Read Time: 54 min

Delivering Episode 29: Kevin Tyler on Inclusion in Marketing

In this episode of Delivering, Kevin Tyler—Insights Director at the UCLA School of Nursing—shares his insights into how—and why—marketers need to prioritize inclusion in their goals, strategies, content, and more. Kevin joined our VP of Marketing, Cynthia Price, for an hour-long fireside chat on the importance of inclusion in marketing, email and beyond.

Episode Transcript

Cynthia Price:
I am really excited about this discussion today. And we will definitely save some time at the end for some questions, or if you have comments along the way, feel free to use the chat. Lauren, you’re frozen for me on the screen, but I bet … Can you all see the rest of us? Anyone, anyone? Okay. I’m sure it’s fine. Kevin, can you see me?

Kevin Tyler:
I can.

Cynthia Price:
Okay. All right. We’re in good shape. We saw a great session the other day about, and Kevin, I don’t know if you knew this, we had a good session about designing emails for equity and inclusion from our friends at Ansira. Kathryn and Leslie did a phenomenal job. Anyone who didn’t catch that session, who’s watching, I would encourage you to catch it because it really was sort of about the nuts and bolts of what we need to do in our emails, sort of technically and design-wise to make sure that we’re thinking about equity and inclusion in all the right ways.

Cynthia Price:
Today, I want to expand that conversation a little bit more broadly and talk about marketing more generally and really the opportunity or more so the responsibility that we have as marketers. I know it’s been a tough year for everybody and on every front, when it comes to thinking about equality and inclusion and the role that we all play in that responsibility that we all have. I’m just really excited that Kevin has agreed to join us for this conversation. I’ll give you a little background on him. Kevin was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with a Degree in English Writing. He spent the majority of his career in electoral politics, marketing communications, and local and state government positions.

Cynthia Price:
Most recently in the time since we started this conversation, he has accepted a role as the Director of Communications at the UCLA School of Nursing. So, he currently lives in Columbus with his partner, Greg and his dog, Nigel. It is safe to assume that all three will be moving to the LA area soon.

Kevin Tyler:
Yeah. We are all going to pack up and move across the country.

Cynthia Price:
Awesome. Awesome. Yeah. Kevin, why don’t you give us a little quick intro sort of from your career perspective on what you’ve been up to and introduce yourself to the crew.

Kevin Tyler:
Yeah, totally. I see some love in the comments for the Book Eyes, Bruins and the Panthers. I appreciate all of that. So, yeah. Kevin Tyler, I live in Columbus, Ohio. When we started this project I was at Ologie, which is a marketing and branding agency that focuses on Higher Ed, arts and culture and philanthropic organizations. Like you said, I spent a lot of time in electoral politics. My father was really involved in government and that’s why I got introduced to that line of work. After 2010, when all my candidates lost, I had to go find something else too in my high school, [inaudible 00:03:02]. In 2010, I had to find something else to do. I did some marketing communication work for two fairly large companies. One, Cardinal Health and the other Time Warner Cable, which is now Spectrum and learned a lot there.

Kevin Tyler:
So, my entire career has been in some sort of marketing and communications function. It’s just been in different industries and being the kind of person I am and thinking the way that I do, I think that I add a different kind of perspective to the work especially when it comes to marketing and communications.

Cynthia Price:
That sounds great. Yeah, a little bit of context for how Kevin and I met, was that, I would say it was about six months ago or maybe more recently than that, Kevin did a guest post called, How Inclusive Marketing Starts with One Brave Decision, for our friends at Campaign Monitor as a part of their sort of diversity and inclusion series, which is really great. If you haven’t been following that, they’ve got some great guests speakers on there. One of the things you said in that post, that we’re going to talk about in a little more detail, but you said sort of, “The life I live is the lens through which I see the world.” And you spend a little time talking about your foundation of how you came to understand race and how you came to understand sort of from a childhood perspective that we weren’t going to understand the insights you gave us later in the post until we understood sort of who you were. I wanted to see if you could recap some of that for us really quickly.

Kevin Tyler:
Yeah, sure. I’m a black man, in case you hadn’t noticed that yet. I’m also openly gay. And so I grew up, I had lots of identities to try to figure out for myself. And I was raised in places where there weren’t lots of me in the same space. I was raised in a majority white neighborhood, I went to majority white schools, except for when I was in middle school I went to more of an urban school. My parents being black and having the conversations that black parents have with their black children and seeing some of the things happening, I remember all the times my father would be pulled over for no reason, quite frankly.

Kevin Tyler:
I remember being called terrible names. I remember all my differences being pointed out. And so as humans as we move through the world, the things that we experience are the things that we know the most and we know the best. And so those things, those experiences are to me like lenses through which I see the world. I see the world as a gay black man. And some days I see the world as a black gay man, it just kind of depends on what the space is and what it looks and what it feels like. I don’t ever have to try to decide who I am first. All of those things, all the things that make me who I am, help me analyze, assess and understand the spaces I’m in.

