One of February’s key observances is Black History Month, or African-American History Month as it is referred to by some organizations. The tradition of celebrating black history dates back to the 1920s and was federally recognized in 1976.
While spotlighting businesses and business leaders merely on the basis of race or ethnicity can be sort of shallow, or even offensive, I do think that this month of recognizing the accomplishments of Africa-American citizens is a good time to assess whether your coverage of business and finance does reflect the nation’s diversity. If not, start now with some of the ideas below. And on a practical level, like any seasonal or annual event it’s a convenient peg for providing market-specific features for consumers and entrepreneurs.
Angles to pursue include:
Corporate observances: What are area employers and corporations doing to observe African-American History Month? National giants like AT&T, Procter & Gamble and Kroger are acknowledging the month in a variety of ways on their social media sites, with contests and with other promotions and events. Reactions by pundits and bloggers range from skeptical to supportive; what’s really behind these communication efforts? Here’s an interesting take from a couple of years ago by Black Enterprise, which analyzed the promotions and tie-ins by a number of well-known companies. Unless you’re a columnist, you might want to skip the grading system and/or get some outside experts to opine on the imputed motives behind the corporate actions, but it’s still informative for readers to learn how and why companies participate in such cultural events.
African-American-owned businesses: If you haven’t looked at the figures lately, check out these statistics on minority-owned businesses compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau. According to the 2007 economic census, the number of black-owned businesses was up more than 60 percent over 2002, with sales receipts climbing 53 percent to more than $153 billion. Women, in particular, are surging as business founders.
We’ll have to wait for the results of the 2012 economic census to get post-recession stats, but you might assess your region’s African-American owned business community through the area’s economic development unit, chambers of commerce, businesspersons associations and other groups. Also check out this Huffington Post story from July 2012, “The Best States for Black Business Owners;” it references a number of sources including business incubators and Black Enterprise magazine’s Top 100 list.
Don’t forget about the professions, as well, from law and accounting to health care providers.
News for small-business owners and entrepreneurs. Check with your area’s branch of the federal Small Business Administration about government procurement programs that target minority-owned businesses, and other resources for would-be entrepreneurs. Organizations like the SBA and AARP also sometimes sponsor informational workshops which you could attend to meet mentors as well as prospective business owners. Area community banks and other lenders also may help you compile a list of financing and microlending options for entrepreneurs.
Marketing to African-American consumers. If you’re writing about the demand side of the economic impact of the African-American community, here’s a Bureau of Labor Statistics page on demographics, including education, income and employment. And here’s a Pew report about economic mobility that will provide other context for stories about African-American consumers.
This recent Nielsen blog outlines a number of reason that the segment is attractive to marketers and goods-makers, including a relatively youthful population, growing spending power and shopping behavior; here’s another study about brand loyalty trends. And the Association of National Advertisers published in December 2012 a new report, “Marketing to African American Consumers: Finding New Revenue Streams;” it’s behind a paywall but such trade groups often share at least an executive summary upon request.
Obviously if you have consumer goods makers in your region, you’ll want to talk with them about any product development or outreach under way to target the African- American community; same for retailers and service providers. Also check in with area marketing and advertising firms about efforts they’re involved with.