling of wanting to do something, but we have ignorance, a lack of understanding and biases.
It’s a tough thing to do because it requires a certain level of humility on both ends. We are all learning as we go. There are always growing pains when we are facing new challenges and new opportunities. And that is sort of what we’re seeing here today. There’s a great movement now to be more equitable and inclusive and diverse in the programs and to bring these values to the forefront. That is a great thing and a great opportunity for all those working in this field. On the other hand, I feel that with clients there’s also that opportunity to educate them. There has to be the desire on the other end to listen in the first place and to learn. We have many clients that have that desire and that are asking us for direction and guidance.
We even had another client where we worked with them and helped them create a multicultural toolkit to guide all their marketing and communications programs. We came together and we put together a group of subject matter experts. We gathered over three different sessions in one month, and we came up with these principles that guided the creation of a multicultural toolkit. This was a true reflection of how to integrate more diversity, equity, and inclusion into everything we do. Now this client has this very useful resource and they’re sharing it with everybody they work with internally and externally and has been really useful.
There has to be an interest on the client side to learn and to see the opportunity to bring this type of education into the work they do. On our end we need to be willing to work with them and provide our expertise and bring in other experts when needed – as well as to come up with the best approach for their own company’s needs and expectations.
You really hit on a key point there about understanding your own limitations. We had the pleasure of working on a campaign where we transcreated content into 37 different languages. Well, you were doing that work. I was just doing other stuff. You also engaged these communities. Do you want to talk a little bit about how you approach that?
We’ve been doing a lot of work in health with the COVID-19 campaigns. One of the things here that was super imperative for us was understanding what the community felt, what challenges they were facing, what barriers they were facing, and what could be potential motivators for different communities of different backgrounds that spoke different languages.
Not all multicultural communities are the same. Even within one community, if we’re talking about the Latino community, there’s diversity. There are subgroups and understanding what they need, what matters the most, really helps us inform our campaigns. For this particular program, we wanted to communicate with them directly, so we engaged with many community members one-on-one. We had people that spoke their language that acted as facilitators for these conversations to learn more about their views, their perspectives, their COVID-19 vaccine challenges and how we could bring this message forth to them in a way that would be relevant, that would help them consider and empower them to consider getting the vaccine.
Having those one-on-one conversations was key as a starting point. We used other types of research as well. We talked with many community partners that were out there in the field in community vaccination clinics, hearing firsthand what the community members were telling them about the challenges they faced and the fears they had, and where all this hesitation was coming from. By truly understanding all of those factors, we were able to guide our messaging and our campaigns and to develop programs that were relevant for those communities.
Are there any other ethical issues you want businesses to keep in mind, aside from avoiding being unrealistic and bringing their biases when it comes to multicultural communications?
One of the things I keep talking about more and more lately is not just understanding who we’re trying to reach, but also why we’re trying to reach these particular communities. Sometimes we have this amazing service or product, and we think everybody needs to have access to it, but when asked why, we just can’t articulate it very well. We need to understand how this particular offering is going to bring value to those communities we’re trying to serve. It seems like it’s so basic. It’s like one of the ABCs of what we do. But when you’re talking about multicultural communities, understanding why it would or should matter to these particular communities really implies understanding the community, knowing them beyond the demographics, the census numbers, what language do they speak, going deeper, understanding really what they’re about and how our offering brings value to them.
That’s where we really start creating this mindset of being more equitable. Because truly equitable programs will need to allocate resources in a way that they truly ensure that those that have the greatest need are getting the information – but it has to be something that is of value to them. Otherwise, there’s no point in making it accessible to everyone if I don’t have a use for it, because I’m more concerned with these other immediate needs that my family needs to survive. Understanding that why is super important as organizations, as marketers, as PR people. Why are we doing these initiatives and how do we bring value to these communities?
I tend to say that we need to remember just because it’s important to you and just because it’s important to your company, doesn’t mean it’s important to the media and it doesn’t mean it’s important to potential customers.
What is the best piece of ethics advice you were ever given?
Ethics are very much tied to intuition, and following our intuition seems to me like the best way to go. We all know deep inside what’s right or wrong. We have these feelings as we go through our daily life or our work when something doesn’t sit well, when something is just not feeling right. We tend to overthink things often. I’m one of those people that creates the pros and cons list, and I have to evaluate and make all these decisions based on all the possible outcomes.
But in reality, what’s usually right is my gut feeling. When something doesn’t feel right, I have to stop and listen and pay attention to that feeling and where it’s coming from. More than likely, it’s going to guide me in the right direction. Sometimes it’s not easy, because we really want to do something or to get this new client or work on this new project, but we have to be true to ourselves in what we believe and what we know, and that’s where the truth lies.
When you talk to a CEO of a company or the VP of marketing and think, “I got a gut feeling this isn’t the right thing to do” they’re not often as receptive. How do you go about translating your gut feeling into something that others could act on in the way you want them to act?
We still have to be prepared to present case studies and the information. Sometimes we even have to go back to these CBOs and ask them for their input, like, “We have this client. What is your honest opinion about this potential project?” and bring that feedback to our clients. We would always want these potential clients to take our word for it, but sometimes it takes that extra step. We actually went and surveyed the community and here’s the feedback we’ve received, and this is why we feel this other approach would work better. We do have to do that kind of work too sometimes to bring our point forward and do it in the best way.
Listen to the full interview, with bonus content, here.
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