Rejoice Ojiaku podcast interview – how brands can get Black History Month right

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I invited Rejoice Ojiaku back onto the podcast to discuss what Black History Month is, and how brands can get Black History Month messaging right, without sounding tokenistic.

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(Full transcript at bottom of page.)

This episode was recorded during the week of another period of individual attacks on Black people in our industry, for wanting a more diverse and inclusive space for us all.  Rejoice is a content SEO creator, and co-founder of B-DigitalUK, a digital marketing platform which showcases Black talent in the digital industry.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • What is Black History Month?
  • What value does she see in brands highlighting Black History Month.
  • Where in the past have brands got Black History Month wrong.
  • How to sound genuine/authentic when using Black History Month in messaging.
  • Advice for brands thinking about posting content for Black History Month.
  • Advice for agencies/in-house companies who are considering highlighting the importance of Black History Month to their staff.
  • Staying resilient in the face of racial adversity and attacks online.

Useful Links:

Episode sponsored by Absolute Digital, check them out here: https://absolute.digital/

Podcast Anchor Page: https://anchor.fm/azeemdigitalasks

My Twitter page: https://twitter.com/AzeemDigital

My website: https://www.iamazeemdigital.com/

Sign up to “The Marginalised Marketer” newsletter: https://www.iamazeemdigital.com/the-marginalised-marketer-newsletter/

Rejoice Twitter: https://twitter.com/RejiYates

Episode Transcript

Azeem Ahmad:
Hello, and welcome back to the Azeem Digital Asks podcast. What a brilliant guest I have got for you today. You may have heard it on a previous podcast episode of mine, and she’s probably, I think the first person who is coming back on again. So she’s now an Azeem Digital Asks record holder. You can’t see her, but she’s fist pumping the air right now. We are talking all about how brands can get Black History Month right. And my guest is the awesome Rejoice Ojiaku. Say hello, Rejoice.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
Hello. Thanks for having me, again.

Azeem Ahmad:
You are more than welcome. Right, before we begin, a quick word from the sponsor. This episode is sponsored by Absolute Digital Media, a leading UK based digital marketing agency, specialising in search, pay per click, and digital PR. With seven award wins under their belt already this year, they understand what it takes to make a business stand out from its competitors and generate greater visibility in return. Check them out and I will drop a link to them in the show notes.

Right. Rejoice, Reji, legend. Welcome to the show.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
That’s so funny.

Azeem Ahmad:
How are you doing?

Rejoice Ojiaku:
Good. Good, good. I’m really, really good. How are you?

Azeem Ahmad:
Living the dream, my friend. Right, listen, let’s get straight into the meat and bones of this episode. We are recording this during Black History Month and we won’t go too much into it on this episode, but it has been a bit of a wild week on Twitter for people of color and the marginalized in the industry. We can dig into that later on if we want, it’s your episode. But first of all, let’s start with the very, very basics. What is Black History Month?

Rejoice Ojiaku:
So Black History Month is essentially a month to kind of reflect and celebrate, empower people from the African and Caribbean descent. It’s really kind of to show how black people have contributed to the world, especially in the UK, how black people have contributed in so many aspects and how we have a history that goes beyond slavery and all those things. Even though we have slavery as part of black history, but there’s so much more to it. So that’s why the element of celebration, empowerment kind of comes into it and how we acknowledge a sense of appreciation. So, that’s essentially what Black History Month is all about.

Azeem Ahmad:
Brilliant. Thank you very much for sharing that. So the title of the episode is how brands can get black history right. So before we dig into how brands can get it right, I’d love to know from you, what value do you see in brands highlighting Black History Month?

Rejoice Ojiaku:
I guess the value we see in it is one, acknowledgement of black people and real acknowledgement, accurate acknowledgement. I guess the value comes from we are now seeing that these brands are kind of thinking past the usual preference of whiteness. You understand that if you want to be diverse and inclusive, you can’t only just celebrate white holidays with white history. You have to incorporate a lot of other people’s history and black history being so prominent in the UK, brands kind of highlighting it. Also, it shows your black employees, “Hey, we know this day is very important to you. We want to do our parts” in pushing that empowerment, that acknowledgement about black history in a positive and accurate way.

