How Communicators Can Influence the Conversation on Equity


Paul Merchan, Senior Vice President, Client Relationships, Peppercomm

While the world is still a long way from being at peace, today, September 21, we recognize United Nations International Day of Peace. This carries even deeper significance after what we’ve been through with the COVID-19 pandemic; and true to this, the theme this year is Recovering better for an equitable and sustainable world.”

“Recovery” means different things for different people. For millions, it literally means recovering from COVID. For others, it’s recovering from the mental and financial strains the pandemic has inflicted. But “recovery” can also be a misnomer for marginalized communities – those that were hit disproportionately hard during this time. For those groups, there will only be recovery and peace if we level the playing field. 

Often, we may overlook or downplay the role that strategic communications can have in helping to drive greater equity in this world. However, we should all remember that communications is at the heart of true empathy and compassion and is what galvanizes change. Professionals in this area have the ear of business leaders who are making critical decisions to not only ensure their public-facing messages demonstrate inclusivity, but also to take action to expand their diversity efforts. Keep in mind our influence doesn’t have to come in the form of a groundbreaking, multimillion-dollar campaign. It can start with little steps, such as these below:

  • Eliminate the idea of color blindness. People used to think that being color blind was a good thing – it meant that we didn’t “see race or color.” But we’ve learned that this has the opposite effect, often alienating and marginalizing individuals. People in my industry have been talking about this for years. We’re at the forefront of the news cycle and have seen various articles over the years (like this one from The Atlantic) discussing how damaging it is to ignore a person’s visibly distinguishing characteristics. We should celebrate people’s differences, rather than sweep them under a rug.
  • Accept that white privilege is real. This might be difficult to admit, but our racial reckoning as a society needs to be uncomfortable. As a Latino professional in the business world, I’ve had experiences in my career where colleagues or clients who don’t know me well have tried to talk “at my level” but really sounded like they were talking down to me – especially because they don’t speak to others in that way. Example can include, “Thanks, man,” or “I hear you, bro” when you clearly haven’t reached that level of familiarity. This may not be done on purpose, but it is an example of white privilege and how it can be unwittingly yielded in a way that can make a person of color feel small. 
  • Speak to a broader audience. Idiomatic expressions abound in today’s workplace, and while they’re usually witty and well-received, it’s possible that not everyone is going to understand them. Although I was born in this country, I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household; many of the only idioms I heard at home don’t translate well into English. Not every person grows up hearing, “That’s par for the course” or “Let’s hit this one out of the park.” This point is especially critical for organizations with a global footprint. When you get used to the fact that not everyone is familiar with the same phrases you use in casual settings, it becomes much easier to speak to your audience. 

These steps may not solve for “world peace,” but making these small changes in our approach can lead us to developing greater understanding for each other and slowly help us reach true equity in both business and society as a whole. 

Paul MerchanAbout the Author: I’m a Senior Vice President, Client Relationships at Peppercomm, which I’ve called home for a little over a decade. In this role, I act as a trusted counselor for clients in financial services, tech and B2B, working closely with marketing leads to coordinate brand messaging and media strategy. My current clients include: Advent Capital Management, AXA Investment Managers, Arconic, Sharp B2B and Weiss Multi-Strategy Advisers. I also assist our Chief Marketing Officer in our own agency marketing efforts.

Having started at Peppercomm as an intern, I gradually worked my way up through media and client relations job roles. Notable clients I’ve worked with along the way include: Whirlpool, EY, Valspar, Nikon, Pershing and Wilmington Trust. For EY, I helped expand their efforts to use social media and digital marketing, successfully promoting their annual hedge fund survey for many years.

I’m proud to be a part of our burgeoning digital marketing team, working on ad campaigns via Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google Ads. In addition, my work involves developing employee engagement strategies for clients.

I was born and raised in Brooklyn by Ecuadorian parents. As a result, I’ve used my fluency in Spanish for professional translation and interpretation, while also bringing a global perspective to my clients. I went to school at the City College of New York and Hunter College, both here in Manhattan, where I obtained my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I now live in North Carolina with my wife and four children, two of whom are twins!