Dr. Appiah explores critical questions on building meaningful diversity across marketing, communications, and advertising — and supporting Black talent in particular. This includes:
● The importance of race in the field of communication ● Intentional approaches to cultivating and empowering Black professionals ● Historic barriers to building and sustaining a strong talent pipeline ● Roles of industry and academia in making change and building belonging
Dr. Appiah shares his thoughts on the progress of diversity in the advertising and marcomms industry; and provides insight into how we can work together to increase representation and empower Black talent by highlighting BASCA — the Black Advertising and Strategic Communications Association.
BASCA was founded over 10 years ago as a crucial partnership between students, faculty, and professionals to develop and prepare Black graduates for careers in advertising, communications, and marketing.
Recentering the Conversation
Growing up in Long Beach, California, Dr. Appiah excelled in sports and academics, earning a scholarship to Santa Clara University where he completed a B.A. in Communication. He moved on to Cornell University for his M.A. in Communication and ultimately achieved his Ph.D. in the same field at Stanford University.
Dr. Appiah has written and lectured about the impact of strategic communication messages in media on ethnic minorities, and the role stereotypes play in intergroup interaction. His research attempts to provide a better understanding of the theoretical underpinnings and psychological mechanisms at work when people are exposed to ethnic-specific messages in the media. He also examines advertising effects on ethnic minority audiences, and the impact of cultural identity on audiences’ responses to advertising and communication messages.
Throughout his career, Dr. Appiah has helped demonstrate to mainstream journal editors, reviewers, and readers “why race matters” in the field of communication. Even though he’s a respected expert in this field, Dr. Appiah has faced certain challenges when submitting his work to leading academic journals.
“To publish, I often felt like I had to incorporate whites into research for it to be seen as significant and important,” he notes in the podcast interview.
As part of this discussion, Dr. Appiah explored the importance of focusing on the effects of advertising and messaging specifically on ethnic minority audiences such as Black communities and individuals – as opposed to having to look at these audiences only in comparison with white cohorts.
A Pressing Need
Dr. Appiah believes that increasing the representation of Blacks in the marketing communications sector is a fundamental need as society becomes increasingly more diverse.
Advertising agencies, as one critical slice of the larger marcomms space, have had a challenging history when it comes to hiring non-white professionals – similar to many other sectors of business and society.
Their studies also provide a range of actions agencies and corporations can take to make tangible progress; recommendations that overlap with some of the points raised by Dr. Appiah. This includes what motivated him to establish BASCA.
“There was a dire need to create a program that could help to address the historical and current dearth of Blacks in marketing communications,” Dr. Appiah says.
BASCA seeks to provide Black students with information, inspiration, and mentorship. They help Black students build the strong educational foundation and experience sought by top employers in the marcomms space. The organization also connects students with a wide range of internship opportunities that are invaluable for networking and gaining necessary industry experience.
Expanding the Pipeline
“Although agencies express that they want to hire more ethnic minorities,” Dr. Appiah says, “many claim that they cannot find diverse candidates.”
If businesses want to stay relevant and competitive, developing a sought-after talent pipeline is imperative.
BASCA members demonstrate an impressive level of engagement due to the partnership between the academic environment and the dynamic professional world of strategic communications.
“We need to work together to develop, nurture, cultivate, and empower Black talent,” says Dr. Appiah. Academia should provide an atmosphere of belonging and equity to those students and actively work to introduce them to a wider range of careers and opportunities – including across areas like advertising, marketing, communication, branding, and more. Agencies and corporations, in turn, should focus on building a wider range of partnerships and relationships to enhance recruitment – while putting equal effort into the many areas that build a sense of belonging and support retention.
Representation is Key
It is urgent for leading Black industry professionals and academia to reach out to high schools and talk about marcomms to get young people informed and ready to aspire to those careers.
Mentorship, advocacy, and representation build a powerful shared identity and a much stronger culture. A number of research studies have found that teams that embrace diversity perform better, another powerful reason for managers to champion DEI initiatives.
While there is significant divisiveness and negativity in our society and media today, Dr. Appiah is encouraged because, according to him, many young people are much more progressive in their thinking.
But to truly pursue progress and establish a consistently welcoming environment in an organization, more cross-group communication is needed.
“We need to be intentional in engaging and having conversations with people who look different,” says Dr. Appiah. “Meaningful cross-group interaction reduces racial prejudice and creates interpersonal relationships and friendships.”
To support this, Dr. Appiah offers his “ABCs” of understanding key communication processes:
● Awareness of our psychological mechanisms ● Banishment of implicit and explicit biases ● Create connections between all participants
Looking beyond surface characteristics allows various groups to find more common ground and manifest more open-minded attitudes and behaviors.