This episode of the show is different in that it doesn’t cover marketing tactics; it tackles the systemic racism present in our industry and how each of us can play a part in fighting it.
I’ll be honest — I’ve been in the “Fear” zone most of my life without even realizing it. I’ve transitioned into the “Learning” zone and now know there’s an incredible amount of knowledge I need to take in. I hope you join me on this journey.
In this episode, Mike Utaegbulam, founder of the Black Creative Group, explains the challenges Black professionals face in the marketing/design industry and provides tips on how you as a marketer or business owner can start actually effecting change.
What you’ll learn:
- What trends Mike’s observed in the industry in response to the Black Lives Matter movement
- The obstacles Black professionals have to navigate
- How to stop “box-checking” and start intentionally being anti-racist in the workplace
As Mike says, it’s not on Black people to educate white professionals. If you’re white, here are resources you can read to get started on the anti-racism journey:
- “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo: If thinking about, talking about, or reading about racism makes you uncomfortable, this book is required reading. I finished it recently, and I wish I’d read it years ago. It was extremely helpful in understanding how I could be a better ally and stop being afraid.
- “How to Be An Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi. Learn better via video? Check out this talk by the author.
- Already read those books? Explore this incredible list of resources gathered by @tatortash.
- And here’s a list of business- and workplace-related resources, as well:
- The ultimate guide to avoiding racial discrimination in hiring
- How to alter your hiring practices to increase diversity
- 10 Steps Businesses Can Take To Improve Diversity And Inclusion In The Workforce
- 10 Recruiter Strategies To Improve Diversity And Inclusion In Hiring
- How Managers Choose The Employees They Promote
- Five Podcasts To Encourage Diversity And Inclusivity
At Fractl, we’ve done our own reflecting on how we can eliminate potential bias and become better allies. We’re working on all of the following:
- Updating the company handbook to more specifically reflect our values, including the importance of diversity and our intolerance for hate or discrimination.
- Auditing our hiring, onboarding, and salary increase processes to see where bias may exist and to examine how we can be more mindful of creating an inclusive space for people of all races, religions, sexualities, gender identities, political beliefs, ages, etc.
- Incorporating diversity training for leadership and employees so everyone has access to the necessary education and resources to participate in an inclusive workplace.
- Being much more deliberate in booking more diverse podcast guests, in race, experience, opinion, and more.
- Uplifting Black-owned businesses, either by providing a campaign to a nonprofit organization or consulting with local businesses to help them stay afloat during COVID-19. We’re hashing out the details, but we’re looking forward to pulling our weight.
- Making Election Day a Fractl day off, so that if you don’t get the chance to vote by mail or if you prefer to do it in person on Election Day.
Amanda: This week on the show, I am very pleased to have Mike Utaegbulam, he is the founder of the black creative group, which is based in DC where I am. So, I am excited to find that out. And we have a special episode today. Because instead of just diving into marketing tactics and strategies, we wanted to take some time to look at the Black Lives Matter movement and how the marketing industry can do a better job of being more inclusive and lifting black voices and black professionals. So, Mike, thank you so much for being on the show and taking the time to do this.
Mike: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate you reaching out.
Amanda: Yeah, I’m really excited to get your perspective and most Before we jump in, I’d love to hear about your career like, how did you get started in this? And how did you come to be a founder of this group, this company?
Mike: Sure. So, I started, you know, I was really involved in a student of mine in college, I went to the University of South Florida. And what we ran into is, you know, we have these great events, but we just wouldn’t have any flyers. And so, I said, you know what, I’ll take the initiative. So, I taught myself how to use paint. And that’s how I would make my first flyers to paint and then Microsoft Word. And then eventually, someone told me about some weird program called Photoshop. And I taught myself how to use that. And this is when Photoshop was like $2,000 for the software. And then that became a passion of mine. And so, you know, had a portfolio in college, got my first job at a chamber nonprofit, and that’s really when I got into the creative suite. And really, we work in nonprofits, you are kind of like a master of several different areas. So, you’re not just a graphic designer, you’re also an innovative promoter, you’re also talking to sponsors. And so, that’s what really got me saying that, you know, I don’t just have to be this downer, it could be, you know, digital, I can do several different things. So, every job that I’ve had since then, it has been preparing me more and more to make the leap to have my own company. And so, my last job, it was at the Executive Leadership Council, which is a nonprofit. And that’s where my mind thought that I should work as a nonprofit worker chamber, and has noticed that, you know, I was doing a lot, and I hadn’t know how, but working for one job just didn’t seem the right fit for me, because I just had so many ideas.
