How Association Marketing Pros Can Help Ensure Diverse Vendors and Accessible Content

Bradham_marketers can ensure diverse content July 5, 2022 By: Stefan R. Bradham, Cathy Lada, CAE, and Michelle Peterson

While some organizations think of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility efforts as a responsibility residing outside of the marketing department, that team can have a real impact on DEI efforts. A recent survey offers insights on how association marketers can influence diverse vendors and accessibility standards for their content.

ASAE’s Marketing Professionals Advisory Council (MPAC) conducted a survey in April 2022 to better understand of how associations are handling diversity, equity, and inclusion in their marketing and communications efforts. In our previous article, we looked at how marketing departments addressed DEI and collected data. In this second article, we’ll focus on DEI practices related to vendors and accessibility— and why those practices make a difference.

Vendor Key Findings

Supplier diversity is not just the responsibility of one department, but all departments. According to our survey, less than 15 percent of marketing departments evaluate how marketing identifies vendors to eliminate bias and ensure diversity and inclusivity—which means we have work to do.

Part of the problem may be lack of awareness in around the benefits of supplier diversity, that diverse suppliers are out there, and that marketers can easily champion diversity when searching for suppliers. According to the Pittsburgh Business Times, the benefits of a supplier diversity program are clear: it helps fight structural racism, benefits our economy, and enhances the organization’s overall business.

Finding diverse suppliers starts with the RFP process, and fewer than 10 percent of responding marketers evaluate the RFP process to eliminate bias and develop a diverse and inclusive vendor list. For example, how many marketing RFPs contain your organization’s DEI statement? How many marketing RFPs contain a clause like this from the American Health Law Association:

It will be vital for the consulting firm to share AHLA’s commitment to inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility. The consultants will demonstrate how it cultivates and maintains a culture of inclusion and belonging, and its principals and workforce should be diverse.

And don’t forget vendor deliverables when reviewing an RFP, accessibility is also a major concern. “If you contract with a vendor that is not accessible, you immediately alienate a segment of your target market,” said Samantha Evans, certification manager at the International Association of Accessibility Professionals. “Challenge your respondents, if their product is accessible and usable in an equitable format. Make them demonstrate how it is accessible.”

Accessibility Key Findings

As end-user advocates, marketers must ensure their organization keeps accessibility top of mind to make certain their education and content reaches all pertinent stakeholders. However, the MPAC survey revealed that only 1 in 4 marketers evaluate and ensure the organizational website and other web applications are Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) compliant.

This is concerning when Seyfarth Shaw LLP reports that ADA related lawsuits are on the rise: “a 320 percent increase in eight years.”

One reason marketers may not be focused on DEI in their vendor RFP process is they don’t know it’s their responsibility. The tools marketers use may be “owned” by IT, so they assume accessibility is IT’s responsibility. However, marketers do play a role.

“Marketers should be champions for accessibility—it’s about engagement, crafting the story, choosing the imagery, and delivering that content to the end user,” said Evans. “The better we are with using these tools to incorporate accessibility, the further our reach extends, the better our business outcomes are, and the more likely we are to reach the organization’s key metrics.”

Another reason marketers may not focus on accessibility is the cost. It’s easy and inexpensive to find a tool to review analytics, spelling errors, bad links, and general site health. However, it becomes increasingly expensive to add accessibility checks, which cannot be fully automated and ideally should include a set of manual testing. So, what if you do not have the budget for a tool like Siteimprove or manual testing from Ablr? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Advocate to transform your organization’s DEI strategy to an IDEA strategy (inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility).
  • Include accessibility testing in any website migration, refresh, or redesign and be the end-user advocate for all accessibility issues.
  • Recruit a team of diverse members to test certain high-traffic pages (e.g., your homepage) or processes (e.g., your event registration), and work to correct deficiencies that make their user experience different than the intended user experience.
  • Start small by choosing three to five things you will do differently going forward. Once those are routine for your team, infuse another set of tasks into your workflow.

Additional Tools and Resources

When asked to provide open-ended input, respondents of the survey indicated they would like resources to help with DEI within their marketing departments. Such items could include content checklists for DEI compliance; best practices guides; and templates that include suggestions for language and avoiding potential bias in marketing pieces, data collection, and marketing planning materials.

These are items MPAC can explore further. We’d love to hear more. Please feel free to start a conversation on Collaborate [ASAE member login required] to discuss your thoughts.

Thank you to Andrea Wieters, senior manager of industry research and engagement strategy, and Tim Sanders, director of research, at the ASAE Research Foundation for their support in launching and analyzing the survey results.

Stefan R. Bradham

Stefan R. Bradham is vice president of marketing and communications at the National Minority Supplier Development Council in New York City, and a member of ASAE’s Marketing Professionals Advisory Council.

Cathy Lada, CAE

Cathy Lada, D.Sc., CAE, is director of marketing at the American Animal Hospital Association in Lakewood, Colorado, and a member of ASAE’s Marketing Professionals Advisory Council.

Michelle Peterson

Michelle Peterson is senior account director at Marketing General Incorporated in Alexandria, Virginia, and a member of ASAE’s Marketing Professionals Advisory Council.