Interview

Using the power of media to impact social change

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In a recent interview with The Muse, Latha Sundaram, Rob Frost, and Taylor Schueneman share how they are making a social impact with our clients and within the agency.

The average person spends about a third of every day on the clock—so it should come as no surprise that employees increasingly want to find meaning in their work (and are happier when they do so). According to a McKinsey & Co. survey conducted in 2020, 70% of respondents said work defines their sense of purpose. And a 2018 survey of 2,000-plus professionals across different industries found that employees experience more satisfaction at work when their jobs feel meaningful.

The media agency MediaCom has always strived to help its employees find meaning in their work as part of its long-time “people first” philosophy. And with the launch of several social impact initiatives, MediaCom has recently made even greater strides in this area, not only inspiring colleagues to feel fulfilled, but also helping clients take purpose-driven action.

“Due to the pandemic and social justice movements in 2020, we were at this unique inflection point where people wanted to see positive change and were expecting companies to play a greater role,” says Latha Sundaram, group business lead and executive director leading global media efforts for Uber. “They were also expecting the media, as a voice and platform, to be a part of that.”

This social impact work is already moving the needle for MediaCom and its clients. A recent campaign with Uber was one of 12 globally recognized for marketing that’s making a difference. In addition, MediaCom and their client Walgreens won the I-COM Global Data Creativity Award for Brand Purpose; it was the only North American media agency to be recognized.

Helping Clients Make a Difference

One way MediaCom acted was by launching a new framework that allows clients to spend their advertising dollars where they’ll make the most impact rather than focusing on driving growth.

“For years, we’ve seen more brands invest in purpose-led communications, talking about the role they want to play in society,” says Rob Frost, managing partner, strategy. “With this framework, MediaCom’s teams can help clients do more than just talk and pivot from media for growth to media for good.”

“We’re not just about eyeballs—our role and responsibility are to make sure that we are putting these dollars in the right types of places,” Sundaram adds.

MediaCom talks directly with brands about where they want to make a difference and which issues they care about most. From there, they decide together where it makes sense to invest their media budgets. For example, Frost has worked with companies that value responsible journalism and work with clients to ensure their ad dollars go to ethical media outlets that focus on truth, not disinformation.

In addition to responsible journalism, data ethics, sustainability, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are other pillars of MediaCom’s framework.

Harnessing the Power of Data

The above framework also features valuation and measurement tools to track the impact of advertising dollars spent and ensure ethical investments. This allows brands to adjust if the data shows that results are not in line with their goals. And when brands see data indicating the effectiveness of their social impact efforts, it can inspire them to pursue additional goals in the future.

For example, a client might set a goal around sustainability or DEI. With these tools, they can measure carbon emissions of media placement or the diversity of an audience they are reaching. There’s also a tool that allows advertisers to evaluate the ethical risk of digital campaigns.

Giving Underrepresented Groups a Voice

As an agency within GroupM—the world’s leading media investment firm— MediaCom can offer an initiative that supports and promotes diverse media companies and creators. To start, they are asking their clients to invest at least 2% of their total media budgets for the year in Black-owned companies that will develop, produce, and distribute media content. (So far, an initial group of 20 brands have committed.) The investment initiative will expand in the coming months to incorporate businesses owned by other traditionally underserved groups.

Frost says the goal is to change the way companies think about how they allocate advertising dollars. By supporting media companies owned by underrepresented groups and giving them a voice, he hopes to make the media industry more inclusive.

“I think we need to be thinking about media that is representative of and owned by diverse and inclusive communities,” he says.

Empowering Employees to Do Meaningful Work

MediaCom is proud to support positive change in the media industry—but the work wouldn’t be possible without employees who are driven by the opportunity to help clients achieve their purpose-driven goals.

“I have the chance to be with a client that cares about making the world a better place and develop efforts to help them with that,” Sundaram says. “And I genuinely think that caring about social impact is in the DNA of the people we recruit.”

Frost says that employees are encouraged to actively present ideas around social impact initiatives to clients, rather than waiting for clients to come to them. “We’re able to take our passion or whatever social cause we’re interested in and push that within our jobs,” he says. “In this way, employees have gone from having one or two clients setting goals around, say, responsible media to working with many others who want to make an impact.”

In her role as media operations manager, Taylor Schueneman serves as a liaison between the agency and clients, often helping them with charitable endeavors. Last year, for example, she connected a client with a local women’s shelter in her hometown of Portland.

“This kind of work is inspiring and empowering,” she says. “It brings a lot of excellent morale to the MediaCom team and makes us feel good that we’re doing something impactful.”

A Culture of Hand Raisers

MediaCom has cultivated an environment where employees are empowered to get involved, whether it’s volunteering for a new business pitch, organizing an employee experience with the culture team, or volunteering as a mental health ally.

This hand-raising culture extends to social impact initiatives as well—and MediaCom employees have helped implement various internal initiatives, such as adding pronouns to email signatures, honoring Juneteenth, and encouraging (and allowing time for) colleagues to vote.

In 2019, the first employee resource group was formed: For Us, By Us, which provides a space for Black and Hispanic employees to connect and host panels and events. Beyond the Rainbow is focused on the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies, while Women in Power helps equip women with the tools to pursue and achieve their professional and personal goals. These groups are created and run by MediaCom colleagues who are motivated to make a difference within the culture of the agency and industry.

Another recent employee-led project is the Project Resilience Apprenticeship program, which aims to increase diversity and equity at the company. By working with the Center for Employment Opportunities, MediaCom identifies apprenticeship candidates from underrepresented groups; one of them recently went on to earn a full-time position at the agency.

“What I love is that if somebody has an idea around making an impact, there’s a way to make it happen,” Sundaram says. “Everybody has a voice here. I’ve seen many people come forward with ideas, and it’s inspiring.”

This was first featured in The Muse on January 18. 2022.

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