And so, I founded this company as a side project about 2018. And it started doing really well, got some clients and you know, it just didn’t get to the point where I can go full time. And then COVID happened, and I was at a point already where I was making my same salary to the side. And so, I said, okay, well now that it’s remote I can actually put more work into it. And so, I dived into it and got to a point to where now my side business actually eclipsed my main hustler, quit the job and you know, because of COVID, it couldn’t really hire anyone else because it was just a tough transition. So, they actually turned into one of my, not beta clients, but a client. And so, ever since then we’ve just been building and building and building and I brought Crystal on, she’s my partner as a PR, and messaging like chief. And we just been building and building, and our initial focus was to just to help black businesses or black entrepreneurs, wherever since everything has happened, we’ve seen like an interest of no people who just haven’t worked with anybody in my blog before. And they just reached out to us and said, hey, we want to diversify, who we work with, and the companies we work with, and the monies we give out. And so, we’ve expanded to include them as well. So, it’s been a great opportunity. You know, running a business is hard, but because of the work that we’re in, and because of the field that we’re in, we’re just passionate about it and we love it.
Amanda: Yeah, I noticed that as a company, you guys you touch on a lot of different stuff, like you do design and marketing and web UX and everything. So, it seems like that comes from how you got into this career, it’s like dabbling. So, you were focused on black businesses, black entrepreneurs, but then you got interest from other companies, because it was that very recent in response to Black Lives Matter. And suddenly people are realizing like, they do not have enough of a diverse mindset.
Mike: Right. Right. And some of them will actually say like, hey, we know this isn’t an excuse, but we honestly, like, just we did not notice that we have never had a black agency on record or black designer, we’ve never worked with a black person, you know, in this field before. So, now we’re going to be intentional about doing that. So, while I appreciate that, you know, in the back of my mind, I was like, why did it require, you know, a death for you to take a look at your process, seizing vendors and all that kind of stuff. So, we’re appreciative, but at the same time it’s like, about time, you know.
Amanda: Yeah, I can totally understand that. I was going to ask, what your impression was when that started happening?
Mike: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I mean, I think some of it is authentic, you know, it comes from a good place. I think from our experience with some companies, it’s literally finishes checking off a box and they say, hey, we worked with one black agency and we’re well, we’re covered. And some have literally just come to us, just so they could say they tried to reach out to the back agency to see if they weren’t up to par, because, you know, a prime example is we had a major company reached out to us. We went through this whole consultation phase, several calls, and we got a good feel. And then we sent a proposal to them, then there was silence, and it was kind of like, oh, well, maybe you just did that, just so you could say, you pitched on one blackline, but you really had no attention and working with us. And so, that has happened a few times. And then we just learned and kept moving. Because we have people who are really looking to work with us and trying to with us.
Amanda: Well, yeah, that’s exactly the kind of stuff I want to get at, like things that we would never even know is happening sometimes. Like you hear these types of stories and its very eye opening that people are just kind of checking boxes, so they don’t actually have their heart into changing. So, how has your experience as a black professional in this industry when you came, especially maybe when you were starting a company, you know, do you think there are particular challenges that you faced?
Mike: Yeah, I think, you know, just being black, there aren’t really a lot of resources that, you know, you would think that, you know, that between the minority development business council, and even like, banks, it is hard, right. And because you don’t know a lot of things, and there’s not really someone, you don’t have mentors, like, I’m just not getting a mentor. I’m learning a lot of things on my own, and I love doing that. But at the same time, it’s like, you know, I went to college, I’ve worked in nonprofit, I’ve been a professional for 15 years or so. It’s hard for me, you know, how is it for the professional that doesn’t have a college experience or doesn’t know these things and struggling to get funding, has a great idea but can’t get money. So, I always try to get by that in the back of my mind. Like while I’m struggling, I have the experience to where I could speak to but you know, what about the people that don’t have the experience and are looking to go out on their own, it’s hard. And so, I wish that there were one more like business development resources available, readily available to black businesses. And I’m starting to see them more now. But again, it’s kind of like, it shouldn’t have required all this, for this to be easily available to everybody.
Amanda: Absolutely. Yeah, we, as part of trying to figure out what we need to do better at our agency. It was really fascinating reading some of the materials about like hiring and things that you don’t even think twice about, like the language in a job posting, I would have never thought about some of these things, and you’re absolutely right. Things like mandating a certain level of education or it was very interesting to learn that stuff. And it’s frustrating, like we should have known and like read this stuff, and I’m hoping that people are getting clued into it now and we’re hoping to make those changes. But yeah, that is really interesting.