Kevin Tyler:
And when I think about things and see things and decide on things, I’m deciding on them based on who I am as a person, as a gay black man among other things, of course. When I was writing this piece for campaign monitor, which was back in June, it was things, the George Floyd had just kicked off when I was asked to do this and the pain was still super, super fresh. Obviously we all know that George Floyd wasn’t the first African American man killed in the streets on video, but it’s the one that cracked everything open. So, it was that time of this year, June, I felt like every minute of the day, I felt like I had just woken up from a nap that was just too long. It just felt tired and groggy and foggy.

Kevin Tyler:
When Campaign Monitor approached me to write this blog post, I wasn’t sure exactly what was going to come out. Their goal was to have a diverse series of speakers talking about what it means to be black in these spaces that Campaign Monitor works in. And I thought it was a brilliant idea. I just couldn’t promise that it would be friendly or I couldn’t promise it would be approachable the way that most people want a blog post. I sat down and just kind of wrote what I know, and that was about my experiences as a child and the things that I remember. I remember my mother was very, very light-skinned. I remember at a very young age, at least I should say my mother likes to tell the story, she was putting me down for a nap once and I told her that I’m glad that she and I are white and Dawn and dad are black.

Kevin Tyler:
She’s was like, “We’re not white, all four of us are black. And here are the things you need to know about that.” And what she told me after that was that as I got older is that, that was the first time she recognized that I recognized race. It was like the loss of innocence on some level. Childhood is supposed to be about imagination and fun and joy and playfulness and as soon as real world things creep into childhood, childhood is essentially over. And so that was one of the things that she was … It’s kind of a jokey thing and she laughs about it now, but it was a painful thing for her to understand that as such a young age, race was already a part of my lexicon or experience.

Cynthia Price:
Yeah. That’s really powerful. Alice is asking, “Can we share a link?” We’ll share a link to the blog post after the session. And we definitely are about to sort of go into some of the things that Kevin talked about and thank you for sharing that. I think that part of what I’ve been really impressed with over the past few months is how open people have been to sharing their stories and I want to thank you for sharing yours with us. I think that we can all learn a lot from it. I appreciate it.

Kevin Tyler:
No problem.

Cynthia Price:
I feel like, when that was written, it was written that it … And I love the sort of general context of the post that was sort of landing in a place that talked about one brave decision. And I think for everyone on the call, it’s important to remember that I think part of what Kevin is teaching us and will teach us, is about that we all have a responsibility to make the brave decisions throughout sort of our careers and in every meeting and in every decision. One of the things I really loved about the angle that you took, was that we were having lots of conversations about diversity in the workplace and leadership positions and how there was sort of inherent systemic racism.

Cynthia Price:
And in all of the ways that we were thinking about the world, but you took an angle of what we can and should do with marketing specifically and how we have a responsibility in sort of the messaging that we’re carrying out in the way that we approach. We’re responsible for in large part of a huge amount of impressions that the world sees on a daily basis. And so the responsibility we have there is critical and I wanted to see if you could walk us through you share three examples of ads that had impacted you along the way. And I wanted to see if you could give us the overview of what those three were about and how they impacted you.

Kevin Tyler:
Yeah, totally. So, I love this conversation. The three ads that I referenced in the blog post for campaign monitor were ones that spoke directly to my experiences as a human being. So, what we were just talking about and how I assess and analyze and understand the world. And so the first one, is from Sealy, it’s a mattress company. I don’t remember what I was watching, but I remember this commercial and it was during Prime Time. It was big money. And it was a Sealy commercial about a mattress and it was the set in this apartment building. It was just about a series of different couples that looked all different; an old couple, a young couple, a gay couple and kind of the things that you do on a mattress when you’re in a very loving relationship.

Kevin Tyler:
And so to see a gay couple on a commercial during Prime Time that wasn’t stereotyped and was just like normalized, the gay experience in America that stopped me in my tracks. It was a moment for me because it was the first time I’d ever seen that on television. And it was just like a normal kind of apartment building. That stuck with me because it was not often that you saw a gay couple in a healthy relationship that wasn’t stereotyped like I said. The second ad I referenced in the blog post was the Cheerios ad that featured a mixed race couple, black father, white mom, I believe and then a biracial child.

Kevin Tyler:
I remember that ad. I remember seeing it, but I also remember the press that existed around it or surfaced around it because there were so many terrible comments about this gorgeous little girl in this ad. For me, to see a major brand like Cheerios taking a stand or demonstrating different kinds of family was really important to me. My parents got divorced when I was a very young child. My father ended up marrying a white woman and so the interracial existence or biracial or multiracial family makeup was a part of my life. And so I really appreciated Cheerios, making that stand or taking that stand.

