I was afraid it might happen one day, and it recently did: I turned down a big fee to work with a brand because the campaign was horribly exclusive.
And when I say horribly exclusive, I mean exactly that: A sea of white, slim women with (mostly) blonde hair. Not a single person of colour. Not one body that looked over a UK size 12. Not one person with any sort of visible differences whatsoever. Everyone looking age 40-50 ish.
Then add me to the mix: I’m white. I’m a size 10. I’m (for all intents and purposes) blonde. I’m in my late 40s. In other words, I’M JUST THE SAME. I would be accepting a four-figure sum to become part of a campaign for a footwear brand with 10 other influencers who are all white, slim and blonde (bar three brunettes. Whoop-de-diversity-doo).
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The images included in this post are all from campaigns I’ve worked on in the past which, I’m proud to say, have been very inclusive and diverse (top to bottom): Specsavers, JD Williams and JD Williams again.
Last time I checked, I was pretty sure shoes could be worn by women of colour, by women over 55, by mid-sized and plus-sized women, and by women with disabilities and/or visible differences. Am I right?
As much as I needed the money, I just couldn’t do it. And the story behind how I got to that stage – in terms of trying my damnedest to make the person in charge of the campaign see what was happening – is perhaps even more disappointing and shocking considering the rise in prominence of Black Lives Matter and the awareness of diversity in the media and everywhere in the past 12 months.
To me, a total lack of diversity is something a brand simply cannot “get away with” anymore – yet here we are.
My diversity policy
Two years ago I wrote a post entitled Diversity: What We Can ALL Do to Ensure Diversity on Brand-Blogger Campaigns and Press Trips. In that blog post I made a promise to my readers that before I worked with any brand, I would ask what their diversity policy was. In other words, What other bloggers are working on this campaign – are they a diverse mix?
So far, every time I’ve asked that question, I’ve been met with a resoundingly positive response, like this for example: “I’m so glad you’ve asked that question, and yes we [the PR agency/the brand] are committed to ensuring that we have a diverse mix of faces, colours, sizes, ages, etc. in this campaign.”
Which is EXACTLY what I want to hear, and exactly what I SHOULD be hearing.
Then in May, an email landed in my Inbox asking me to take part in an Instagram campaign for a footwear brand (I’d not worked with them directly before).
PLEASE NOTE that I was not dealing with a contact at the brand, it was the head of a blogger outreach agency (so not even a PR agency). Therefore how much the brand was aware of the campaign and who was being asked to participate I don’t know; however, I have to assume that, as it’s in a brand’s interest to know – and be involved in – these matters, then they were fully aware of what was going on and who was being approached.
Anyway – I was dealing with a blogger outreach agency.
Everything seemed perfectly fine; they agreed to my fee for a few pieces of content. Once a campaign I’m going to be working on is agreed in principle – and before I sign any contracts – I ask The Diversity Question.
Where it started to go wrong
It wasn’t answered the first time I asked. I had to ask the question again in another email amongst a few other questions [“and will the brief contain details that answers my question about diversity? If not a list of the other influencers involved would be great, thank you”]. The other questions were answered, but STILL, the diversity one was not.
At this point, alarm bells were starting to ring.
This time, as well as glossing over my question about diversity, the reply had a brief attached and I was pressed for when my content would be created and submitted for approval. I was also given the campaign hashtag. Because other influencers had already posted their content, I decided to have a look at who was already working on the campaign via the hashtag he’d given me.
I was SHOCKED.
What I saw was a sea of white, slim, mostly blonde women aged about 40-50. That was IT.
When you’ve asked the question several times about diversity and you see that, it gets your back up a bit. MY BACK WAS WELL AND TRULY UP.
One more go. Another email back to my contact, and this is exactly what I asked:
“…I’m still waiting on your feedback about my diversity policy where XBrand is concerned? I’ve looked at the examples you gave me and looked up the hashtag that’s being used – I’m very concerned about the lack of diversity amongst the other influencers so far. They are all white and slim, mostly blonde… not a single plus size, face of colour or anyone with disabilities amongst them. I did ask for a list of the other influencers and the assurance that XBrand is committed to diversity in its campaigns: so far I’ve not seen any evidence of that : -(“
FINALLY he answered my question (in a roundabout way). This was his answer…
“In terms of diversity, we are working with [sic] all a range of influencers, you’ll also see that XBrand in general have a very diverse social: [he included a link.] This campaign in particular is running on many fronts and you’ll see the TV ads which are running include a diverse mix: [another link.]“
Basically, the part about the TV ads being diverse is true. I’d seen them previously and was impressed. (The TV ads were made by a separate creative agency however, nothing to do with the blogger outreach agency.) The part about their diverse social is sort of true; it could be an awful lot more diverse, however. There are the occasional pair of legs of colour(!), but that’s about it. A token gesture to diversity, if you like.
