How I single-handedly bring inclusion, diversity to big brands
By Cowgirl Candace | Photos by Corey Reese
I’m a Georgia-based cowgirl. I have coarse, kinky dreadlocks. And, brace yourself: I’m black. Unusual attributes to represent the American West, especially when society is so used to the Clint Eastwood to Carrie Underwood variety. I’m a bona fide fourth-generation farm girl or what I like to refer to myself as: a unicorn. And lately, I’ve used my atypical cowhand combination to my social media marketing and career advantage.
I’m also an editor and marketer in higher education. I constantly keep diversity and inclusion in my creative thought process when developing both print and digital campaigns. After all, my goal is to connect with the entire student body. However, some international country Western, fashion and beauty brands I live by don’t always reflect customers and followers with my background description. Some fail to connect at all with the black audience. Others fail to connect with the dreadlock audience (even within the black community).
A marketing oversight: Maybe. I have a hard time ignoring the lack of diversity or inclusion, especially when I’m a diehard fan of a particular product, service or idea. But instead of writing a pissed-off email or social media post to these global companies, I often lend my communications expertise to the brand’s marketing efforts from an ambassador or consumer’s point of view. Yes, my proactive approach to inclusive excellence works. Here’s how:
I TAG BRANDS ON MY ORIGINAL CONTENT.
I now brand blog for companies like Durango Boots (United States) and Black Beauty & Hair Magazine (United Kingdom) simply by tagging them on Instagram to my creative content — content that naturally relates to their mission. I use engaging images and punchy text to attract brands and share that I too am an avid supporter and have been loyal to them, which in some cases goes back for decades. Because my images are professional, interesting and storytelling, they get noticed and reposted. And in a Southern snap, I’ve given blacks and/or dreadlock wearers a digital voice not previously heard and seen from the brand. #TeamWesternWinning
I FOLLOW UP VIA EMAIL WITH THE BRAND.
Once I’ve made the social media connection, I move the conversation to a polished email. I thank the brand for acknowledging my work and share my history with the company as well. Sometimes, I provide additional personal stories and pics of my farm girl lifestyle or dreadlocks to drive my point home that I’ve held a long-term commitment to their cause. Lastly, I ask if we can extend the relationship as part of their current marketing campaigns. The editorial goal: to reach new, niche audiences. I offer my unique lifestyle as creative content to attract often overlooked groups. So after I gain the green light…
I NEGOTIATE AN UNDEMANDING PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT.
Staying in line with the brand’s marketing campaigns, I brainstorm new editorial angles to projects already in place or about to happen. I also outline posts/pics I can independently develop and share with their audiences. Then, I set realistic deadlines that align with the brand’s launch dates. I put all the work on me, making the partnership easy for marketing teams to squeeze in my content (authentic, informative stories and imagery) at any time. Caveat: I never discuss pay during this initial conversation because the point for me is to first place unrepresented groups in the brand’s marketing picture. At most, the relationship will shift into neat bartering opportunities.
I EXECUTE THE AGREEMENT ON TIME AND ABOVE STANDARD.
I hate when people waste my time, so I definitely make sure I’m producing quality content for brands within their marketing deadlines. That said, I like to research quickly topics marketing teams have yet talked about with their social media audiences to hook consumers/followers with something unusual, educational, beautiful and relatable. Staying on the editorial cutting-edge of what brands are digitally producing increases the chances for my content to publish as well.
I ESTABLISH A MEANINGFUL, SUSTAINABLE BOND WITH THE BRAND.
After the editorial, inclusive awesomeness is complete, I don’t simply say, “Y’all take care.” I again thank them for the creative collaboration, which I genuinely do. At the end of the day, the brand could have ignored me. I love to wrap up projects looking toward the future. I suggest ideas to explore possibly in the new year or around upcoming holidays that organically weave my diverse background back into these brands’ social media marketing strategies. And they stick. My voice continues to become creatively and digitally heard — and more importantly — represented by big brands that lacked my cultural characteristics before.