Are You Really Supporting Diverse Suppliers?

I got riled up recently when another industry trade publication published a story about a company it described as a rare, Black-owned DSP (demand-side platform) with a unique buy-side approach. Plus, the story said, this company had built its own ad tech. 

Here's a fact-check courtesy of MediaPost.

My frustration with the article referenced above was that it really was about a company that merely white-labels someone else's ad tech and combines it with a network of Black-owned media. Simply put, it isn’t an ad tech company, just a white-labeler.

My point is that if an industry reporter who regularly covers ad platforms can’t tell the difference between an authentic ad-tech company and one that just relabels someone else’s technology, then how likely is it that advertisers and media agencies will be able to tell the difference? 



Answer: not very likely.

This is a real problem because after the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, many clients and agencies made big, public commitments to supporting diverse media and diverse ad tech. Since 2020, a lot of buy-side folks are less interested in this support -- in part because it’s become hard to tell the difference between genuinely diverse suppliers and ones that are superficially diverse. 

There are a lot of charlatans out there that are either not really Black-owned or not really ad tech, which makes it difficult for clients and agencies to find the companies that truly are Black-owned ad tech.

That difficulty is not an excuse for clients and agencies to throw up their hands on doing due diligence. 

I don’t want only to point at a problem -- I want to solve it. 

Here are three questions that brands and media buyers can ask before they add a purportedly diverse supplier to their plan.

Have you asked your agency’s in-house multicultural expert if this is the real deal? 

Every big media agency (and even some smaller ones) has a head of multicultural. That person’s job is to know which media and ad tech is truly diverse. 

A quick internet search on “who leads multicultural at [insert your agency or holding company here]?” will turn up something in moments. If you’re an advertiser and your AE is suggesting adding a diverse media source to your plan, ask the AE if she or he has consulted with the head of multicultural or that person’s team. If the answer is no, push back.

Can I see your receipts? 

As I can attest through grim experience having built three ad tech companies over the last 10 years, any ad-tech company that is truly building its own technology will have spent real money on servers and sysadmin. 

If an ad-tech vendor is claiming to have built their own technology, then ask to see a year’s worth of receipts for their server records and sysadmin costs. If the salesperson in front of you doesn’t understand the question, that’s a troubling sign, but not a disqualifying one, because it’s more technical than most salespeople get. 

A smart seller will say “let me get back to you on that,” which is fine. But if they don’t get back to you, or say that they don’t have those records, then it’s likely that the vendor is white-labeling another company’s technology.

Can I have an outside company review your tech?

If you suspect that the person sitting across your desk or on the other side of a Zoom doesn’t really have a diverse-owned ad-tech company, but you don’t have the expertise to vet this yourself, then ask if you can have a third party review the company. 

If the vendor says no, then take your business elsewhere. 

If the vendor says yes, but you don’t have somebody to call to do the review, then reach out to me (if you’re reading this on LinkedIn, then click the blue “message” button). I know a few of the folks who can do this review for you. 

If those folks aren’t available, then I’ll ask my CTO to look under the hood for you, free of charge.

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