Azeem Ahmad:
Lovely, thank you very much for sharing. So the natural question for me, that pop was something in my desk just potentially breaking. So if I suddenly scream out, I have fallen under my desk during the recording, but we move. Naturally what you’ve just said has led me on to, to my next question. So it seems like it can be quite tricky to get Black History Month right. So I’d love to know and learn from you where in the past you’ve seen that brands have got Black History Month wrong.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
I don’t know about particular in black history related, but brands have got things wrong in so many ways. I remember KFC doing a whole chicken and the shadow is showing the fist going up now that is so stereotypical. Well, black people like chicken. Ooh, so we’re going to use chicken. Again, that’s so wrong. Pepsi during the whole black lives matter placed Kylie Jenner to solve the whole injustice, is to drink Pepsi. That is wrong. I think the most one I can remember about black history is when there was a conversation. I think it was a university during a black history talk and black history conversations and the person they put the face as was Sadiq Khan, an Asian man.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
So it was outrageous. It was just like what? He’s not black. And then they were trying to spin it off as Black History Month is now all ethnic minorities’ history. No, it’s not. Black history does not stop people from creating your own history or months surrounding that history. So, that’s when brands totally got it wrong. You’re trying to overcompensate. You’re not asking, you’re not socially involving the right people. You’re not involving black people in that decision making because they would’ve told you this doesn’t make sense.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that. So naturally I’m led to authenticity, right? Because from what you said there, especially about Sadiq Khan, it didn’t come across as authentic. I’m sure as somebody seeing that messaging, you would’ve thought, well, this doesn’t sound genuine or authentic. So how can you sound genuine or authentic when you’re talking about Black History Month in your messaging,

Rejoice Ojiaku:
Tell the real story whatever you are celebrating, tell the real story and use real voices. The only way it can really be authentic if you actually involve people from that demographic and actually hear them. So they’re doing the story telling, they’re shaping how the story should look like that is real authenticity because you wouldn’t get someone who’s not involved in a community to tell that story for them. Especially if you are brand around content and you hear this key was about storytelling. How can you tell a story from someone who doesn’t know anything about the history?

Rejoice Ojiaku:
I think for you to sound genuine, authentic, actually show you’ve taken some time in involving parties or actually part of this history actually show how you are trying to, and sometimes you don’t have to be the one telling the story amplify other people’s voices. So brands, you don’t have to be the one doing it. You can collaborate with a black organization and it can be just something that you allow them and you sort of supporting or sponsoring or putting effort and time into it. It will still look great for your brands. And actually that’s more genuine than anything else.

Azeem Ahmad:
Yes. I couldn’t agree with you more there. I’m going to start to step for a minute and say, if brands are thinking about posting then and collaborating with black individuals, then above all else, pay them, pay them.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
Pay them. Yes. Not, it’s not free education.

Azeem Ahmad:
But anyway, this is your episode, sorry for hijacking it for a moment there. So we’re talking about brands posting. So if a brand is listening to this and they’re thinking, right, I’d love to get involved in blacking history month. I’ve just learned from you right there how I can sound genuine and authentic. What advice would you be giving to brands who are now thinking about posting Black History Month related content?

Rejoice Ojiaku:
I think my advice would be first try utilizing your employees within your company. So maybe show representation of how diverse your company is. That’s great content to kind of see how these different things look within from an internal organization. I guess if you want to sort of, then again, collaborate with other people about pick a theme of around black history, pick a theme, it could be black mental health and how that has played about in, in the UK. So partner up with black psychologists, black therapists and let them come to webinars, invite people and have an open space where other people from other organizations can come in and listen to it. So you are not just kind of keeping all the fun within your company, but you, you want to educate the masses. So maybe do it that way.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
Pick things that you want to kind of support, whether it’s black media, black presentation, black mental health, black finance, black pounds day, pick something. Then that way it’s easier to kind of create content in terms of what people want to see. I’ve seen companies do a thing where they publicize black owned business lists around this stuff. They do fairs and all these things where people can actually now put their money into, towards black businesses. So that’s how you can think about posting for content collaborate. What do you got internally, what theme do you need to use for Black History Month.

Azeem Ahmad:
Fantastic. This is absolutely gold. I just wanted to go back to something you said at the very start of that answer. Where you were talking about engaging with your stuff? I want to just pick into that a little bit more with you. So, when you see the agencies and in-house companies are considering highlight writing the importance of Black History Month to their staff. What advice would you be giving them? How can people and brands approach this internally with their own staff?

Rejoice Ojiaku:
It would always be good to plan ahead because no one likes. I think, what companies do is, Ooh, first all they say comes around means we need to do something. No, plan ahead, if it is that important to you, you would put it into your plans. Like let’s be real and maybe let people know what events are coming up again, forward thinking, ask people who would like to be involved, who would like to present something or who would like, who has an idea?

