A conversation with Nielsen’s Chief Diversity Officer and Chief Product Officer.
For audience measurement to be accurate, it must be inclusive. And inclusive audience measurement has never been harder to achieve, or more important to get right. Nielsen’s Chief Diversity Officer Sandra Sims-Williams and Chief Product Officer Deirdre Thomas sat down to discuss DE&I’s crucial impact on audience measurement, both at Nielsen and across the media industry.
Nielsen’s brand purpose is “Powering a better media future for all people.” How does Nielsen prioritize that as a company, and what tangible impact does that have on the media industry and world at large?
Sandra Sims-Williams: When we operate in a culture that is diverse and inclusive, innovation flourishes, our clients win and employees bring the best that Nielsen can offer to the communities we measure.
The rest of the media industry is coming around to the need for greater equity—just look at the writers’ strike, the actors’ strike, the growth of women’s sports. At Cannes Lions, the big narrative was the need to drive inclusion in media, both in terms of access and representation. There is no longer a general market. We have to use creativity, innovation and technology to embrace diverse audiences and their unique experiences.
How has Nielsen evolved as a company to prioritize its commitment to data accuracy and excellence in the face of change and disruption?
Deirdre Thomas: Everything we do is in service of delivering accurate, equitable, unbiased and reliable media measurement that works for everyone, and measures everybody, everywhere. We use big data validated by large persons-level panels to accurately and objectively track and report the viewing habits of everyone.
One of Nielsen’s core values is inclusion. How does that influence business decisions and the way the entire company operates? How is Nielsen driving real change, both internally and externally?
Sandra Sims-Williams: Measurement is key: Leaders must be held to KPIs and be accountable, and we have public 2024 DE&I goals about representation in our workforce and our sourceable spend with U.S. diverse businesses that we include in our annual ESG report. Nielsen is activating DE&I in the way only our business can. We help our clients develop a unique connection between our DE&I insights and how their business can grow by spotlighting diverse audiences, content and communities.
No one expected a global pandemic in the winter of 2019/2020. How has the company updated its products and methodologies since then to be truly resilient and representative?
Deirdre Thomas: We’re constantly innovating to adapt to changes in consumer behavior and industry needs. We made several changes in reaction to the pandemic. The first is that we turbocharged our measurement of streaming ads and content to reflect the explosion of streaming consumption during the pandemic. We expanded our coverage — for example, enabling measurement of ads on Netflix, and measuring Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime — as well as enhanced the functionality of our streaming measurement product. We’ve also built a strong identity system and enabled advanced audience measurement across streaming, digital and linear platforms in our Nielsen ONE Ads product.
Sandra: Through thought leadership we are also surfacing Nielsen’s products and solutions that measure diverse content. It’s not just how much representation is seen, the narratives that are being told is just as critical.
Nielsen is celebrating its 100-year anniversary this year. Looking ahead to Nielsen’s second century in business, what changes in media industry representation do you anticipate?
Sandra: Underrepresented voices are being seen and heard. The centers of influence across advertising, entertainment and storytelling are expanding to be much more global and diverse. Media platforms are evolving so rapidly, enabling direct connections to audiences and increasing the power of creators through personal, direct influence. Authentic connection and conversations—that’s what audiences want, and that demand is growing.
Today it’s multicultural marketing; tomorrow our industry must embrace that growing demand from diverse audiences and create space for unique, diverse voices. If you don’t have a strategy to do that, you don’t have a growth strategy.
What do you think will be the next major disruption for audience representation and data accuracy?
Deirdre Thomas: Privacy will continue to be of the utmost importance to consumers and thus to agencies, advertisers, publishers and measurement providers. This disruption is already well underway but absolutely will continue, and the whole industry will need to adapt to consumer preferences and privacy legislation. While people are excited about all the content that’s now accessible at their fingertips, they are also increasingly wary about exchanging their personal data for that content. At Nielsen, privacy has always been and will always be at the center of our business. When we are entrusted with audience data— whether through our panels or our clients’ first-party data—we tightly safeguard personally identifiable information. Our clean room strategy, identity system, and deep relationships with our panelists are critical elements of our privacy strategy and key enablers of our ability to measure ALL people accurately in a privacy-first world.
To learn more about Nielsen’s diversity, equity and inclusion commitments, along with other ways we work to operate responsibly and sustainably, read our 2023 ESG report.