Amanda: Yeah, that’s a great point. Being able to recognize, okay, we have a majority white staff if we say things like we need a culture fit that sends a signal that whether intentional or not, is terrible. So, we talked about, hiring is a big piece of this. And I’ll link to some resources in the show notes for people who are interested in those topics, because it’s really important. And also, you mentioned business development and having resources for people who have great ideas, but don’t have the same resources as others and are able to lift those off the ground. Other aspects of, you know, you don’t just work in marketing, you work in kind of the whole creative space, but any other aspects of our industry that you think could be improved upon, like, I know, going to conferences, or even seeing the list of people speaking at conferences, has been overwhelmed with mainly white for a long time. And I think recently people are trying to get a little bit better about it. So, what are your thoughts on that? Just like representation and like the thought leadership realm?
Mike: Well, it’s funny you say that, you know, a colleague of mine, we went to the Forbes 30, under 30 conference, I believe it might have been in Detroit last year. And, of course I went to the marketing track and there was one session, I was like, oh my God, I can’t wait to go, It was the CMO session. And it might have been CMO’s, of either major tech companies or might have been under a certain age range. And when we got there and looked at the panel, the panels are all white, and I looked at my colleague who’s black, and I was like, why is it that CMO’s, especially at that level, is like, oh, I’m going to get white. And she was saying that that’s the field, and if you look at advertising, and if you look at the marketing field, the closer you get to the top, this is across the industry, the wider it gets, and that really stuck with me. And then you go to conferences like Adobe max, and while it is more diverse, and it’s not more, but it’s not black. And so, what you’ve seen is you’ve seen companies and small organizations say, hey, we are going to create a conference specifically for black people and while you know, like Afro tech, you remember some of these conferences. And while that is great, we need to get to a point to where these major conferences are more inclusive.
So, if Adobe Max is going to have a conference or a virtual conference, the specific amount of those speakers needs to be black, and not like of color which some people use to hide the fact that while it is diverse, there’s no emphasis of black companies need to say no, we need this many black influencers, black advertisers, black marketers to be on our panels. So, the representation is actually true. And so, that’s what I want to see as competence. So, more representation, and then just better recruiting. And so, you know that your advertisers and marketers are white and so what are you doing to go to HBCUs or our smaller companies that say, hey, we will love to get more black people to attend our conferences, what can we do? What incentives can we do to make sure that you get here? Because when I went to Adobe Max, this is like five years ago, my company paid for it and the ticket was like thousands of dollars. And then you have to get to California to pay for a hotel, which is a couple thousand. So, the total package by net 5000. And again, I was fortunate enough to be in a job that said it will invest, but thinking about everyone else, that can’t you know, and they’re missing out on that experience and skills and what they need to be successful, but they can’t afford to go to W Mac. So, I just like to see what programs they have, just for black students, for black creatives.
Amanda: Yeah, it really is the stomach and it comes up in all these little ways. That’s it really. So, when somebody hears that, they know that it’s involved in like the fabric of how things operated. They want to do something, you know, how can an individual or an agency or a company come to start making these changes, like, again, auditing or hiring and making sure that they’re reaching out to these other sources for employment rather than just relying on the same things? Is there anything else that people should be cognizant of, or, you know, how they can educate themselves or anything that you would suggest to marketers out there who are listening to this and they’re like, yeah, I should probably educate myself more. get more involved?
Mike: Yeah, I would say, the first is, it’s not the honest of black people educated, and I’ve said that for the past couple of months with the whole George Floyd thing happening, you know, people reached out and they were like, hey, how can we be a bit ally? And my first thing I was like, we’ll do the research, because it’s not my job to give you the roadmap. So, if it’s coming from a good place that shouldn’t offend you, it should actually be like, an invitation to say, hey, I’d love to work with you, but meet me here first, and those have a conversation. And then, for companies, you really have to be intentional, not apologetic, and it’s going to rub a few people the wrong way to say, hey, 20% of our new hires must be black. And then in order for that happen, you have to tie it to the business and so you say 20% of the new hires must be black. If it doesn’t happen, I’m taking it out of your bonus, I’m affecting your pocket to ensure that this will happen and not only that, 20% that comes in here will be black. That means five years from now, in the C suite must have one black person. So, it has to be like systemic, it has to be like eventual. But if you have these parameters, you will see a change through the pipeline. But you have to say, today, this is what we’re going to do over the next three to five years, like, what’s your plan, like, it’s no longer effective enough to say, we stand for black lives, great. What are you going to do to fix a situation in your industry, in your job to fix the whiteness that we see across all industries?
