For decades, a proverbial glass ceiling kept Black professionals from rising to the top of their chosen fields. Unfortunately, cultural bias in the workplace kept them out of executive roles. While there is still much work to be done, Black professionals are breaking through the confines of systemic racism and thriving despite adversity.
In ad tech, the glass ceiling for Black talent is shattering thanks to the work of people like Louis Jones, CMO at Brand Safety Institute.
Like many people in ad tech, Jones fell into the ad tech industry by chance. Advertising was his third career. From starting his first job in the field at J. Walter Thompson to rising as one of the most prolific executives in the digital ecosystem, he proves that the stigma perpetrated around Black professionals is a fallacy.
After taking a slight break in his career, Jones now focuses on regulating brand safety and pushing forward DEI efforts in the ad tech industry.
To celebrate the legacy of Black ad tech pioneers, we spoke with Jones about his career trajectory, brand safety’s effect on Black media, and performative activism.
Falling Into Ad Tech
Andrew Byrd: How did you start working in ad tech and digital media?
Louis Jones: Believe it or not, advertising is my third career. I did retail for a year and did not love it. An opportunity came up for me to return to my undergrad at the University of Lehigh and Pennsylvania. I worked in college admission for six years, and then I made the jump. I started working in advertising late in my career.
I started at J. Walter Thompson and was there for ten years. It was fundamental in setting me up for my career. Within six years, I became the Deputy Media Director and Deputy Planning Director for the New York office, which is incredible for a Black man in advertising.
I was the Media Director at Organic, one of the original let’s build the web firms. Organic created the first website and produced the first digital ad. I did that for about two years during the middle of the boom.
I grew in prominence as the digital era of the advertising industry began to take off. I had a track record where everywhere I went, digital traffic increased. I got to see all parts of the world of digital marketing before I decided to retire and move to the West Coast. Although, after a year and a half of retirement, I was bored to tears. That’s how I was pulled back into working for the Brand Safety Institute.
Blacks in Ad Tech
AB: You recently accepted the CMO position at the Brand Safety Institute. As a Black professional in an executive role in ad tech, do you see more BIPOC professionals in executive roles in digital media? Do you feel there is a responsibility within the industry to uplift more BIPOC professionals to those roles?
LJ: Yes, they’re out there, but we still need more representation. It’s everybody’s responsibility to lift a diverse executive demographic.
You know, coming up through my early years, there was an expectation about how you behaved, a white male-dominated way of interacting with people. Work culture set that as the standard. We now realize that people from different backgrounds approach work differently. They can spend more time working and less time filtering how to present that information or that point of view in a way that is digestible to white males.
I’ve always been a person who can carry a tremendous amount on his shoulders. That got me through my earlier years. No matter how much they threw on top of me, I did not go down.
Brand Safety’s Negative Impact on Black Media
AB: You work with a company that focuses on brand safety. Do you see any correlation between how brand safety can affect Black media networks and audiences?
LJ: Absolutely. Brand safety consists of many variables. There is the blocking and tackling of brand safety: keyword management, catching fraud, etc. With COVID-19, there was much talk about misinformation. With George Floyd, there was a discussion about how brand safety impacts race.
In the past year, we’ve discussed how keyword blocking and blunt strategies have worked against diverse media. For example, you can create an algorithm with biases that completely ignore minority media. The algorithm learns to bypass them.
This forces people to think about their values and ethics and get those things in line. We see a shift across many different agencies and marketers who proclaimed to be doing better.
With my position at BSI, I’m trying to find ways to bring to light how people can be better with media responsibility. With DEI efforts coming to the forefront of every industry, I have the position and the power to uplift my community. I can change brand safety standards, so they don’t hinder Black media organizations.
AB: You are attending BRIDGE 2023, a leadership forum where CDOs, CMOs, and CEOs unite to chart the future of DEI as a driver of business growth. What lessons do you hope the ad tech industry takes away from the conference? Especially in terms of uplifting Black digital media and ad tech professionals?
LJ: Bridge launched in this late spring. The Board for the event is outstanding. There is magic in sitting in a room of diverse people and seeing excellence at work. It is uplifting and inspiring. We’ve got all these great people on the Board who are passionate about seeing our industry improve. Some of them come from the Diversity Officer perspective. Some of them come from the marketing and ad agency perspective. You’ve got the business side and the diversity side coming together.
Combining knowledge and understanding must be connected to determine the right path. The diversity officers have spent time trying to understand which DEI practices work and the business works out how to best implement those tactics for the brands.
So I’m looking forward to the event. The core of what we’ll be doing is presenting research. There’s an academic team within Bridge that has identified 72 practices in the workplace that will contribute to DEI practices for a company. We’re presenting the research, and we’ve got a few companies that signed up to test it out so we can fine-tune it for the marketplace and bring it out more broadly.
I hope board members will work to ensure that we take advantage of this moment and the aggregation of all that diverse brainpower to move the market beyond performative actions and into real inclusion as a business growth strategy.
Beyond Performative Activism
AB: Many people consider various industry DEI efforts to be performative. What advice would you have for the ad tech industry to make sure their activism is not performative and makes an actual impact on the marginalized population?
LJ: You should recognize what Bridge is doing and get involved. Because across the 72 practices, you can assess your company and you can determine how your company can improve your DEI strategies.
What will be interesting to see as we’re in Black History Month is a discussion about how you support every marginalized community. Do you support every Hispanic Heritage Month? Pride Month? Companies focus on making an initiative for every celebration instead of cultivating an audience and loyalty with these communities. Let’s put resources behind developing what those relationship parameters are.
The answers will begin to unfold shortly. But it does represent a path in the right direction.
To read more stories in our Black History Month series, check out:
- 10 Black Ad Tech Professionals Making Waves in Digital Media and Advertising
- Celebrating Black Pioneers in Ad Tech — Charles Cantu, Reset Digital
- The Importance of Black Media and Sharing Your Wealth: Cedric J. Rogers, Culture Genesis Inc.
- A Seat at the Table With Lashawnda Goffin, CEO, Colossus SSP