The real rub was the lack of truth in his first statement: “In terms of diversity, we are working with [sic] all a range of influencers”. I’m sorry, but that part was utter B*LLSH*T. Unless the women of colour, or the plus size women, or the older-than-60 women or the women with visible differences that were also participating in this campaign had yet to post their content or weren’t using the hashtag, that was nothing but BS.
Issuing an ultimatum – and having to make a decision
By this point, I’d long since sent a link to the campaign hashtag to some girlfriends and shown Keith to ask their opinions. I merely asked Keith what he saw with regards to who was being used in this campaign – his immediate response? “They’re all white and middle class.” (This was without ANY prompting from me.) I had the same sort of reaction from my girlfriends: All white. All slim. Where are the faces of colour.
Although I sort of knew it was probably a lost cause by this point, I decided to give my contact one last chance. It was, effectively, an ultimatum:
“Until I either have the names of the rest of the influencers who will be working on this campaign (which all other brands have been very happy to provide me with when asked) so I can see for sure that a diverse range of influencers will be involved, or more diversity appears in the hashtag search, I’m afraid I can’t proceed with this campaign.
I’m incredibly disappointed that I’ve not yet been given the reassurance or proof that this would be a diverse campaign, and I did ask for that information right at the beginning when agreeing to work on it. I have seen extremely exclusive influencer campaigns in the past and I vowed to make sure I would never take part in them. It would reflect very badly on MY brand considering I wrote this post a couple of years ago – the Black blogger Stephanie Yeboah wrote in 2019 “By only using white influencers, brands are telling Black women we don’t belong”. [source]
I’m sorry if my tone comes across badly but after having asked so many times about the diversity of the campaign I’ve now had to put my involvement with it on hold. There are SO many diverse influencers out there who, I’m sure, would dearly love to (and deserve to) work on this campaign”
[and I gave a list of eight diverse UK-based influencers as examples for him to refer to.]
And considering I wrote a post about fees and exactly what bloggers/influencers should AND COULD be charging, I’ll be completely upfront and tell you that I was potentially losing £1200.
That’s £1200 I could desperately do with.
A tiny shred of me hoped he’d see that he was completely in the wrong and do something to correct it. I was basically giving him a chance to redeem himself, to redeem the brand, to redeem the campaign. But of course, was happened was…
Tumbleweeds. Nothing. No response. For two weeks.
A week after emailing him I went away to the detox retreat for a week (which I’d already planned), gave him a couple more days after I got back, then emailed again:
“I was wondering if you’d had time to discuss my thoughts with the team at XBrand yet, it’s been nearly two weeks and I hadn’t heard back from you about where we go from here…? Looking at the IG hashtag there are still no plus-size influencers or those of colour appearing yet, so I’d really like to know if and when the more diverse influencers you mentioned are coming on board. If you’d still like to go ahead with the collaboration with me (as and when the more diverse influencers are involved) let me know; if not, I have the shoes waiting to go back so let me know if you’re arranging a collection and I’ll get them ready.”
I thought I was shocked when he kept dodging my diversity question… I was even more shocked when this brief response came back:
I hope you are well. The campaign has now finished so if you are happy to return the shoes then that would be great. Do you have the return labels?
Like, WOW. Just, WOW.
In all my blogging career I have never been so utterly shocked at a total and utter lack of professionalism in terms of washing over what were – and are – very, VERY valid and reasonable questions and requests. I was not being a diva. I was not personally asking for special treatment. I was merely asking for assurances that the campaign I was being asked to be part of was going to include influencers from a wide, DIVERSE range of people.
To repeat what Stephanie Yeboah wrote, “By only using white influencers, brands are telling Black women we don’t belong”. The brand – through this blogger outreach agency – was also telling plus-sized women, older women and women with disabilities and visible differences that they, too, don’t belong. That they can’t wear this brand’s shoes.
It’s one thing to produce high quality, diverse advertising campaigns and social media feeds. But all that means nothing when you fail to pay a diverse mix of bloggers and influencers to promote and represent your brand – you are being exclusive TO THE MAX if you only spend your influencer marketing budget on influencers who have white privilege, thin privilege and able-bodied privilege.
Protecting my brand
By asking the diversity question I am protecting my own brand. There was NO WAY I could put my brand [“Catherine Summers AKA Not Dressed As Lamb”] amongst that sea of white, slim, “middle class” women (as much as I detest the class system and the boxes it puts people in with its outdated assumptions, I’m using it here to illustrate a point). I’M EFFECTIVELY ONE OF THEM.
By accepting £1200 to take part in this campaign and represent this brand, I’d be saying that due to my white skin, my size 10 able-bodied figure and my appearance of being middle class AND adding the campaign hashtag, that this brand is only for women like me. Everyone else is excluded.