Kevin Tyler:
And then the final one, which is not like revolutionary in any sort of way, but it’s a Subaru commercial. And this is the one was relatively new, I think in the last year or so. It was a normal Subaru commercial where the vehicle is in some rugged landscape, it’s a camping trip for over a weekend, but the main characters in that commercial they were a black couple and it’s not new. I’ve heard all types of people go camping, but this was an approach that put a different spin on something regular. I’ve never seen two black people on a camping ad before. And so while again, not revolutionary, it was just a different take. I think about the people in the rooms who are planning these kinds of ads and someone saying, “What if? What if we added a gay couple? What if we made the family biracial or multiracial? What if we made the campers black?”

Kevin Tyler:
There are decisions that as marketers that we can make that help people see a different part of the world or a different slice of life that they might not be accustomed to. And I think that we have an opportunity to educate as well as sell products.

Cynthia Price:
I love that so much. And I think it’s so true. When you sort of walked through those, it does make me wonder, were those conscious decisions? Were they one off decisions? Did a designer make that call? Did someone at a sort of strategic level determine that they wanted to broaden that perspective? And I think that, we hopefully are moving towards a world where everyone has more power to make those brave decisions along the way that certainly if … And we have a lot of designers on the call, we have a lot of designers in email community. What are the opportunities that we have to make those brave decisions and where can we challenge the status quo in those ways?

Cynthia Price:
I think that as marketers, we have a lot of power. Talk to me about sort of in your own career how you came to sort of think about those brave decisions and how you think about your role as a communicator and as a marketer to kind of have those conversations at every table you sit at in the workplace or in the sort of work world, whether it was with clients at your agency or currently with sort of your in-house role. Yeah, go ahead.

Kevin Tyler:
Yeah, sure. I think that’s a really great question. I never really think about my role at tables of influence or decision making in terms of me being a representative for a bunch of people. I don’t consider myself a representative for black men when I’m trying to decide on how to create an ad. I’m not trying to be the representative for all gay men, whatever. I think about how I feel, do I feel like I see myself? Do I feel reflected in this effort? And if I don’t, then there is something that needs to be said or connected or fixed or filled. And I think that the power that we have as marketers is, I think it’s actually twofold. I think as marketers we are collectors of cultural reference points. Like whatever’s happening in the world as a marketer, we should be able to reflect that back to the community in a way that is substantive and compelling that lifts up a message.

Kevin Tyler:
So, all of these things happening in the world right now, marketers should be absorbing this and understanding it so that you can A, shift whatever kind of culture needs to be shifted inside of your organization because there are new conversations that need to be had. I don’t think personally that you can start to market more diversely if you’re not all set up internally. If you still need to have conversations around how folks are represented, or if you don’t have any diversity on your staff, et cetera, there were some other conversations to have before you start marketing, like Sealy, Cheerios and Subaru.

Kevin Tyler:
However, the other kind of power that marketers have, we talked about it just briefly before, is that once we understand what’s happening in the world, how we talk about the story we want to reflect back to the world. At this point, I think that marketing and advertising, et cetera, is not just about the message to sell the product. It’s also a message that is also a reflection of your organization. I think the best decisions, like the Subaru decision that was not a surprising decision to have two black people on a camping ad because Subaru has been breaking molds for years with their advertising.

Kevin Tyler:
It’s a really intentional act to think about how to open someone’s mind and as marketers, I think that’s what our opportunity is. I think we can take every opportunity to open folks mind just by virtue of the messages and how they’re executed.

Cynthia Price:
Yeah. I think that’s such a good point. You and I talked a little bit a few weeks ago, just about sort of how important that authenticity is, that brand loyalty is built sort of one brick at a time. It’s based not on any one impression, making an impression on someone. It’s not based on any one ad. Your affinity for Subaru is far bigger and had far many more experiences than just that one ad, but the authenticity behind it is part of where that loyalty comes from for you. That there’s an understanding that it’s deep and that it’s wide and that it’s not just a marketer making a brave decision, although it is partly that, but that it’s a marketer making a brave decision with the freedom of the organization behind them, sort of this inherent foundation that’s a part of the brand itself.

Cynthia Price:
I wanted to hear a little bit more sort of how you think about brand loyalty in that context and how you think about sort of our … I think that one of the worst things we can do as marketers is try and put a band aid on a brand that isn’t authentically, there’s nothing worse than trying to pretend like we’re something that we’re not as a brand. Sometimes we don’t have a lot of control over the big decisions that need to be made. I just wanted to get your take on that concept.

Kevin Tyler:
Yeah. I think that there’s so much there. I think the first part is that, while the product and customer service and all of the nuts and bolts of doing business are still a part of the currency and marketing in advertising, et cetera. I think it’s really more now about values and purpose and what an organization believes in. I’m a firm believer that, as you roll out your stance as an organization about certain things that are happening in the world, you have to be really willing to lose the people who might not agree with your stance, but also have room to welcome them, new people who do agree with your stance. And so I think about places like Nike, I think they’re going to be an example for all types of different kinds of conversations for years to come.

