Keyword inclusion/exclusion is a practice used by advertisers to protect brands from the usage of words or phrases that don’t necessarily align with their values. Although not intentional, this algorithm based tactic has, unfortunately, hurt how stories are being told, resulting in a $2.8 billion loss in revenue for journalists and publishers in 2019. And when it comes to Black journalists and creatives, they are faced with increased censorship and demonetization due to innocent terms commonly used within Black culture, being flagged as something negative or harmful.
To combat inclusion/exclusion lists in Black media, global media agency, Mindshare has teamed up with feminine hygiene brand U by Kotex, to form the Black Community Private Marketplace or PMP. Rolling out with 25 Black publishing houses, this initiative ensures that Black voices will continue to be heard, without the loss of ad dollars.
We had the opportunity to speak with Mindshare’s Manager of Digital Investments and leader of the Black Community PMP launch, Sherine Patrick on keyword inclusion/exclusion lists’ effect on Black media, how the U by Kotex collaboration came about, and how they are working with Black publishing houses.
Racquel Coral (RC): Thank you very much for talking with me about this. Before this initiative, I was unaware of keyword inclusion/exclusion lists. Can you explain to me what that is?
Sherine Patrick (SP): The usage of keyword inclusion/exclusion lists is an industry-wide tactic that everyone takes. The premise of it is to ensure that brands show up in brand-safe environments. That being said, a lot of people implement keyword lists to stay away from things like war content, politically skewed content, etc. And while this works, because you’re depending on a computer to do things for you, you can put in words like “queer”, “sexuality”, “dope”, or “bomb”, and get flagged because they show up as violent or sex or drugs. For example, in the Black community, I can say things like, “My hair is dope” or “That outfit is bomb”, but the computer, unfortunately, can’t tell whether or not I’m talking about my hair or blowing up a car. So the technology that was created to automate keeping brands away from harsh content, has ended up working against us.
All is not lost though, as there’s been progress around semantic keyword processing, but there’s still a lot to do. Unintentionally, these lists end up blocking brands from supporting content that we really want to be around. And that’s how the Black Community Private Marketplace (PMP) was born.
RC: What are some ways in which keyword inclusion/exclusion lists have hurt Black creatives and journalists?
SP: Initially, the PMP’s in general, with the inclusion lists that Mindshare has started, began with the LGBTQ community, and was later rolled into the Black community. At the time, there was no press around it, no one was talking about it, and it wasn’t on anyone’s radar. So as I was putting together a deck to pitch to clients, I looked for Black articles that would talk about it and couldn’t find anything. Mainly because either no one knew that it was important, or it just wasn’t alerting anyone that this was something that was adversely affecting people.
Since June though, we’ve seen more people talk about it. For instance, Morgan DeBaun, owner Blavity, spoke out on how inclusion/exclusion lists and brand safety keyword blocking causes them to miss out on revenue because contextually it’s safe, but one word, in particular, would flag in the system as brand unsafe. And while I can’t call out specific examples, I can say for sure that the shuttering of Black media outlets always points to funding issues, which has in part, been attributed to keyword and inclusion/exclusion lists.
RC: How did the collaboration with Kotex come about?
SP: We’re really fortunate to work with a number of clients who are passionate about taking a stand against racial inequality, and we knew that because U by Kotex has a history of championing this space that they would be a great partner to help lead the way.
RC: I know that the Black Community PMP is launching with 25 publishing houses, how are you supporting and working with them?
SP: A private market place, or PMP, is a programmatic initiative using technology to serve advertising. Instead of our sales or buying team meeting with the sales team from each and every individual publisher through a direct buy, we speak with a lot of the publishers and put them in a private marketplace which is essentially an auction. There, we’re able to negotiate slightly efficient rates than if we went direct and were able to bid on their inventory and run on brand-safe content. Because it’s in this closed space, we know that it’s not only safe, but the publisher is talking about issues that are important to the community. This is great because they get to sell their ad space and we get to make sure that we surround content that we not only want to be on but also help drive ad dollars to these publishers who were being excluded and marginalized out of this process. So in short, we took away the lists, created this room for everyone to fit in, and we’re intentionally and actively pursuing the content.
RC: What is your role?
SP: I led the initiative by curating the lists and vetting the publishers. Initially, I had this beautiful idea of it being all Black-owned publishers. But the sad reality of the industry is that some of the effects have resulted in a lot of publishers no longer being Black-owned. Some had to get absorbed in order to stay afloat and others no longer existed, but my first goal was to gather everyone who was Black-owned. Next was to work with people who have a history of supporting the Black community because it got trendy around the end of May, going into June. I didn’t want people to be included who weren’t forward-thinking in the PMP. I wanted people who had a history with our community, a history of talking to us, and a history of making sure that our stories are told.
I also thought it was important because when you talk about Blackness, you can’t talk about Black people as just African Americans. After all, it’s a blanket term that has been used in the industry for a long time. Now, I think people are starting to understand that the word Black means many things. For instance, we have the first generation Africans, the Caribbean Americans, Afro-LatinX, and all of them are Black, but not Black African Americans. So I wanted to talk to everyone. We all co-exist, we all overlap. There are things that we share, but also cultural nuances that if a brand is able to speak to you in that space, you feel like they understand and care.
How I got involved was through a company resource group called The Collective, led by my peers Rachel Lowenstein and Dan Ottinger, and they created the idea of the PMP. The Collective is all about inclusivity and giving a voice to not only the employees but just creating products for our brands to tap into that make sure that they aren’t intentionally putting inclusivity first. So because I am a part of The Collective and am always involved in multicultural and programmatic, I volunteered to be a part of this initiative. And thankfully, they gave me the opportunity to take charge and craft it in a way that I think is authentic to our community.
RC: Who are the 25 publishing houses that this initiative is launching with?
SP: They include Black Girl Nerds, the Blavity Network, Pod Digital, The Grio, BET, Huff Post Black Voices, and Spotify (curating playlists targeted towards the demographic that we want to reach), to name a few.
RC: What does the future hold for the Black Community PMP?
SP: That’s a good question. The awesome thing about this is that it was set up for brands to tap into at any time. U by Kotex is our founding partner, but we hope that our clients are going to tap into this at any time year-round. We’re really excited to see the excitement surrounding it because a lot of brands have come forward asking how they, too, can get involved. Our UK team will also be launching their Black Community PMP team soon which is amazing because it’s going global.
At large, the ultimate goal with these PMPs is to authentically support journalism for all of the marginalized communities. When they first came up with the idea in 2019, it was started as a solution for the client. But after seeing the success of the LGBTQ, we saw that it was major, and that forward-thinking made us want to go further with not only the Black community but other communities to support and amplify their voices.
For more information on Mindshare, visit https://www.mindshareworld.com/usa.
Contributing Writer, Racquel Coral is a lifestyle writer based in Chicago. Find her on social media @withloveracquel.