6 Tips to Help Brands Celebrate Black History Month

It’s February, which means many companies and organizations are launching campaigns and efforts to support Black History Month (BHM). Founded to honor the lives, contributions and accomplishments of Black Americans in countless endeavors throughout our nation’s history and as we blaze into the future, this month-long celebration can serve as a meaningful moment for brands to help advance the tenets of BHM. Jackson Spalding’s Multicultural Communications Team suggests keeping the following considerations in mind as you approach and participate in these conversations.

More than a Month
While the national BHM observance takes place in February in the U.S., the movement to amplify Black voices is year-round. Our MC Team recommends brands enact a proactive, ongoing marketing communications approach to underscore a genuine commitment to reflect, support and engage Black audiences beyond relevant annual BHM observances or key issues that might arise. By doing so, brands shift to a strategic roadmap for engaging audiences over the long haul that helps build trust, encourage engagement and strengthen brand loyalty.

Cultural Intelligence
Recognizing the national observance as “Black History Month” (vs. African American History Month) promotes inclusion by avoiding generalization of an entire community. It acknowledges not all Black people identify as African American. This is key to furthering our collective understanding of the nuanced levels of Black history and the different groups, cultures and traits Black consumers identify with across the diaspora. Invest in understanding pertinent issues that impact and interest Black communities and in nurturing authentic relationships.

Activations & Content
Given the international dialogue to amplify and raise awareness of Black voices, BHM activations and content should celebrate, recognize and/or amplify the accomplishments, contributions and/or voices of known and hidden figures among us.

  • Consider the theme: Carter G. Woodson, credited as the creator of Black History Month, founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Each year, ASALH releases an exploratory theme for February, and this year’s is “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity.”
  • Spotlight the Community: This is a time to increase awareness of Black culture and educate all Americans about the ongoing pursuit of equality and justice by sharing resources that highlight notable Black leaders, influencers and creators within and outside your organization.If your product relates to these principles of BHM, that’s great, but don’t force a connection to promote your brand or its product. Consider how your team can partner with Black influencers, content creators and talent to amplify broader perspectives of how the Black community intersects with your brand or industry. Highlighting groups and influencers that are doing the work or sharing resources on how to make your industry more inclusive, could be a great content idea for BHM and provides an example of how to develop content that amplifies the cause year-round.

Co-create with Trusted Advisors
Build cultural understanding and awareness by consulting a cohort composed of diverse employees across your organization, like a DEI Committee, agency partners and/or brand ambassadors. This group can help vet how to best demonstrate the brand’s commitment and avoid missteps, while providing insights on likely reactions and key considerations.

Be prepared to manage leadership’s expectations that given the climate of national discussions around racial equity and brand commitments that were issued last June, your organization may receive comments/inquiries from internal and external audiences whether the brand does or does not communicate around BHM. Prepare messages to respond accordingly.

Transformative vs. Performative Actions
Last year, national discussions pertaining to racial injustice and social inequality prompted coverage of “vocal” vs. “silent” brands. Focus has now shifted to how brands convert DEI commitments made in 2020 to action and tangible change. From a multicultural marketing and DEI communications perspective, brands should map out a cadence for communicating progress throughout the year. Doing so will help convey actions are transformative, not performative. Determine how the brand will “show up” for the remainder of the year and proceed accordingly to ensure communication on cultural matters is sincere and aligns with commitments made to support and engage key audiences/communities.

Look at the Big Picture
Take the time to review content across your channels, particularly if you’re running social media promotions that might direct additional traffic to your platforms. Does your content reflect your brand’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion? Do images portray diverse representation or your employee, consumer and community base? Do you normally post about observances and relevant issues like BHM on your channels? Define why your organization will engage in BHM activities this year vs. prior years and consider your audience’s likely reactions. Will they see this as performative or authentic? Is there potential for backlash or will audiences embrace it?

If you’re looking for additional guidance for how to celebrate BHM – or communicate your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the year – our Multicultural Communications Team can help your brand identify an authentic, comprehensive approach.