Kevin Tyler:
But Nike and Ben & Jerry’s and Subaru and these companies that have been doing this for so long have been doing it because of the values that they hold as an organization, as a company. And so it wasn’t surprising to see Ben & Jerry’s being arrested at protests because they’ve always been getting arrested for things that they think are important social causes. Nike when people were burning their shoes, they didn’t back down. Cheerios when all those terrible things were being said about this young beautiful girl, they did not back down. And I think again, it’s what the message that you’re putting out into the world as somewhat of a reflection of the corporation or the entity you are. And if you’re not doing that authentically and compellingly, then that’s going to bite you in the ass.

Kevin Tyler:
I think it’s really important to really understand where your entity sits on things and then message towards that because the allegiance and the loyalty to your brand, yes it does come from how good the product is and how great the customer service is but at the end of the day, I want to buy something from you because you stand up for people like me and I believe in some of the same things that you believe in. And I think that, those brands that say that there for something, and then act in another way, those are the opportunities as consumers that we can say, “You promised this, this is your value prop. You didn’t deliver against this and this is why I have a problem.” And then I can choose to do business somewhere else or not.

Kevin Tyler:
There is another kind though, where it’s businesses that have been very clear on who they are, and they don’t want people like me as a customer. And so I think about the Chick-fil-As of the world or the Hobby Lobbys of the world. And I think when we think about marketing communications and diversity equity and inclusion we to leave room for those other kinds of perspectives. If we’re going to talk about diversity, we have to talk about all the kinds of diversity. And so there are people who love Chick-fil-A and love what they stand for and love Hobby Lobby and love what they stand for.

Kevin Tyler:
From a humanity level, fine. But it allows me to understand where I would like to spend my dollar and where I don’t want to spend my dollar. It’s a messy conversation, I think using values and purpose as the North Star and not transactions is really going to be the recipe for success moving forward.

Cynthia Price:
Yeah, I think you’re so right. I think that marketers have, especially in the last, I don’t know 10 years, the friction between transactional marketing and short-term goals and growth and whatever those things are, there’s a lot of email marketers in the audience, the sort of friction between how well did something perform versus sort of the overall brand equity, which is inherently just a longer game. It’s a long game. And you cannot fake that with a lot of transactions. You can’t get your way there with a lot of sort of click bait, frankly. I think that you and I talked a little bit about how sort of the diversity game for a brand are really becoming in touch with your values and with your purpose, like you said, it’s kind of the longest game. It’s the hardest one to change internally in an organization that doesn’t inherently believe in it.

Cynthia Price:
I wanted to get your thoughts on internal change and the marketer’s responsibility there. I think that we have a unique place within an organization where we’re not only sort of putting things out into the world we’re also listening to what the world’s telling us back. I think we have a responsibility internally to share those things. I wanted to get your take on that.

Kevin Tyler:
Yeah. I think that a marketer keeping his or her ear to the ground is one of the most beneficial and valuable kinds of data to use, to change an organization internally. However, just because the world is saying a thing, does not mean an organization should change for that very reason. You have to believe in the things that are being said in order for it to be truly considered authentic. And so I think the brands you’ve already talked about the ones who have been doing it for a long time, they’re buying great. I think this summer has introduced an interesting space for corporations to start these conversations in a very painful time.

Kevin Tyler:
So, to be able to have these conversations with staff companies are having, especially with the pandemic and people at home, there are lots of other kinds of life that CEOs are having to accommodate into their workday into their company because they never have before. I think those conversations are hard to have in painful spaces. They’ve been lots of really cool digital efforts around black squares and websites going black and all these things. I’m going to also ask about your board of directors. How many people in your leadership team are of color? How many LGBTQIA folks do you have on staff?

Kevin Tyler:
There are other things that matter as well. And I would hate for people who put a lot of hard work into a marketing effort for that not to be taken seriously because the makeup of their organization does not reflect or support what they’re trying to do externally. I think that as marketers and as people if there aren’t people in the room helping make decisions then what tends to happen is that a room of people are … Speaking as a black gay man it is very easy for the effort to be, you’re showing me to me in the way that you see me. And that can very easily slide into like a stereotypical place. If there’s not someone in the room to say, “That doesn’t feel right.” If a room full of white people are trying to come up with in an urban ad or whatever it is that’s not going to be an authentic approach because that’s danger of sliding into stereotype is going to be ever present.

Kevin Tyler:
And so I’m not saying that, just because was trying to market something to a diverse audience that you have to have one of every person around the table, but an understanding around what you’re trying to do and why, and what’s the best way to do it is going to be really, really important.

