“Media and Marketing Can Lead The Way In Improving Representation For My Community”: Q&A With Sebastian Leacock, Organic Performance Manager at ForwardPMX

February 26, 2021

Representation matters — it’s hard to be what you can’t see.

According to National Research Group’s 2020 #RepresentationMatters report, 2 in 3 Black Americans say they don’t see themselves or their culture represented on screen. This staggering statistic is yet another reminder of how much work there still is to be done in moving toward a diverse and equally represented world. We sat down with  Sebastian Leacock, Organic Performance Manager at ForwardPMX, who shared some thoughtful perspective on his experiences with Representation and his thoughts on steps toward meaningful change.

Can you tell us about some of your personal experiences of Representation, and what it means to you?

Representation has always been at the forefront of my mind since I can remember. Whilst I saw people that looked like me on the big screen (TV, Cinema and Music Videos), growing up as a 90s baby, this form of representation was controlled and often stereotypical – I wanted to change this. The lack of representation in politics and public, academic and business roles has had an impact on my identity and many other Black adults living in the UK like myself.

There are two key areas that sum up my experiences of representation: my academic life and my career. Undertaking Mandarin Chinese in secondary school and University highlighted the inevitability of feeling isolated when choosing a path that society or “the institution” doesn’t expect of you. For a long time, I was one of the only Black people pursuing an ‘uncommon’ foreign language study, joining language competitions and being offered opportunities to travel to China. This carried through to University. I have found that situations like these really do create a sense of imposter syndrome. 

Career wise, I have often been one of, if not the only, black individual within a team or a whole department.

Coupled with not seeing people like me in higher positions, it has inspired me to be a part of our community leading the way to ensure positive change in our industry. 

What is our responsibility in media and marketing to improve Representation for Black communities? Or any underrepresented communities for that matter?

It’s undeniable that Media and Marketing as two joint industries can lead the way in improving Representation for my community. With the passing of George Floyd, we all saw an influx of brands adjusting their marketing to increase representation of Black and other ethnic people in advertising.

Whilst this was a much-needed move towards visual equality, it reminded us all of the power these industries hold in improving representation, and how long they have been holding off in the past.

However, public criticism from these marketing decisions also reiterated that more needs to be done within all aspects of society and business.

How can media and creative industries serve a good model for Representation – meaning, brands and marketers have a lot of influence over public perception – and yet we’re only just waking up to the issues of severe lack of Representation now. How can we improve?

I see three paths to improving representation within marketing organizations:

1. Authentically using Black people within advertising campaigns as a default for the sake of representation as opposed to improving brand perception.

2. Appointment of Black individuals in more Senior Management roles across businesses as inspiration for all.

3. Continued rollout of Unconscious Bias training to wake employees up on the serious impact racism has on representation.

Are there major moments of Representation happening in your country, in business, in culture, etc. that inspire you? 

On a local scale, I’ve been inspired by the work we are doing here at ForwardPMX to strengthen representation. More can be done, but the plethora of virtual knowledge events in EMEA and the US have been used as a great platform for inspirational Black males and females within our industry. It’s great to see the representation of the Black community in the business world. In addition, seeing Karen Blackett OBE as the Chairwoman of Mediacom is also a special moment for all aspiring Black and other BAME marketers.

Within the UK, we are seeing high profile personas shake up the status quo and go against the stereotypical structured roles created by systemic racism within the UK. Marcus Rashford and Lewis Hamilton are key examples of Black individuals actively going against simply being the role often expected of us (as the performer) and embracing activism.  

Are there individuals or organizations that inspire you in terms of how they work towards a positive, equal and just Representation agenda?

I’d have to say ITN, BLAM UK Charity and Black Minds Matter are four organisations actively working towards an agenda to change Representation for the better.

ITN

From the creation of new shows dedicated to Black identity and experiences, and the greater prevalence of Black reporters on prime-time national news, ITN is leading the way for other production companies

BLAM UK

A great charity challenging a crucial area in the fight for equality and representation – education. Black Learning Achievement and Mental Health.UK aims to promote a positive dialogue of social identity and culture through the teaching of Black history and contributions in secondary school curriculum. I was fortunate enough to create a side project which donated to their cause.  

Black Minds Matter

Black Minds Matter is focused on mental health within the Black community – an area evermore highlighted from the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. BMM helps to connect Black individuals and families with free mental health services .

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