Building Community Trust and Leadership, Blavity Inc. Breaks the Media Mold

At a time when the media is going through tumultuous period, publishing powerhouse and entrepreneurial advisor, Morgan DeBaun, CEO & Founder Blavity Inc. is moving full steam ahead. Blavity Inc. is her venture-backed new media company, home to the largest network of brands specifically serving black millennials through original content, video, conferences, events and other unique experiences. Since 2014, the company has grown into a market leader for black media, reaching 30 million millennials per month through its growing brand portfolio, which includes AfroTech, 21 Ninety, Travel Noire, Blavity News, Blavity Politics and Shadow And Act.

These are tough times for digital media, especially digital media upstarts backed by venture-capital funding. We need look no further than Buzzfeed’s recent layoffs and challenges with achieving profitability as an example. The path toward a brighter future for players like Buzzfeed relies on revenue diversification, a strategy that Blavity has acted on since its early days. During her keynote at Ops  2019 in New York on Tuesday, June 4, DeBaun will share her insights on the impact that community and culture have on advertising in the publishing industry.

Focusing on the Big Picture

Growing up in the Midwest, DeBaun lived in a predominantly white neighborhood but attended schools for Black students. “Over and over, I had to learn how to be myself in different communities,” DeBaun says.

She often wondered how she could find other people with her similar interests and culture. She soon came to realize that her experience was much like other Black people who were searching for a community they could call their own. While her childhood experiences gave her the empathy to tackle the problem, it was her experience at Intuit following college that taught her the technology to act on it.

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“Silicon Valley was using technology to bring people together,” she says, “And technology is the fastest and most democratic way to connect people and find commonalities. So, I tied my experiences together to make sure our community had a place to get together.” And that’s why DeBaun launched Blavity Inc. in 2014.

But it takes more than heart and technological know-how to create community and build a business around it. It takes commitment to the solution, hard work and business acumen as well.

“Instead of making marginal improvements, we try to make big leaps,” shares DeBaun, “And we always have a clear road map of what we need two-to-three years in advance.” An expert in time management, DeBaun credits her planning skills for affording her the space to continue to innovate on different products while her trusted team executes on the company’s tightly-aligned goals.

Holding Publishers Accountable to Truth

“Our responsibility [as publishers] is to make sure that we are reflecting the issues that matter in society,” DeBaun notes.

This is the key to reaching and engaging subsets of the Black community that may have been previously underserved–from artists to entrepreneurs, educators to community leaders, hobbyists to professionals.

With 20% to 30% of all of Blavity Inc.’s content submitted by the community, the Blavity team keeps its finger on the pulse of trends across the spectrum of the Black community. Any influx of content or increased chatter on social media on a particular issue, for example, suggests that a deeper dive into that topic is likely in order. This keeps people engaging with Blavity because they know the company is listening.

“We’re often the first publication to break news on a person or business in the Black community.  And with such a large distribution network, those stories get picked up by other media outlets. So, it’s our responsibility to be in the know,” DeBaun explains.

For the Good of the Community

While the company is growing, DeBaun says she never wants Blavity to have the ‘corporate’ label. Blavity sees 30M visitors monthly and has a team of about 74 full-time employees across its Los Angeles, Atlanta and San Francisco offices.

“The biggest challenge has been how we build quickly in a way that our followers never feel like we’ve sold out to corporate values. This is why we continue to put our community first in everything we do.” DeBaun explains.

Blavity, after all, is more than just a company that makes and distributes content for the Black millennial market.

Behind the scenes, there’s a complex and ambitious organization with systems and teams in place that has allowed them to scale quickly without turning their back on the roots of the company.

“The content just warms people up for a conversation,” shares DeBaun. “Trust is a core value of Blavity Inc. and we have to do the right thing for our community at all costs–even if it ends up being more expensive.”

DeBaun cites the 2017 Shadow And Act RISING Awards ceremony as an example. Shadow And Act is a Blavity Inc.-owned media brand that covers Black talent and entertainment across TV, film and theater. Though the Awards Show had not been in the budget, the Blavity Inc. team recognized the importance of celebrating the people who are moving the Black community forward, so they funded the event out of their own pockets.

As a mission, Blavity aims to “economically and creatively support Black millennials across the African diaspora, so they can pursue the work they love and change the world in the process.” DeBaun seeks to further this mission with her newly announced WorkSmart nine-week advisory program that she’s opening up to 20 highly qualified entrepreneurs to learn the strategies, tactics and frameworks she used to successfully build Blavity Inc. from the ground up, 10X her revenue and scale the business.

For the Good of the Business

The value of community trust is far greater than growing a following, however. It also amounts to more valuable advertising opportunities–if done correctly. “Right now, publishers are giving advertisers access to our data and then using that information for retargeting purposes. Nobody does this better than Amazon or Facebook. The challenge for publishers is figuring out what your company is good at that Amazon and Facebook are not.” DeBaun poses.

For Blavity, advertising is about having a two-way conversation with sponsors early in the decision-making process to determine goals, audience and the proper execution in order to create an effective outcome.

“Experiential business is huge,” says DeBaun. “By building a 360-degree integrated experience, sponsors aren’t just buying ads on the website, they’re creating real-time interactions between the clients and the community that make it even easier to meet campaign goals.”

Join DeBaun at Ops 2019 for more insights into how a community-focused model can build revenue for publishers.