Cynthia Price:
Yeah, I think it’s so important. I think that all companies, including our own have sort of struggled with what’s the deep work that we need to do right now? There was a lot of black squares support on social media from every brand that you interact with and we just had a question in the Q&A that I think is right in line with the one I was just about to ask that, what would be a productive way to keep companies accountable in addition to challenging them on their board of directors to making buying decisions based on what to be true about the rest of their behavior in the world and in marketing. If you find yourself on the inside of one of those companies, I just would love your … I don’t know that there’s an easy answer here, but I’m curious as to, and I think that many people do, these conversations are happening at, I would imagine many, many companies around the US right now and around the world. I wanted to just get your opinion on how do we make internal change happen in the right ways on that front?

Kevin Tyler:
Yeah. I don’t know the right answers. I have ideas, but I do not know the right answers to this question. I think a lot of the ways that work used to operate back in the day, I think that a lot of that contributes to where we are today. I think like not talking about pay and salary is very weird. And I think that when a bunch of people who work in the same place and have no point of reference for what another person makes and why, is really weird. And so if you have a bunch of people working at a place and some of them aren’t making as much for the same kind of work and they look different, then why is that. And so it raises these other kinds of questions.

Kevin Tyler:
I think really having an investment in your local community is really important. I think that agencies can be very insular. This is our world, we work hard, it’s all hours of the day, but there are people around us in our neighborhood that could use some more expertise. We can be in school, so we could do X, Y, and Z because when you do those kinds of things, you have a better understanding of people who might not live the same life as you. I think there are so many ways to just get proximate. There’s this book I love called Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. He talks about getting proximate. The only way you can truly, truly understand either the life someone else lives or another idea, is to get really close to it.

Kevin Tyler:
If you can’t get close to it, you can’t truly understand. And that’s what I hope corporations, entities, organizations start understanding because the more you know about the world, the better you can message to the people that you want to message to. And I just think that now that we’re living in this time where CEOs are being forced to accommodate childcare and home responsibilities and all these other things, I feel like it leaves open some space to also another conversation about how do we connect with our stakeholders in new ways or our community in new ways that makes it feel more substantive and connective rather than just the normal transaction-based kind of approach to things.

Kevin Tyler:
And I think if you do those kinds of things, if you lead with human and not with business, I think that’s the easiest way to make the greatest change. I used to work at a place where I was one of two black people out of like 70 and that was a weird feeling. I’ve raised all these kinds of questions in my own head, like for no reason. It was just like, “What’s going on?” And so the change happens with a bunch of intentional small decisions like this, the things that happened this summer, companies aren’t going to solve this this year. This is the conversation that should never end. It’s got to start somewhere and it’s the small, every day decisions. Every single day, there’s a new decision that can be made as a marketer. There’s a new decision and I think it’s up to the ones who are bold enough to walk into a room and say, “This is not right. And here are the reasons why.”

Cynthia Price:
I love that, that it is an unending series of brave decisions that we all have a responsibility to make throughout the way. I love the idea of getting proximate. I think you’re right, that one of the, perhaps some silver lining of this pandemic world that we’re living in is the opportunity to rethink the role that a company should play. That work-life balance doesn’t have to have such a hard line between it, that we are humans first and that we’re workers alongside that maybe. Those two worlds, you can’t separate them. That we are people living in communities, whether they’re inside our companies or in the world around us. And you can’t really pull those things apart.

Kevin Tyler:
That’s exactly right. And if I could just jump in on that, I think … If you don’t mind, sorry.

Cynthia Price:
Yeah, please.

Kevin Tyler:
I think that at least for me, this time of being at home all the time has completely fused together my professional and personal lives, because I don’t have a commute. I, on my commute to work, I would become an employee. And on my commute home, I would become Kevin Tyler again. And so right now, because everything is jammed together, all of that is mixed up and it’s just one big lump. I can’t separate my blackness and my gayness from my employment or anything else. And everything is just about what is the right thing. And the more we can get to that point and not have to become other people or think in a new way only because we’re at work, I think that could do so much for the marketing industry because we’re being more ourselves, which means we can also connect with other people who are being themselves on a much deeper way.

Cynthia Price:
Yeah. I feel the same way. I think that the idea of a difference between my work life and my home life, they’re all one life now. I used to have a mentor who talked about the importance of bringing your personality to work every day. And I think similarly, we also spent a lot of time talking about bringing your values to work every day. There is an inherent, while we have certain power and we don’t have other powers, I think that standing up for those brave decisions every time you can, is critical. I think that’s really helpful.

Cynthia Price:
A question here from someone who’s also in your soon to be Higher Ed world. “How do you see this playing out in the traditionally exclusive world of Higher Ed? What can universities and other education organizations do to increase and sustain diversity and inclusion practices?” What do you have planned, Kevin?