Amanda: That’s great. Did you create the black creative group in response to all of these issues that you saw? So, wanting to have a company that was black owned, and, you know, black employees and supporting black businesses. Was this trying to compensate for the industry that was kind of failing?
Mike: Right. Yeah. What we noticed was, and Chris was my partner, she works with the US black chambers, and I worked for a black nonprofit. And what we just noticed was, we run into a lot of like really great black business entrepreneurs or owners. They just don’t have the resources to promote themselves or they don’t have like the $10,000 that’s needed to do a true campaign. So, we said, well, we have the expertise, how can we help you get to the point where you can scale to get to that level? And so, that’s eventually essentially why we started, why we wanted to create something for our own people. And of course, like if we’ve expanded since then, but that’s the core, that’s at the core of our business is to help black entrepreneurs with marketing services to get them to a level to where they could compete with their counterparts of other races.
Amanda: Right. When you say business resources, just again, in case people are listening, and they want to provide these types of things, do you have any thoughts on what kind of resources would be really useful that maybe other professionals can rally together and create?
Mike: Well, you know, and I’m sure this exists but just like an incubator, right? And, when you hear incubator, you think of tech, you don’t think of creative writing. So, maybe an incubator for creative industries or even for life, small mom and pop restaurants that have to go virtual now because of COVID. Right? How can these companies knowing that they have like a max a $2,000 budget to get things done? What can we do to provide them with the resources they need to scale or to move to a virtual experience to where they can still receive some revenue? Because you know, the customers haven’t gone anywhere, but they’re just not out, nobody’s walking in the store now, but they’re still alive. So, what can we create as businesses to help these small businesses so that may be like a major bank saying, hey, we’re going to sponsor this program? And we’re going to focus on companies that are at this revenue level, which may be below what we see in the industry. And that’s really where we want to be and if you’re us, we want to be able to say, we have this program for small black businesses. If you go through this program for a few weeks we’ll be able to give you with this and it’ll help your business go virtual, it will help your business move forward, but you know, it’s specific, I would say resources on getting funding from banks, resources on creating a business plan, resources on just general marketing yourself in the COVID era.
And then of course, we see stuff like accounting, just general business resources that the small companies will need that they don’t know about, because they haven’t been exposed to it. So, that is what I would recommend. And so, if we could figure out a way to pull resources in a way that is very cost effective, or is sponsored, even free for these businesses to participate in, I think that’d be a really good resource.
Amanda: Those are great suggestions. I love that. And again, it’s stuff that, you know, if you are privileged, and you are just kind of like cruising through life, you wouldn’t even think that people don’t have access to this type of stuff.
Mike: And even working for a company, there’s a lot of things you take for granted. And so, I just remember during the whole Obamacare thing, that kind of like went in one ear out the other because I had a job who provided me with insurance, but now that I’m on my own, like, oh, you’re starting to see like the cost of things and the true cost of things. And I can see how, if a company’s like, if the government is like, you must provide insurance for all your employees, I could see how they’d be like, well, I’m going to give my employees because I literally cannot afford to pay the insurance and continue running my business. And so, it’s a lot that I’m starting to realize, I understand as I’m older as I’m a business owner, you know, just the resources that small businesses need.
Amanda: Yeah, that’s great. Is there anything that you wish that I asked or anything that I’ve missed, that you think is important for marketers to know?
Mike: I would say, for marketers to have any disappears on your field, have you ever wanted to promote a product to the black community? Or have you ever challenged, have you ever been in a room full of non-black people? Have you ever said hey, we need representations? Has anybody ever stepped up and raised your hand and said we are running massive campaign and there is no black representation in this room, we need it. You know, if you haven’t checked that, then, if you have a seat at the table in the room, you need to say something, please speak up. Because, as you’ve seen over the past couple of years, some of these major corporations, they released these ad campaigns, and you could just tell that there was nobody black in the room. And if they were black, they had no power to say anything. And still just be intentional, if you’re ever in a room, you don’t see representation, and that is black people, if you don’t see any black representation in a group, you speak up because now, this is a group thing, like you’re not bringing different diverse forces into the room. And as you know, that means your advertising is effective.
Amanda: And that’s really powerful, what you said that even if they’re in the room, that doesn’t mean that they feel like they’re empowered to say something.
Mike: Right. There was a meme, and the meme was going around and it has like a band aid over a crack on the concrete, and the cache goes, this is a company hiring a chief diversity officer to fix systemic racism. And it’s true, right? So, the chief diversity officers of these companies, even these agencies are only black or of color. But it’s a very powerless position, right? And so, you’re leaving it, you’re essentially saying this billion dollar company, I’m going to hire one person to fix the systemic issues in my company, but I’m not going to give them any power. And I’m going to essentially make it so difficult for them that they will leave within the next two, three years. And then we at least we say, hey, we tried, and it didn’t work out. Right. And so, just to be more intentional, you must be intentional.