Rejoice Ojiaku:
One cool thing can be can you have different black cuisines and stuff like that, black music around all those things. I guess to sort of bring your staff into it, actually seek the opinions in terms of what can we do? What do you think is great to do? What would you like to be involved in? What would you like to hear or listen to? And that will be great. One thing I would like to stress is, if you are doing something for Black History Month, make sure that your black staff are looked after. Because sometimes I feel like companies don’t really care for their black staff internally, but will want to do this tokenism and look great on the outside. It has to be reflective from both ends.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that. I’m glad you talked about tokenism there because it’s something that I have seen in the past. In previous workplaces, in my professional life. Plot twist, I’m not a black individual, but having seen black individuals being mistreated just for the sake of a brand, posting the message out very much, like you said, because October comes around and people think right, I need to get a messaging out. So that’s super, super important as we’ve got time left before I end the episode. I’m just going to put you on the spot now and give you some questions, which I have full disclosure, not prepared you for. So I am going to love the answers that come from you. So, first things first, now we’ve got time. Let’s spend a couple of minutes talking about everything that’s happened over the past week. So…

Rejoice Ojiaku:
Yay!

Azeem Ahmad:
The fact that you’re excited means this is good. So as someone who is incredibly passionate about helping young black individuals progress and get equal opportunities throughout the marketing industry. For the context of those listening, to aren’t aware what has happened in the last week, there has been attacks, very public attacks on individuals who are black in the marketing industry in various different countries, from people who have displayed pretty much what I describe as over white fragility, feel free to disagree, but it screams white fragility to me. For black individuals who are in the marketing industry, Reji and they’re experiencing these types of attacks and unnecessary and unwanted hate, especially during Black History Month. Not that it’s okay at any other time of the year, of course. What advice would you give to those people? How do you stay strong and resilient?

Rejoice Ojiaku:
Oh, that’s tough. I think one thing is, I would say it’s good to stay strong, but you don’t always have to be strong. The reason why I say it, is racism is violence in any shape, any form, whether it’s a slur, whether it’s a invalidating your experience, it is violence. It can ultimately make you feel as though your existence is not important enough for people to acknowledge your experience. So it’s, you don’t have to always be okay, some days you can have a really bad day and some days you can kind of find a way to move forward.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
But I would say to always remember that at the end of the day there are still real allies there and there’s always power in numbers, especially within your own community. Reach out, talk to someone say what this person said has really put me in a bad space. I would like to vent how, give your child yourself a permission to vent and say what you need to say, but always remember that it’s not your fault. It’s not just your problem. It is a problem. It’s a systemic problem that we need to sort of deal with and you’re not alone in it. Your feelings are valid. What you said is valid. So kind of always remember that.

Azeem Ahmad:
That’s brilliant. Thank you very much for sharing before we part ways sadly, and you share your contact details where people can connect with you and follow you. I am going to open the floor to you. So I’m literally going to give you 30 seconds. You can talk about whatever you want within reason. Something that we haven’t covered off yet, that you want to just get off your test. The audio virtual floor is yours.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
Great. So one thing I want to cover is in the height of Black History Month it is great that brands want to do what they feel they need to do for Black History Month. But also remember that it doesn’t just stop in October, whatever you do and whatever you are preaching and saying has to be continuous across the board. It has to be a policy change. It has to be tangible changes.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
If you work within media and you care about diversity and inclusion, you care about Black History Month and you truly want to make a change. Then think about how you are telling stories. Think about how you are showing representation, how you are contributing, especially with some of the clients you work with, how you are contributing in either perpetuating stereotype, perpetuating different viewpoints that is not accurate. Sometimes as a brand and as someone in, working for a brand, sometimes this is for lack of a better word. Sometimes it’s okay to just shut up and let people who are knowledgeable speak about these things without you feeling as though it is an attack on your existence because it’s not an attack or not exist. It is just plain and simple truth.

Azeem Ahmad:
Boom, perfect way to round out the questions there. Thank you very much. If people are listening to this and rightly thinking this human being is sharing some absolute wisdom, how can I find out more about them and follow them? Where can they find you?

Rejoice Ojiaku:
LinkedIn, I’m on LinkedIn, Rejoice Ojiaku. You can find me there. You can find me on Twitter at Reji Yates. But please be advised that on Twitter. I don’t always speak about SEO or whatever. I do have a life and I do banter. So I’m happy if you don’t follow me there because you don’t want to see what I see. LinkedIn is a perfect place because yeah, I’m very professional on LinkedIn.

Azeem Ahmad:
The only thing that I will add to that is should you decide to follow Reji on Twitter, any time after hitting follow before you then go on to tweet, check that spelling, check that grammar.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
Because I will find it and I will expose it.

Azeem Ahmad:
Because you could get cooked. If you log on, one day, and see that she has a strange username it’s because somebody has made some sort of grammatical error, which she decides to share.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
It’s so funny.

Azeem Ahmad:
But yeah, listen, this has been brilliant in all seriousness. Thank you so much for being a great guest. Thank you so much for coming back onto the podcast. And most importantly, thank you so much for helping share your knowledge and wisdom all around Black History Months and hopefully helping to educate the industry. I think, in all seriousness the industry is a far richer place for having you in it, my friend. So for me to you, thank you very much.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
Thanks for having me again, love up this pod it is actually one of the best pods out there.