- IPG Mediabrands will host its first-ever upfront focused on equity, a bid by the agency group to increase the visibility of Black-owned and -targeted media, according to a news release. The goal of the event is to increase the amount of media-buying dollars spent on what IPG views as underserved businesses.
- Allen Media Group/Entertainment Studios, BET Network, Essence Communications and Urban One will present at the Equity Upfront, which covers linear, streaming, digital, radio and print media offerings. Mediabrands clients American Express, BMW, CVS Health/Aetna and Johnson & Johnson are among the marketers that will participate in the event set for March 15.
- As agencies come under greater pressure to improve diversity, equity and inclusion, IPG is taking a more granular approach to the upfronts, an annual media-buying confab that's being shaken up in other ways as consumer preferences shift away from traditional media.
IPG is evolving its approach to the upfronts by breaking out a separate event that throws a spotlight on Black-owned and -targeted media. Mediabrands and sister agency Magna at the same time are deploying what they call an equity and equality strategic investment approach to support such groups in a more sustainable fashion.
The Equity Upfront concept came in response to internal revelations at IPG that the ad holding company was underserving Black consumers and businesses. IPG is tapping into its client roster, including companies like BMW, J&J and CVS, to directly connect blue-chip brands with Black publishers.
"As we reviewed our media partnerships at Mediabrands, we saw the need to be more inclusive in our media investment strategies with Black audiences," Mediabrands Global chief executive Darly Lee said in a press statement. Lee added that the event looks to "enact real change by increasing investment in often underrepresented media businesses that reflect the significant influence of Black consumers and trendsetters in the economy."
Agencies, criticized for years for falling short on diversity benchmarks, have faced a more intense reckoning in the wake of mass protests for racial justice last summer. In June, as the protest movement was at its peak, IPG publicly released data about the racial makeup of its leadership team, a move it billed as an industry first. African Americans made up just 2.6% of senior- and executive-level managers across the group's shops in 2019, according to the report. IPG plans to publish its diversity figures on an annual basis moving forward.
As IPG tries to course-correct internally, it sees the upfronts as an opportunity to prop up a broader message of inclusivity. The upfronts are a key venue for networks to pitch brands on their content offerings and strike advertising and sponsorship deals for the months ahead. But the annual series of presentations, historically centered on traditional media, has been tested as consumers cut the cord and marketers reassess their media strategies. In a noteworthy development last year, Procter & Gamble eschewed the upfronts to instead broker deals directly with the networks, a decision intended to give the CPG giant more leverage.
"We're doing more media-buying deals in-house, disrupting the legacy systems that have historically favored sellers," P&G brand chief Marc Pritchard said at CES in January.
Upfronts expanding to cover more specific demographics and interests could be one way to preserve relevancy, and would square with how marketers are trying to get more targeted and contextual in their outreach strategies. Along with the Equity Upfront, IPG plans to deepen its partnerships with multicultural platforms including, but not limited to, those centered on Latino, Asian and LGBT audiences, per the release.