Katie teams up with Lawrence Harmon & Elizabeth Rice to deliver a strong statement on the inadequacies of Wizard’s PR approach.

Recently Lawrence Harmon and Zaiem Beg released great articles about Wizards of the Coast’s issues with systemic racism. The company’s public response so far has been underwhelming.

For a long time I have planned to write about the poor communications practices at Wizards. While I feel that I have established my expertise in PR and Marketing, I also felt it inappropriate to enter this space that is not mine alone. So I asked Lawrence and Elizabeth Rice to review and critique this article before publication. It is so important to amplify BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) voices right now, and I did not feel comfortable writing this without their assistance. You will find their words and thoughts throughout this piece; both of them are being compensated for their work.

This week Wizards chose to ban seven cards due to their racist connotations, presumably in response to allegations made by Lawrence, Zaiem, and several other prominent and diverse voices in the Magic community. While many people rejoiced about this decision, many BIPOC were upset. Banning Invoke Prejudice is not what they asked for nor does it help solve any of their problems. If you talk to members of our community who are most impacted by systemic racism, you see that they find this a performative action that doesn’t actually achieve anything in the fight against racism.

Most people think of marketing as sales and social media posts, but in reality marketing handles the messaging and sets the tone of the company both internally and externally. A trained marketing professional assesses and monitors the company’s messaging and tone regularly, and is in a position to give feedback to the company, even if it rocks the boat. Unfortunately, to quote Zaiem’s article:

People don’t speak up to change from within because they can’t. Passion is welcome as long as it’s not the boat-rocking kind. It’s really hard to do well at the company if you’re a boat-rocker. People hold petty grudges for years and it’s very bad for your career if you want to stick your neck out to do the right thing. Dissent is absolutely not what you want to be doing if you want to advance your career prospects at Wizards of the Coast. If you’re seen as a troublemaker in any way, they won’t hire you if you apply. If you’re a contractor, you won’t get converted. You get less leeway at work. Maybe your bonus is a little lower. You don’t get as good a review. You get passed over for promotion.

Zaiem’s piece makes some very specific and damning allegations, and while there is no direct evidence of this, this is something that is whispered about quite regularly. Zaiem even shows a screenshot of Helene Bergeot, the former Director of Organized Play, sharing her thoughts on the matter.

As a marketing professional I am appalled by the way Wizards has responded. These issues are important and should be monitored by the company very closely. Instead of just continuing to complain that it is wrong, I decided to explain how I believe Wizards’s communications department should be moving forward to fix these pervasive issues. These are steps that many companies of comparable size take regularly, often unprompted; these are reasonable requests. Companies with more diversity actually perform better (and if you don’t believe me, just ask Forbes).

I have organized these steps into broad categories that illustrate their respective aims and purposes.

Improve the Diversity of Your Company

1.   Immediately hire an outside firm to assess the company’s internal hiring practices and how they can be improved to ensure the company is creating a diverse and welcoming environment. This firm should also provide anti-racism training for staff with additional training for upper management. It is important that the firm that is hired be run by BIPOC. For example the Center for Equity and Inclusion based in Portland, Oregon meets these requirements, and the Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative is a local government entity facilitating this work as well. As mentioned above, “those in the top quartile for ethnic diversity outperformed their competitors by 35%” (Forbes).

2.   Commit to more equitable hiring practices. There are several steps to this process including eliminating unnecessary traditional hiring requirements that tend to affect BIPOC candidates disproportionately. These positions need to be full-time; contract positions do not count, as they hinder long-term environmental change that is desperately needed. The presence of Black people needs to both be increased and sustained. As part of this initiative, diversity reports should be publicly released on a regular basis.

3.   Create a safe space for BIPOC staff to gather, both to discuss their issues as well as their journeys. This will help ensure continued opportunities for BIPOC, as well as sustain their presence. Use this space to create mentorship opportunities and help BIPOC staff achieve their goals within the company.

Making your Company a Safe Place for BIPOC

4.   Create an internal team of BIPOC who will review cards and sets to make sure cards like Consulate Dreadnought are not printed, and ensure that cards celebrate the culture for which they mirror instead of insulting it. In the long term, a team like this would perhaps become unnecessary as company culture evolves, but it is crucial to have this during these earlier stages.

5.   Put BIPOC on the story-telling and art teams. Actual BIPOC need to be consulted, involved, and hired to help create the story. These teams are very small, and the exclusion of BIPOC directly leads to the issues that WOTC is now struggling with.

6.   In addition, make sure that marketing, R&D, and set design teams have BIPOC. While all teams need to increase diversity, these three teams are critical and should be addressed first; because if these three teams do not have a strong BIPOC presence, nothing will change. To be clear, BIPOC should not just be on the aforementioned teams, but leading them. Without BIPOC in leadership positions they will not have the power to enact necessary change.

7.   Conduct an internal wage equity audit regularly and commit to fair pay.

Be a Positive Voice for BIPOC in the Community

8.   Donate to a non-profit that works with young black artists so that you can ensure down the line you will be able to hire BIPOC and increase the diversity of the artists you work with. This is an investment in the future of the company.

9.   Reach out directly to BIPOC community members and pay them to help the company form a plan on how to best improve the experiences of BIPOC players. Set aside a large fund to ensure that these plans are executed. Use the assistance of the consulting firm from step one to provide accountability. This is an investment in the company’s future as well.

10.   Lastly, you need to organize this effort with a fully detailed plan and schedule. It needs to be done urgently without being rushed. These efforts are essential; they need to be done correctly and need to be done right now. Share this plan publicly while issuing an apology for the inadequate previous response.

These might not seem like communications or PR initiatives to most, but companies the size of Wizards of the Coast (a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc., the multinational games conglomerate) have  communications teams who work alongside upper management to set the company’s tone internally and externally. None of these steps are crazy, nor would they be bad for the company—if anything they would be excellent for addressing issues the company faces that go beyond race.

At the end of the day BIPOC deserve to not just feel welcome, but also feel safe playing Magic. Wizards of the Coast owes it to both the Magic community and Hasbro’s shareholders to be the best company it can be and that means a stronger commitment to diversity through actionable, meaningful corrective steps. In 2020, as obvious and disappointing as it is to point out, that means being anti-racist. Let’s hope that they listen and take these changes to heart.

Cover photo courtesy of Lachlan Donald.

Kate lives in Massachusetts and works both as a marketer and an artist. While Legacy is her main format she also enjoys EDH, Modern, and playing Arena.

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