THE Social Network for the Diverse Business Community


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By Dr. Paula Miller-Lester

You might not understand all of the different business segments within the corporation but you know the name, Nielsen. For people of a certain age, the name can evoke memories of keeping a diary of ones viewing habits – feeling empowered that the information you provided could be used to keep your favorite television show on the air. One could count on traditional television networks airing their best, and often most provocative, programming during the quarterly sweeps period as the Nielsen ratings were gathered. Advertising professionals rely on Nielsen and Arbitron research data to help determine which programming would best reach their desired audiences.

Nielsen Holdings N.V. ( is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence, mobile measurement, trade shows and related properties. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with  77-lamontheadquarters in New York, USA and Diemen, the Netherlands. 

In September, Nielsen successfully completed its acquisition of Arbitron Inc. (purchase price: $1.3 billion), an international media and marketing research firm. “Arbitron will allow us to analyze and understand an additional two hours of the U.S. consumer’s day while bringing us another opportunity to provide advertisers with metrics on the effectiveness of the mediums that they advertise on,” said Nielsen chief executive officer David Calhoun.

Arbitron is being rebranded Nielsen Audio and will be integrated into Nielsen’s U.S. Watch business segment, which provides information and insights  primarily to the media and advertising industries across television, online, mobile and radio. With Arbitron, Nielsen now measures eight hours a day per person of dynamic media consumption.  “Our combined capabilities offer opportunities to measure unmeasured areas that are important to the industries and clients we serve, like streaming audio, out-of-home measurements for television consumption and deeper measurement of
multicultural audiences in the U.S.,” said Calhoun.  “Globally, this is an opportunity to expand our measurement of consumer behavior and introduce audio measurement capabilities in new markets.”

Nielsen is recognized as an innovative media information gathering giant. The adage, thinking out of the box, could best describe the company’s approach to supplier diversity. “A lot of people think of us as the Nielsen ratings company. But even as a company, we’re more diverse than that. When you think about us, from a supplier diversity perspective, we have to be innovative and creative as far as how we incorporate suppliers,” says Lamont Robinson, Nielsen’s vice president of Supplier Diversity.

“We don’t spend a lot in comparison to the other corporations; and this is as a whole, not just diversity. So when you think about the type of spend from which 60% to 65% percent is tied up with technology, we have to find different ways of partnering with diverse suppliers,” Robinson explains.

Technology and telecommunications as well as market research and other professional services are some of the areas of opportunities for Nielsen suppliers.   “We’ve got to be creative,” continues Robinson, “but that’s part of the excitement of it all. From my perspective I think that Shirelle [Shirelle Magee, Supplier Diversity coordinator] and I have the passion to try and find those niche opportunities versus just trying to find something that’s been historic for the industry.”

According to Robinson – whose passion for and commitment to supplier diversity was clearly evinced during his tenure as Senior Director of Supplier Diversity at Novation – the challenge to broaden his horizons as a supplier diversity practitioner drew him to accept the Nielsen appointment in August 2012.  “I’ve been in healthcare for about 12 to 13 years and I’ve been able to experience a lot of personal satisfaction and rewards when it came to the way I supported diverse businesses in healthcare.  But the competitive desire within me saw the Nielsen opportunity as a way for me to learn a new industry.

“I already knew supplier diversity. It was a matter of taking what I had been able to learn while doing supplier diversity in healthcare and trying to apply it to a completely different industry. For example, when I was with Novation I created the concept called the Six C’s of Supplier Diversity which really talks about the business case for supplier diversity. Applying it to Nielsen is fun. It is exciting.

“So now we’re talking about media, consumer packaged goods – these are categories that I grew up on as a kid. For me, it wasn’t a matter of coming into an industry that I didn’t know. There’s some intricacies in it that I had to learn; but for me the big draw was that these are industries that I enjoyed as a child. As a kid on Saturday mornings, when you had the Saturday morning cartoon lineup, I used to have my schedule all set – I knew exactly what I was going to watch.

“TV was always an integral part of my life. I used to look in the TV Guide, especially when you could look at the previous years; I was always fascinated to see how the various TV shows rated. In many ways it allowed me to escape.”

Although Robinson had established a stellar track record while at Novation, he admits that having the opportunity at Nielsen to operate on the vice president level – a position which is not common within the supplier diversity space – is an opportunity to incorporate some of those ideas. “I always want to go into a situation where I’m either building a program from the ground up or creating something bigger than what we’ve had before,” Robinson states.
“Having the opportunity at a VP level gives me the ticket to the dance. We have quarterly Scorecard discussions with each of the leaders of the business units to talk about supplier diversity.  In the past I would get an opportunity, but it wasn’t really consistent. So here at Nielsen, having an opportunity at least quarterly, if not much more than that, was a great opportunity – not only for me – but I look at it as a great opportunity overall for any supplier diversity professional.”

Bringing Your Best

When prospective diverse suppliers want to get on a company’s radar screen they typically read up on the corporate policy regarding supplier diversity.  Suppliers who hope to do business with Nielsen are not expected to know all of the complex components of the company, but they should be prepared with a general knowledge of the company’s role in the industry in order to ascertain if and where their product or service might meet an existing or yet unidentified need.  With the development of the Internet, the advancements of social media and other easily available resources, there is no excuse in today’s marketplace not to be properly prepared.

“We put so much out there in terms of who were are and what we do that there is no 85-shirelleexcuse in the world to not come to us prepared. I’m not expecting you to be an expert,” says Robinson. “I’m not an expert on everything Nielsen either; however, as long as you show some kind of desire to want to know more about I’ll help you.”