Kevin Tyler:
Oh Lord. Oh my gosh. I love this question and I love talking about it too because I think there’s so many opportunities. I think that when it comes to DE&I, and Higher Ed specifically, it’s not a new idea. However, I think it’s evolving in new ways. I wrote a piece for my last gig about diversity equity inclusion, I think needs to be a cabinet level position. Yeah, the book was Just Mercy. I think that currently and a lot of Higher Ed institutions DE&I is housed in either HR or student affairs. And if that is where they’re housed, that is how they are assessed. And so from an HR perspective, it is about, do we have enough women in staff? Do we have do we have a mix of faculty on our staff et cetera?

Kevin Tyler:
It’s more about checking boxes than actually affecting change, to me. And then on the student services side or student affairs side, diversity is about like, do we have all the groups, student groups that we need, are the buildings accessible, which are all important. Don’t get me wrong. However, if there’s not someone on the president’s cabinet that has a purview over all of campus DEI efforts, then there’ll never be campus-wide or comprehensive DE&I efforts. And so lifting it out of departments or schools, and putting it into a cabinet level, A, is an indication to prospective students and their families of what is important to the leadership, the president of this organization because if you have someone who’s dedicated solely to DE&I, then that must be a pillar of the president’s strategic plan, I would assume.

Kevin Tyler:
But also it allows for a much more comprehensive approach. If there is an issue on this side of campus, a DEI person and HR is not going to be able to do much about that. It’s just about making sure that it is integrated into your campus life in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s a diversity initiative. I think students and faculty who are often forgotten in all these conversations, it’s not about how well they … I mean, it is about how well they learn on your campus, but it’s also about how well they live. And I think student affairs is like evolving in a way that where more needs are going to have to be met by more things on a college campus rather than programs at home. And so if you are in a Higher Ed and you’re recruiting diverse students and you do that by putting pictures in your view book or on your website, and those kids come in and there aren’t adequate services to help them get to where they need to go, then you’re not truly an inclusive campus.

Kevin Tyler:
Just because you have the people there, doesn’t mean that they are supported there. I think it’s more about support rather than numbers.

Cynthia Price:
I think that is such a good point. And I think that’s true even outside of education that the initiative for diversity and inclusion. Often I think at companies currently, certainly in the tech world, it lives in HR in a similar way where it’s about what are the faces on the staff screen look like, are we recruiting in enough diverse ways. Where to your point, diversity and inclusion is so much bigger than that. It’s everything we just talked about earlier from a marketing perspective, it’s about how we treat each other and how we approach the world, how we get involved in our communities, how we get proximate. They’re all of those other things. Do you have any general guidance for what you think a good DEI program really looks like, more broadly, not necessarily in the Higher Ed world?

Cynthia Price:
How does a DEI program become infused in a company culture? I think it oftentimes has to start with one person who’s dedicated towards it, but that’s a giant hurdle. If you do hire the person who works for the president or works for the CEO or whatever, who is very much we, as a company have decided to focus on this, how do you create that person is then really charged with turning a culture? How does that happen? Everything I’m asking you, has no easy answers.

Kevin Tyler:
Yeah, no kidding. I think these conversations are super important. I will not pretend to be a DE&I expert, I just know what I feel and think. And I want to say that out loud first. However, I do think that these difficult conversations are ones that have to be had now, they just do. And so we might not have all the answers, but we all have the capacity to think through problems and how are we going to solve the problems that we have to solve? In terms of DE&I, and this is really a difficult thing to measure or confirm or whatever, but I think that the intent is going to be really, really important. And I think there are places who will install a DE&I officer at whatever level as a layer of protection.

Kevin Tyler:
So like, “We don’t want to get sued. Can we hire a DE&I person?” That’s not really like the way to make organizational or structural change. However, there are other brands who will say, “We want to know how we can be better as an agency. We want to know how we can be better as people or whatever organization. We need to hire someone who can help navigate us or walk us through that.” And so intent is going to be the most important part. And I’m not really sure how you get to the actual intent of any conversation like that. I try to assume positive intent until something tells me otherwise. And I think that there are little signs that you can pick up on or collect along the way that can help you identify whether or not the intent is good or bad.

Kevin Tyler:
And I think one of those things is the reaction to employee like negative feedback around the work culture. If the response is one that is combative and angry, that is not positive intent. If the response is like, “I understand, I didn’t recognize that as a thing,” blah, blah, blah, I think that’s a different conversation. I think if we just pay a bit more attention to the kinds of conversations that are being had around this thing, then we’ll be able to decipher the good actors from the bad.

Cynthia Price:
It’s such a good point. It all goes back to that the intent is representative of that long game of, “Who do we want to be as a company, and what really matters to us? What are our values? What is our purpose? Obviously all companies or even in the Higher Ed nonprofit world are there for a purpose that is very specific.” What responsibility do we have as stewards of the corporate world in today’s world where there is no turning back to a time when we had blinders on as companies, and weren’t thinking about these things?