I’d be saying – along with the brand – that their shoes (and for the record, I really, really love their trainers) are not for women of colour, plus-sized women or older women. Or those with disabilities or visible differences. They’re ONLY for women like me… oh and alright, if you’re brunette you can wear them too, I suppose.
I’d be accepting a healthy fee to be yet another influencer with many privileges in a sea of generic faces – a fee that COULD be going to a blogger of colour or any one of the other diverse influencers I’ve mentioned. Someone that deserves to be more visible than me.
Just… NO. It’s wrong and my conscience won’t let me accept that money without remorse, regret and ill-feeling.
What’s happened since
So I’ve repacked the (unworn) shoes, and I’ll be sending them back. It was all too obvious that by not replying to me for two weeks and waiting for me to chase him, it was possible to say “this campaign has now ended…” – absolving him of any further discussions about diversity.
It sparked me to create a page on my blog that’s essentially there for me to direct brands and PRs towards. I’ve listed a non-exhaustive list of diverse UK-based bloggers/influencers that brands – if they’re struggling to find a more diverse mix – can hopefully approach for their campaigns. Bloggers that I would LOVE to see used. Bloggers that I’ve seen used by other brands I’ve worked with, ones that should be used MORE.
Here’s the page if you’d like to check it out: Diverse UK-Based Influencers.
Remember this page is aimed at brands, so it will only ever contain UK-based influencers. And as my audience is mostly aged 35-55+, I’ve only included influencers of colour who are either that age or who are relevant to that age group. (It would be too long if I were to include influencers of colour under the age of 35 – it needs to be a practical and useable list.)
I’d like to give a shout out to some of the brands that I’ve worked with who HAVE used a diverse mix of women [and sometimes men, where relevant] in campaigns I’ve been involved with:
Avon – Dove – Fantasie – JD Williams – L’Oréal – M&S – Nivea – Revolution – Specsavers – and more.
Kudos to the brands that DO recognise the importance of diversity.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve just worked on an Instagram campaign with my old collaborative partner, JD Williams. Although they’ve always been incredibly inclusive, I once again asked The Question… straight away I was given a list of everyone they’d approached, no quibbles whatsoever, no dodging the question. And what a wonderfully diverse bunch they were too (some have been added to my Diverse UK-Based Influencers page).
And as a final push to rectify the situation, I emailed the brand direct. Twice. I had a contact there who’d been in touch with me a couple of years about writing an article for their blog, so I checked LinkedIn and it turned out she stills works there. I emailed to explain the situation and because I wanted her to know why I didn’t go ahead with the collaboration – I didn’t know what he would (could) have possibly told her for my lack of content produced (I hadn’t signed anything due to the diversity problem so I wasn’t breaking a contract).
I got no answer, so I sent another email a week later just to check if she’d received it… I requested a read-receipt for that email, and got one. So I know it was opened by someone. But it’s been a couple of weeks now and I’ve had no answer – nothing. So I can’t tell you what the brand themselves have to say in their defence, or whether they’re burying their head in the sand about it, or whether they’re purposely ignoring me.
Who knows. Whichever way, it’s incredibly disappointing.
It’s 2021, and there has been MORE than enough talk about diversity in the media and online for every single person working in this industry to know that you can’t get away with all-white, all-thin, all-able-bodied campaigns anymore. It does nothing but harm your brand if you don’t read the room and reflect the need for representation of – and respect for – all.
I will continue to make sure I’m only part of diverse projects and campaigns. And ANYWAY, isn’t it more interesting to see more interesting faces and more interesting people with varied and more interesting stories to tell…?
What are your own experiences with and thoughts on diversity? Do you think most brands get it right – or are you still seeing all-white, not-diverse campaigns by those who don’t seem to have got the memo? Comment below…
Stay safe XOXO
Coming up: An Instagram live discussion on this topic
I’m planning to hold an Instagram Live about this topic next week, Thursday 15th July, at 8pm UK time (3pm EDT, 12pm PDT). I would REALLY love it if you could make it – it’ll be on my Instagram feed after the event so you can always catch up afterwards if you miss it or can’t be there.
If you yourself fall into any of the categories classed as diverse, or if you feel you’re not represented in brand-influencer campaigns, or if you’ve had similar experiences with diversity issues, then I’d love for you to contribute on the night if you can. I hope it’ll be a lively and positive discussion 😀
Linking up to… Monday: Inspire Me Monday, Ageless Style Linkup (first Monday of the month), My Glittery Heart, On Mondays We Link Up || Tuesday: Style With a Smile, Trend Spin/Walking in Memphis in High Heels, Turning Heads Tuesday, Spread the Kindness, Confident Twosday, Happy Now Blog Link Up || Wednesday: Style Me Wednesday, WowOnWednesday || Thursday: Chic & Stylish || Friday: Fancy Friday, On the Edge, Fabulous Friday, Fabulous Friday’s Link Up