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What Are You Doing About It?

How important is it for brands to give back to the communities that make up their target markets?

spike and mj

At a recent dinner party, we were engaged in healthy conversation about the plight of many impoverished black communities in this country and why some individuals overcome those circumstances and others don’t. There were six of us participating in the conversation, five men and one woman, and as I listened to each person speak, I noticed that some of the commentary was somewhat critical of the members of those communities. The critique wasn’t just reserved for the members of those communities though; there were several arguments on who should be held accountable for these conditions. The perpetrators ranged from the government, to society, to a failed education system.

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The conversation reminded me of a Saturday afternoon at the barbershop with strong views, healthy debates, and even a few conspiracy theories. Please keep in mind that each person at this table was black and came from these very neighborhoods and communities that we discussed. But now, each of them are doing relatively well in life with nice homes, good jobs, and beautiful families. As the conversation progressed, I took a moment to ask the group what they were doing about it. We were all fortunate enough to overcome our circumstances, and clearly all frustrated and disappointed to see a generation of black youth reinforce negative stereotypes or become statistics–but what were we doing to change it.

community garden

Responses varied. Some were actively involved in youth groups at their church or community centers and some admitted they weren’t doing anything. That question helped each of us to reflect on our level of social responsibility. And since then, each of us has stepped up our contribution to making a difference and impacting change in the communities that helped make us who we are.

This of course got me to thinking about how I apply this in my professional life with Alloy Access and the Alloy Access team. As an agency, we take pride in the work we do as individuals in the arena of social responsibility and with the nonprofit organizations and foundations that we work with as our clients. We always stress the importance of giving back and being socially responsible to our for-profit clients. And in my conversations with peers and colleagues, I realize that most multicultural agencies and shops stress the importance of giving back to their clients as well.

This is particularly important in multicultural communities. Members of these communities want to know that the brands they spend their money on give back to their community in some way. The general consensus from the African-American and Hispanic communities is that if brand X makes tons of money from them, then they should be acknowledged and shown some level of appreciation for contributing to the brand’s success and profitability. Giving back is not just considered a good thing to do, but the right thing to do.

kids activities

We’ve decided that this same philosophy holds true for us as an agency. We acknowledged that we give back in a number of ways as individuals and ensuring that there is a give back component to our client programs. However we realize the need to do something directly and more formally with a cause, and as an agency we’re committed to it. Now, if you’re a brand seeking to connect with a multicultural audience, I’m sure your agency has advised you to take the time to understand the issues that are important to that community. But also, if you’re an urban or multicultural agency, your success is driven by your access, insight, credibility and cooperation among these multicultural communities just as much as the brands we counsel and advise.

We often recommend to our clients how they should contribute and give back based on issues and challenges currently facing these communities. But identifying a cause and establishing your own direct system of giving back–from an agency standpoint–will make you a stronger and overall better rounded agency. It will provide you deeper and easier access to the communities you serve, it will build trust with the members of those communities, it will help to improve those communities, and it will show your level of commitment to your client and lend credibility to your recommendations. Or, if nothing else, it will prepare you when someone turns to you and asks, “What are you doing about it?”

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Read more of Tru Pettigrew’s Alloy Access blog

Tru Pettigrew


Tru Pettigrew is the President of Alloy Access. As its founder, Tru is passionate about providing fresh ideas and identifying emerging platforms to make products and brands relevant to today’s urban and multicultural consumers. Tru and his team travel around the country immersing themselves in culture at basketball courts, nightclubs, music stores and barbershops. In educating his Fortune 500 clients, he provides a reflection of today’s multicultural world. Tru started his career performing as one half of a Los Angeles-based rap duo. He executed promotions for Converse, which led to a position with Houston Herstek Favat. He later joined AMP Agency’s Triple Dot Communications (acquired by Alloy) and co-founded its consumer insights division.

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