Kevin Tyler:
Yeah. And I just want to add one other thing because I think there’s another side to this kind of situation. In terms of an example, I was part of a local group in Columbus, Ohio. And it was the programming committee for this organization. And it’s like the speaking series thing. I joined this organization to hopefully increase the diversity of the members of the organization, the program committee and also the … Are we running out of time?

Cynthia Price:
No, I think we’re good.

Kevin Tyler:
Okay. Sweet. And like the speakers that they would pull in. And so we were having a meeting and one of the people, one of the leaders of the organization was saying, “Yeah I’d love to get some of the kids from the charter school. They’re poor and they’re mostly of color. I just like to have a conversation around why some poor black kids become like mayor and some kids don’t.” It was a very weird conversation. I think we have been taught to see people of color in certain ways, and it’s black people that says poverty and broke and dangerous and looting and all of these things. But there’s also all types of other kinds of black people. When we think about giving back to the community, I think a lot of people think about going to the poor parts and giving back over there, and we’ve done our diversity and equity and inclusion stuff.

Kevin Tyler:
The thing about all of what’s happening now is that systemic racism is a very difficult concept for a brain to process. And if we don’t break apart the pieces of systemic racism, if we don’t understand how all of the institutions that are attached to the American dream are inherently racist, we don’t understand housing and then redlining and then education and how it’s funded and health and all of the terrible things that doctors did to black people back in the day, then we’ll never understand truly what it means to be a black person in America. Systemic racism is so big, it’s so much. What I do understand is why ghettos exists. I understand redlining. Cities up until like, even as recently as the mid-80s have relegated certain kinds of people to certain parts of the city that are like industrial and garbage dumps, et cetera.

Kevin Tyler:
The Henrietta Lacks piece in the medical community and stealing this woman’s jeans or the Tuskegee experiment and giving a bunch of black soldiers syphilis to see what happens. There’s mistrust in American institutions from a whole community of people and people don’t get that. We don’t break apart the idea or all the institutions where racism just inherently exists, then we’ll never going to really understand it like from A to Z. Does that make sense?

Cynthia Price:
Yes. That makes a ton of sense. And I think that was so well stated. I really appreciate you diving in on that. We’re all trying to figure out right now, I don’t know. I’m reading White Fragility right now and the idea of individualism versus systemic racism. There’s this thing where I feel like we think as individuals, if we live our lives in a certain way, or we have historically thought that that just thinking of systemic issues is a whole different way of thinking. That it requires us to truly examine things that are uncomfortable to examine and that they involve a lot of education. Like you said, you can’t go blindly into this work without actually doing the hard work of educating yourself on how in the world did we get here.

Kevin Tyler:
Yeah. I think that’s really right. I love to read. I’m a voracious reader and I learn about things through reading. And so however people learn about things, whatever we learn, can only refine our marketing craft. We won’t use it every day, what we learn, but there’s got to be a time that we’ve learned something like, “Oh my God, use that right here.” Just like collecting a bank of tools and information and education that you can use to just be a better marketer because a bad marketer can kill the brand quite literally. I would hate for anyone to be that person that decimates a brand. The more we read, the more we understand, the more we look for things that we might not have seen before this summer, I think is going to be really important.

Kevin Tyler:
I appreciate people reading White Fragility and how to be anti-racist and all these other things. I think whatever people have differing opinions on all those things, but I think reading is always a good thing. However, it’s important to note that people have been writing about these things for so long. Basically anything Toni Morrison wrote was basically about racism, like Langston Hughes and all of these people. And so just being open to new information and being open to change in the way it makes your brain think, is like the most important part, I think of this. I think this is not just about marketing. This is not a marketing comp. I mean it is, but it’s about more than that. And just looking under more rocks and looking into the corners of things, in the corners of your brain, the corner of the library, learning as much as you can because when you know more, you can do more.

Cynthia Price:
Yeah. It’s such a good point. And you’re right that the reading of the books about the problem are one thing. The reading of all the other things we haven’t been reading all along as to like, what is redlining and how did it happen or how does it happen, all of these things.

Kevin Tyler:
Sorry, you saw my bottom half, but this book, the Color of Law, it’s one of the best books about redlining I’ve ever read in my entire life. I know it’s backwards, but it’s excellent. And it just gives a history on why neighborhoods look the way they look. If anyone’s interested in that.

Cynthia Price:
All right. I’m going to ask you one more question that we got from the audience before we wrap it up, that I think it’s a good one. And again, it’s the hardest thing to answer. But they say, “What I often find I struggle with is defining the line between inclusivity and pandering. Is there a sure fire way that we can start to incorporate more inclusive marketing efforts without seeming like we are ill intentions and uninformed?”

