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Targeting African-American Audiences Beyond Black History Month

Today on Essence.com, there’s a “Street Style” photo gallery from the “Celebrate Black HERstory” event.

On Clutch, they pose this question: “Do we still need Black leaders?”

On The Root, they’re talking about Bobby and Whitney.

And on HuffPost Black Voices, there’s a story about an organization, the Black and Missing Foundation that’s focused on locating “missing people of color.”

As Michelle Flowers Welch, CEO and founder of Flowers Communications Group said in our Women Leaders profile yesterday, there’s been a dramatic increase in outreach to multicultural audiences, including African-American consumers. The examples above show the wide variety of issues that outlets targeting African Americans are tackling. We talked with a few experts to find out about some of the other trends and hot topics that are of interest.

“I believe celebrating Black History Month is important, but if you don’t have a diversity strategy 365, it doesn’t sound authentic,” says Natalie Tindell, assistant comms professor at Georgia State University and the chair of the PRSA‘s diversity committee. “That goes for any group. It should be ingrained in the organization that this market is important and you’re constantly tailoring things to this group throughout the year.”

Even if you have a pitch that’s specific to Black History Month, think about the future.

“It’s a chance to talk about past culture and legacy but also a chance to talk about African Americans who are working to create a better future,” says Sheryl Huggins Salomon, managing editor of The Root.

Salomon calls stories about “those who are breaking new ground” a “staple” for Black History Month, but says the site is always interested in stories about inspirational events and people who are doing something for the first time.

Along the same historical lines, Salomon says “pop culture nostalgia” is always a great topic (her site did a story about the miniseries Roots on the 35th anniversary). And military history is having a moment right now because of the film Red Tails about the Tuskeegee Airman. The film’s director George Lucas received a special NAACP Image award just last week where, among his other cinematic accomplishments, this film was singled out.

“There’s an interest in reading about our history that we don’t necessarily get reflected in mainstream media on a daily basis, in schools, or textbooks,” says Salomon.

While there is a desire for stories about Black history, the stories are now taking different shape. Salomon says this audience is looking for more than just “a collection of facts.” Rather, craft a story that goes in-depth, draws a line between history and what’s happening today (she cites Jim Crow-era voter registration issues and some of the voting issues that exist today), and the impact that having an African-American President is having.

“My nieces will grow up with the notion that a Black person can become the most powerful person in the land, if not the planet,” she says. Still, there’s a “situation where there’s over 15 percent Black unemployment, a wealth gap, and an education gap.” Really targeting this audience means having a firm grasp on this landscape.

“In PR, what you’re trying to do is craft an effective message to reach an audience. And if you look at the U.S. population, it’s becoming increasingly diverse,” says Salomon.

African Americans are also becoming more digitally diverse. Salomon points out that African Americans tend to “overindex” in their use of mobile technology to go online, and spend a good deal of time on Twitter. Rashada Whitehead, president of Flowers Communications Group, also points out the importance of social media for reaching this demographic. Not only is it important to infuse social media in your outreach program, but the act of writing and those that are doing the writing (like songwriters and others in the entertainment industry) are coming to the forefront.

“Think about what makes Twitter and Facebook so popular,” says Whitehead. “It’s a diary that people can read and respond to.” Moreover, bloggers are becoming “ultra powerful.”

“Print still has a very rich place in the African American consumer market. It just has to evolve to hang on to relevance,” she says.

On top of all of this, stories about those who live the American Dream are winners.

“That spirit of hope, that sense of pride, that desire to make it, and do well, and live well, and be well is something that’s common to all,” adds Whitehead. Indeed. We love that.

While there are some specialists and specialized firms that focus on multicultural communities, the PRSA’s Tindell emphasizes the need for everyone in PR to have the ability to reach diverse audiences given the rich backgrounds of consumers.

“It’s imperative that people have a multicultural competency, and that competency is more that just looking something up,” says Tindell. “It’s having a pulse and empathy and understanding that what you experience may not be the same as everyone else. That’s the new reality of the industry and the world we live in. It’s global, it’s interracial, and it’s multicultural.”

[image: A snapshot of the Clutch homepage.]

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