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Open letter to PR firms: Stop snubbing black media

JADA PINKETT-Smith’s call for black actors to boycott this year’s Oscars, due to the event’s lack of diversity, stirred me up, slightly.

Idris Elba’s address to Parliament, calling for greater diversity in television, stoked my fire a bit more.

I then interviewed British actor Danny Sapani, who said of the lack of diversity in film and TV: “It’s considered the norm to have an institution that is unrepresentative of the population. It’s considered the norm that you might watch a film and there will not be a person of colour in it.

“The way to challenge that is by speaking out and changing people’s minds about what is considered the norm.”

He added: “I believe our own self-determination will be the means through which we produce our own work and effect change in the way we are portrayed. It has to come from us.”

SPEAKING OUT: British actor Idris Elba discusses the lack of diversity in a Parliament address

It was this that really got me thinking about the need to effect change and the personal responsibility we each have for driving the changes we want to see.

So it was ironic that just minutes after my telephone interview with the Penny Dreadful actor, I opened an email I received from a PR company, informing me that they “weren’t able to accommodate my request” for interview time with a US entertainer, who shall remain nameless.

Just to clarify: It was actually the PR company who had initially approached me via email to ask if I wanted interview time with the entertainer in question. So calling it “my request” was inaccurate.

Nonetheless, I did reply to the original email to say I would like time with said entertainer and, as is usually the case, I awaited confirmation of when and where the interview would take place.

So when the PR firm sent no further communication, I emailed them again to follow things up. It was then that they replied, albeit apologetically, informing me that they were unable to “accommodate my request.”

I know how the business of journalism works when it comes to black media. You don’t get invited to every screening and every media junket and there’s no sense in throwing your toys out the pram every time an invitation – or in this case, interview opportunity – doesn’t come your way.

But when you then see the entertainer to whom you’ve been denied access, doing the promotional rounds on that radio station and that TV network and in those other newspapers – and you see this happen time and time again, not just to you but to other associates who work in black media – it becomes tedious. And insulting. And infuriating.

And so the time comes to do your bit to try and effect change. In this case, I’m taking a stand for black media.

Don’t get me wrong, there are countless PR firms who recognise the power and influence of black media, and understand the value of the coverage we offer.

But sadly, there are still those who overlook us. Perhaps the most epic example of this for The Voice came in 2012, when the British Olympics Association (BOA) denied us media access to the London Olympic Games.

OUTRAGE: There was an outcry when The Voice was initially denied access to the London Olympics in 2012

Our capital won the bid to host the Olympics on the back of Britain’s diversity. The event would see hundreds of black athletes, including Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce taking centre stage to compete.

And yet, the UK’s longest-serving black publication was denied access to the event.

Suffice to say, there was outrage from readers, MPs and campaigners when our Olympic snub became public knowledge, and as a result, the BOA was forced to do a U-turn and give us accreditation for the event.

GOLDEN GIRL: Jamaican sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was among the athletes competing at the London Olympics in 2012

It was an important victory, which emphasised the very point I’m making now: There is power in black media.

As such, this is a polite notice to the agents, managers and PR firms, who represent black talents or promote events of black-interest. Please take heed of the following:

1. Black media does not exist to only promote black acts when they’re ‘on the rise’. But when we do give coverage to that aspiring singer who – as you tell us – “is perfectly suited to your audience,” once said singer becomes famous, don’t deny us tickets to their concert. Chances are, nobody would have heard of the artist had we not given them their initial coverage.

2. Don’t deny us interview access to A-list black celebrities because you think it’s ‘not necessary’ to feature a black entertainer in a black publication. There is value in the black pound so don’t assume that our audience will run out and watch a film just because Denzel is in it. If Denzel, or any other A-list black star is doing interviews, don’t disregard black media from the promotional schedule.

3. When promoting a film with a black lead actor, please do not allocate all your interview time with said actor to mainstream media and insult us with the offer of a competition giveaway. Denying our readers the opportunity to enjoy an interview with that actor, but ‘compensating’ them with a chance to win a copy of the film’s soundtrack is an insult.

4. Do not tell us that an entertainer “is not available for interview” when that is not the case. We do read other publications and when we see that said entertainer has indeed done interviews elsewhere, we’ll know you’re lying and won’t want to assist you again. Then where will that leave you when you need to feature that new black singer who’s ‘on the rise’?

5. Don’t behave as if you’re doing us a favour, by saying things like “I managed to squeeze you onto the press schedule” or “I was able to allocate you one ticket to the event.” It’s bad enough if you consider us an afterthought, but for heaven sake, don’t reveal that by telling us that you’ve already done your main allocation and you’re essentially giving us the scraps! And on the subject of tickets…

6. …Don’t tell us that the guest list for the awards ceremony was tight and you were only able to allocate one ticket to each publication if you know that’s not true. When we get to the event and see 10 journalists from The Privilege News swigging free drinks at the bar, we’ll know you’re lying. And then… refer to point 4 again.

7. Bear in mind that the currently famous black artist you represent might not always be hot property. And once their star fades – and mainstream media don’t care about them anymore – you won’t be able to come crawling back to us if you snubbed us when they were famous.

8. This one is for you lovely folks who deal with marketing budgets: Do not omit us from your list of outlets to advertise (i.e. spend) with, particularly if you have approached us to write about (i.e. give free promotion for) whatever event or artist you’re promoting. In other words: Do not think you can use black media for free promotion while you’re spending your big budgets elsewhere. Refer again to point 2 about the value of the black pound. And while we’re on the subject of advertising…

9. …Please do not think that because we are a ‘niche’ market, you can insult us by offering paltry sums of money to advertise in our outlets. Yes, we would expect you to barter, as any sales person would. But don’t insult us by insisting you’ll only spend X to advertise with us, when you know you would spend double that amount to advertise the very same product or service in The Privilege Times.

I would also like to make a request to any black actor/artist/entertainer who happens to read this. Chances are, you don’t do your own PR, so you won’t decide which publications you’re going to do interviews with.

However, when you are informed which media outlets you’re going to speak with, or which publications have been invited to your concert/screening/launch event, I would urge you to enquire if any black media has made the cut.

POWERFUL: Black media plays an important role

Unfortunately, some of the PR firms and agents that represent you are either genuinely oblivious or simply do not care about black media and the audience we serve. And in many cases, black media and black audiences were the ones who offered you that initial support – long before the mainstream decided you were trendy enough, talented enough or pretty enough to feature in their outlets.

I would encourage you not to forget that and, where possible, to be proactive in ensuring that black media always remains a part of your journey. Why? Because black media matters.

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