Kevin Tyler:
That’s a great question. I don’t want to use the same answer, but I do think that part of this does live in the intent bucket. When I was in my younger years I was often asked to join boards. I was very flattered to be asked. I would walk into the room and then I would immediately understand why I was being asked to be on this board. And so it was a room full of white people, or a room full of straight people, or a room full of white straight people. If you’re doing something because of who the person is and not what they have to offer or what they have to contribute, that would be an example of pandering, I think.

Kevin Tyler:
But if you come to me and say, “Listen, I know that you’re an expert in Higher Education. I want you to join this thing. You’re going to be the only black person. I’m not asking you because you’re a black person. I’m asking you because you are one of the smartest brains I know about,” blah, blah, blah. I’m not saying that about me, but I’m just saying, that’s a different ask. And so I think when it’s about culture shift or whatever else, just having a conversation when it’s about marketing though. It is a harder needle to thread because no one who receives the message knows what the conversation looked like before they got it. I think it’s about making things look real. Black people are everywhere. To say like, “We need to have more diversity in our ads or in our emails or whatever.” Like one day I get an email it’s just all black people out of nowhere, that’s weird. There’s a strategy. It’s an intentional process of decision points. I don’t think that that was a very helpful answer, but I think it’s about intent.

Cynthia Price:
Yeah. Well, and it’s about being true to like, is that a value that the company holds and is it authentically aligned with that? Which is, again, the harder job for marketers to do is to make … I think it’s almost harder for marketers to create internal change than it is for us to actually reflect the world around us and in our message for marketing.

Kevin Tyler:
I think that’s right. I think that’s right. I learned this from my dad, I’ve always been the guy in a room who is asking the questions and my dad also taught me to never miss an opportunity to say nothing. And so what I get from not saying anything is so much, I understand the dynamics of a room. If I have a place in this conversation, if what I say is even going to fall on deaf ears or be integrated into the brainstorm or whatever the conversation looks like, asking questions and not saying anything are the two best ways to make change.

Cynthia Price:
Never miss an opportunity to say nothing. That is solid advice. That’s great, that advice. Awesome. Well, I think we are wrapping up. Lauren, were there any other questions that I missed?

Lauren:
There was one that came in, not necessarily a question like to address, but just whether or not we would make this particular session available outside of Litmus Live week registering. And the answer is absolutely, yes. Everybody who is on the call will get it. And then if you want to share that out with your networks, we will absolutely make that possible for you to do. I wanted to make sure that we provided a little clarification on that.

Cynthia Price:
Awesome. Well, thank you, Kevin. This has been really insightful. I really appreciate you taking some time with us today.

Kevin Tyler:
Sure thing.

Cynthia Price:
Is there any place that people can connect and follow you on the rest of your journey?

Kevin Tyler:
Yeah, totally. Yes, Twitter.

Cynthia Price:
Somebody mentioned the campaign you were running on Instagram and the comments that they loved the stop killing [inaudible 00:55:27]. I didn’t know if you wanted us to follow you there or is that-

Kevin Tyler:
Yes, back in the day, like back in June, I started this thing called Stop Killing Us, which was an effort to like reframe the narrative that folks, the black narrative essentially. And it was about pairing joyous black and brown faces with stories of who we are. The idea is like, if you know more about me as a human, maybe you’ll treat me as a human. And so that was early on, but I have found as time has passed over the summer, I am less joyful. And so it just doesn’t feel like the campaign to be running right now. It just doesn’t feel right and I’m kind of upset. And so I’ve put that off to the side. I’m still on Instagram. I run a food blog on the side called the Full Belly Blogger. I write about wine and food and et cetera. And that’s on Instagram.

Kevin Tyler:
My Twitter is Kevinctyler2. I’m very active on both platforms and on LinkedIn. I’d love to hear from folks if they want to reach out. I’d like to also, if you don’t mind just a couple of book recommendations.

Cynthia Price:
Please.

Kevin Tyler:
Obviously one is, The Color of Law. One is, Black Banks and the Wealth Gap, which is history of black banking. And there is one more. Oh, Just Mercy. I already set that one, which is about the judicial system.

Cynthia Price:
Fantastic. Well, thank you so much, Kevin. This has been awesome.

Kevin Tyler:
Thank you for having us … Us. Thank you for having me.

Cynthia Price:
All of you.

Kevin Tyler:
Thank you for having just me. I only have just me. This was so great. If anyone has any questions … Oh, my Insta is kctyler T-Y-L-E-R. I’m so proud of myself for not being distracted by these comments because usually I’m like, “What are they saying? What are they saying?”

Cynthia Price:
It’s so hard, I know. I had to really train myself to not. Yeah, it’s [inaudible 00:57:29].

Lauren:
Maybe it’s another skill that we’re getting by doing so much of our work over Zoom these days.

Kevin Tyler:
Totally, totally.

Lauren:
Yeah

Kevin Tyler:
Thank you so much for this opportunity. Really, it was a pleasure. I’m super honored to share time with you.

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