Amanda: Yeah. That really illustrates kind of like the overall problem, like bad example like in terms of the workforce, like okay, we’re going to like you said checkbox, we tried it and that’s it rather than, because I think what a lot of people are afraid of and honestly what I’ve been afraid of in the past is making a mistake. So, people just don’t do anything, or they just decided it’s not their problem. Rather than okay, we’re going to actually try to make these changes, it’s probably going to be difficult, like for some people, and it’s not going to be easy, but it’s the actual work that has to be done.
Mike: Right. I think that’s the downside of canceled culture, its people really aren’t allowed to be wrong or make mistakes and without getting blasted. And I get the frustration of like, hey, we’ve been saying this for like years, how are you getting in the wrong, you have to put it out there and people are going to bash you, you’re going to have people that says, why did it take you so long, and they just keep pushing forward, you must keep pushing forward, you got to put yourself out there. Because we are expected to do that, when it comes to companies like we are expected to constantly put ourselves out there and work twice as hard. So, why can’t other people do it as well?
Amanda: Right. When you’re able to make that comparison, which people never do, like, wow, how much do black people had to deal with in these situations that we are like, nervous just because one person says you haven’t done that, you should have known this before. And then we immediately freeze and stop it. Yeah, it’s definitely interesting and something that we need to get over.
Mike: And I think another thing in general, is with hiring practices and your promotion practices. There are a few studies that I’ve read about this and it’s mainly corporate America, when it comes down to hiring, for example, a CEO, if it’s the white candidate, the white candidate can, there are five qualities to have, the white candidate can have three of the five and make it to the top, the Black Head must have five to even be considered, right. And we see this not at the CEO level by several different levels, even below the CEO that pretty much says that the Black Head must be perfect in order to be considered the white candidate or non-black candidate, and it can be missing several key experience points and still make it. Even so, I think we have to change that and if you see someone of color that is talented, but they’re missing something, give them a chance, put them on a probationary period, let them prove themselves, because you have no idea what they can do with that position. In any job, any position is on the job training, they’re not going to have everything, and even if they do have everything you should still teach them how to do it at this company. And so, give people a chance, or tell them, hey, we didn’t hire you, because you’re missing this, if you get this, then we’d love to have another interview in the future, but don’t just say, give them the standard, like, oh, you know, we have moved on to other candidates we love your, don’t do that, but give them like, hey, this is why we didn’t hire you. This is what we recommend, you know, in that case, like that would help in some aspects of the hiring process.
Amanda: That’s interesting. I haven’t heard that. And that makes a lot of sense. Like specifically saying, we’re interested in you, you do have a lot of great qualities. But this is the one thing that if you improve on, you know, come back. It’s a much different message than just like either ghosting them completely or saying sorry, you weren’t chosen, which you have no idea why. That’s a really good actionable thing people can start doing immediately. So, Mike, what I usually do on the show is I ask who you would recommend being a future guest. And so, typically the show is about helping content marketers understand the value of their work and communicate that value. And of course, if I have a lot of white people on the show, we would end up having a lot of white guests. What I’m trying to be is to be more cognizant about in general for the show, but do you have recommendations on who can give other marketers great tips on either how to better calculate their own results, because sometimes people put stuff out there, especially with content it’s like tricky when to know the value of what you’re doing. Either understanding the results of that or being able to talk and I think that whole dynamic comes into play a lot with our conversation of like, how do you get buy in for things and feel empowered to do that, yeah. Do you have any recommendations?
Mike: Yeah, one of my good friends, his name is Clarence Fluker in Austin, he is easy to contact. He’s awesome, he works for the Obama Administration, and he is in a comms role at a nonprofit in DC, I can’t remember the name. But he’s awesome, that’s like one of my mentors. And then I have a colleague, Jeb Gene, who’s a UI UX developer for Advent Health. And he also works with us on contract basis, he’s also great, and he can’t bring a different perspective as far as like representation in the medical field when it comes to be a creative. So, those two I’d recommend all the time.
Amanda: That sounds wonderful. And I really appreciate those intros.
Amanda: Well, thank you very much for taking the time, as you said, it’s on white people, white marketers to figure out how we did to fix this. So, the fact that you shared with us for half an hour means a lot, and I will include a bunch of links in the show notes for people who are interested in these various topics, if they’re retiring or, you know, what have you business development. But thank you so much for being on the show Mike.
Mike: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity.