Brands Have to Do Better on Race with Katie Kern

katie kern on brand podcast

“Enough is enough. It’s the responsibility of companies to stand up.” Following the murder of George Floyd, the nation has seen a critical shift in the growth and power of the Black Lives Matter movement through protest and action. But what should leaders and companies do? This week on the On Brand podcast, Media Frenzy Global Partner and COO Katie Kern returns to discuss how brands can start having tough conversations about race.

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About Katie Kern

An innate storyteller and strategic creative, Katie Kern has navigated her career with two passions at the helm: building bold brands and pouring into tomorrow’s creative leaders through mentorship. As Partner and COO of Media Frenzy Global, Katie extends her 15-year industry expertise and business knowledge in the agency to drive business growth and advocate a ‘Go There’ company culture.

Prior to joining Media Frenzy Global in 2013, Katie launched her own lifestyle PR agency where she guided emerging fashion and lifestyle companies by creating strategic media relationships and unique event activations to amplify their brand and increase their bottom line. In 2019 Katie expanded further on her professional passions; entrepreneurship and diversity, equity and inclusion.

She was nominated and selected to participate in the Goldman Sachs 10K Small Business Program at Babson College, an investment designed to help entrepreneurs curate jobs and economic opportunity through access to education, access to capital and business acumen support services. Since graduating from the rigorous program, Katie has leveraged her experience to improve operations and increase company revenue.

Most recently, she presented and spoke about Women Leadership and Board Governance at the 2019 Philadelphia Diversity and Inclusion Conference, as well as the 15th Annual National Diversity and Inclusion conference in Dallas, TX where she gave insights on shared vision, accountability and communication in leadership alongside keynote speaker President Barack Obama.

Katie’s commitment to improving the lives of women in business and young girls flourishes through her mentorship with Women’s Entrepreneurial Opportunity Project, where recently spoke at the organization’s annual conference on transitioning from a corporate environment to entrepreneurship. Her civic involvement extends beyond her unwavering investment into rising minority leaders.

Episode Highlights

“Black lives matter. As leaders and companies, we have a platform, and a duty to our Black employees, clients, and industry professionals to speak up,” says Katie. “We can’t be afraid of offending our customers and associating their brands with sensitive subjects. By aligning our corporate values with what customers care about, I hope to build a sense of loyalty and a deeper sense of personal connection. It’s about coming together for what is right and what will move us in a positive progressive direction. Change is happening and the time is now.”

How can brands start taking action on race? We talked a lot about brands’ responses to Black Lives Matter mostly being limited to posting a black square with a thoughtful paragraph of text and a few hashtags. What else can they do? Where can we start? Katie provided a helpful list of questions for companies wanting to look inward and start the difficult work.

  • Company culture—What does your company culture actually speak to? Ask your Black employees what they think and how they feel.
  • Human resource policies—Do your HR policies sanction against microaggressions? Do you have diversity guidelines and policies within the company?
  • Black employees at every level—What are your numbers for hiring Black people throughout all levels of your organization?
  • Black leadership—What’s the makeup of your board and executive leadership?
  • Mentoring Black leadership—Are you doing all that you can to see that Black people get promoted to executive and decision-making positions?
  • Having tough and constant conversations—How will you sustain this momentum moving forward? This is not easy work. These are not easy conversations. You have to keep talking internally and doing the required work.

Hopefully, your brand can find an onramp from these suggestions. At the very least, it’s a start. And it’s a start you can make today.

Katie also mentioned Barack Obama’s recent town hall which I’ve embedded here:

But what if our answers to these questions aren’t that good today? “Transparency is the best thing that any company or brand can do right now,” says Katie. “Every company can do better across the board but every company needs to look inward, do the checks and balances, and then come out on the other end with solutions and action.” She then pointed to the NFL finally acknowledging that they were wrong with their stance on Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest. While the NFL came to this recently, Nike as a brand took bold action early on by making Kaepernick the focus of a successful campaign. However, the NFL was transparent, saying, “We were wrong.” That’s not easy. But it’s a start.

“The challenge here is to sustain the current sentiment,” notes Katie of the need for continued, sustained action. “We have to think about it every single day.”

What should you do in the next five minutes? As recent guest Tom Peters says, excellence is the best short-term strategy. What can we do in the next five minutes as brands to impact race? Katie says: “Reach out to the Black people you know. READ. Read history books. Read the history of Black people. This isn’t a time to be afraid and silent.”

Agency Leaders: Join the Act in Solidarity pledge. As part of Katie’s commitment to fighting systemic racism and positively impacting opportunities for black industry professionals, Media Frenzy Global and Obviouslee Marketing are challenging all agency leaders to publicly voice their support by joining the Act in Solidarity pledge.

What brand has made Katie smile recently? After deciding that this is an odd time to smile about brands, Katie reframed this by noting that, “A lot of brands have made me sit up and pay attention. We’re looking at brands and how they respond through a different lens.”

To learn more, follow Katie on LinkedIn and Twitter and check out the Media Frenzy Global website.

As We Wrap …

Did you hear something you liked on this episode or another? Do you have a question you’d like our guests to answer? Let me know on Twitter using the hashtag #OnBrandPodcast and you may just hear your thoughts here on the show.

On Brand is sponsored by my book Brand NowDiscover the seven dynamics to help your brand stand out in our crowded, distracted world. Order now and get special digital extras. Learn more.

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Until next week, I’ll see you on the Internet!