I am grateful that when I ran into a racist client, I had a boss that allowed me to lead with my convictions.
For about three to four years, I was part of a marketing consultant team for a company that I believed in. I thought they were honest, hard-working people that had a fantastic product that was helping others. Their employees felt comfortable calling me for advice, and I loved helping them bring ideas to fruition.
Every marketing consultant knows that at the end of the day, clients want to know how their marketing activities are translating into sales. Expecting sales is reasonable and valid. Dollars out should eventually convert to dollars in.
During the client’s last quarter of the year, we were in heavy communication with our strategy for the new year. Our goal was to utilize new platform capabilities and shift our message. It was typical for me to receive up to 2 phone calls a day. However, one day the conversation changed.
The team I worked with at the time, was committed to showing diversity through marketing imagery for clients on social media. The client’s product allegedly benefitted black skin types. For a long time, we shared client testimonials along side carefully sourced images of people of color. Naturally, photos of interracial couples fall into this effort. I picked up the phone on a busy Wednesday afternoon when I heard a phrase that I knew demanded action.
The client and owner of the business asked me NEVER to show photos of interracial couples in my marketing material. They said, “It doesn’t fit our values.” I paused in my naïveté as I was stunned. I told the client that I needed to inform my superior of their request and hung up the phone. Looking back, I have no idea why they did not say something sooner as we shared many images of people of color and interracial couples over the years. What I think happened, is that the owner finally saw the images. I don’t think he had been paying close attention to their social media and had only looked at the data.
I realize that the shocked feeling was my privilege showing up in a big way! I’m Latina and have experienced some prejudice, but I’m white, so it is in no way comparable to what POC and other minorities experience. My privilege has kept me sheltered enough that I was surprised by their outright racist request.
Clearly, VALUES had nothing to do with their request.
Today, I wonder if I made the right decision. I wonder if it was right to pause and talk to the lead consultant on the project or if I should have addressed the racism right there and then. Maybe I should have at the very least said I personally would no longer be a part of their marketing team.
We all know that racism exists, but the challenge is responding when we see or hear it happen.
Terminating service was the only response for our team, which we did. When I sent the letter to discontinue service, I HOPED the client would say that their eyes were opened or apologize. Again, I was naive. The response I received was, “I’m sorry to hear this.” True to form, they never paid for their last month of service. We were okay eating this cost.
Doing the right thing put me and others at a financial loss, but our actions in this situation were important. Our actions set precedence.