Despite the plethora of easily accessible information on the company, there still are instances where prospective suppliers fail to come to ready to compete.  “I recently had a phone call from someone who was frustrated because the opportunities weren’t tailor made for him. So he made a comment as to whether supplier diversity was a hoax.  Instead of getting upset and becoming dismissive, I walked him through and I educated him. I said, ‘Look at your approach. The first thing you mentioned was that you are a minority-owned business.  You talked about this for the first two minutes before I even found out what you did. The first thing you should do is research the company. Which means that you find out what we have coming up, what have we done in the past – in the various business units. Did you also look to see how your capabilities match up and come to us with a potential solution?’ ”

Robinson says that even if a supplier doesn’t have the solution to a particular situation they should have the patience to be willing to allow the supplier diversity team to make a potential match. “If not, then it will be difficult for me to consider that kind of supplier versus someone else in the same industry who has shown patience and understanding.

“In an industry that is saturated with other diverse suppliers the approach will have to show the differentiation in comparison to the suppliers that we’ve already met – people that are already in our database – who are in line waiting for opportunities,” Robinson continues.

“We recently celebrated our 90th anniversary this year. It is an honor to work at a company that’s recognized worldwide for the things that they’ve done in terms of market research and data collection. But it also brings with it a great challenge.  Suppliers looking to do business with us better step up to the plate with whatever they do. Bring your “A game” at all times.”

Additionally, Nielsen offers tools to help diverse suppliers properly prepare. “We enjoy the diverse selection of quality suppliers that we have just because of the diverse industry that we’re in.  At the same time, we look forward to encouraging those suppliers to try to continue to increase the quality of what they provide. We just started a webinar series this year to try and educate the diverse suppliers that are doing business with us today – as well as those that are in our database who are trying to do business with us – so that they are on their “A game” when they’re in front of one of our Nielsen buyers,” says Robinson. 

Starting Point 

In today’s marketplace, the initial point of contact often is through a database located within the target company’s Website. For many diverse suppliers, the mere mention of a database causes their eyes to glaze over. Though they will comply, their expectation is that, after completing the electronic form and providing evidence of their certification, their name will disappear down a cyberspace version of the proverbial black hole.

Logging into the database is mandatory for all suppliers who desire to do business with Nielsen. Being aware of the reality that there are supplier diversity professionals who view a database as a vehicle to be used to push suppliers aside, Robinson is adamant that the Nielsen database is a resource, rather than a convenient repository.

“We look at our database first before we look at anything else. And even though we’re in the process of acquiring a tool to help with our sourcing, that will still be the case. We’ll still look at our database. You can’t help everybody but we are committed to looking at our database to try and find the right diverse suppliers. Shirelle and I encourage our suppliers to add as many key words as they possibly can – whatever they think would jump out, that would show a true visual of their core competencies.

“The database is an integral part of our sourcing process. Registration is the first step to education.  That’s the way we look at it.” 

Conference Connections

Numerous articles have been written about the During almost any time of the year across the country one can find business conferences which are sponsored or attended by tier one corporations.  The organizers of these events often list the names of companies who have signed up as exhibitors.  Understandably, these conferences attract suppliers who aspire to make connections with decision makers who can purchase their product or service.

The plaint of supplier attendees is that all too often, corporate representatives at conferences can be dismissive of potential suppliers who approach them. In other words, their response to being approached belies their very presence.  Again, Robinson is cognizant of such behavior and posits that Nielsen is on the opposite end of that spectrum. He actively invites suppliers to come to the company’s booth and tries to actively engage them – as much as is possible within a conference environment.

“As a matter of fact, Shirelle will bring her laptop and we’ll do onsite registrations just to make sure their contact information is correct. It gives us an opportunity to also educate them more about our process – not just the company. We enjoy meeting suppliers, not only those who have registered, but those who have done their homework and are telling us about Nielsen. I’m always fascinated if a supplier tells me something I did not know about Nielsen versus one who will say, ‘hey, we’re in your system but we really don’t know who you are.’ ”

“I want to add to what Lamont just said,” interjects Magee. “It’s okay for people to come up to us, especially when we attend conferences. Meeting us in person helps. Meeting supplier diversity professionals at conferences is the beginning of establishing a relationship. When suppliers introduce themselves as having participated in one of our webinars or are consistently visiting us they will begin to stand out.

“When we’re at these conferences we try to make sure that we’re upfront, very transparent, with the suppliers coming to visit us. We hold regular monthly meetings with our sourcing team so they can let us know what opportunities are really there so when suppliers are visiting our booth, we can say ‘this is what we’re looking for, but let us know what you do or tell us how you can complement what we do,’ because that’s how serious we are about learning who they are and what the have to offer,” continues Magee. “I think we have to let the suppliers know that we’re sincere about meeting them because they’ve encountered the experience [of being dismissed by a corporate representative] on a consistent basis – and they are frustrated.”

On the other side of the table, there are supply chain hopefuls who simply are not ready for primetime. These are the M/WBEs who have difficulty in accepting the fact that being certified as a minority- or woman-owned company does not guarantee that they will be awarded a contract.  One cannot parade through a conference or event expecting corporations to cater to their needs because their company is certified.

“That is why we have to be ambassadors when it comes to that level of education. I think partly it’s our fault – I mean the industry. We’ve allowed that to happen. We place diverse suppliers in these buckets and we say, ‘okay, you’re a woman-owned company, check. You’re a minority-owned company, check. So now we can do business with you.’  No, that should not be the focus of their approach,” says Robinson.

“The first approach is to tell us about your product or service. Is it a fit for the company or an existing opportunity? If it is a fit – great. The cherry on top is that you are a diverse supplier – a certified diverse supplier. As an industry, we need to do a better job of educating suppliers about the approach.”  

 The Right Fit

 Approximately 60% to 65% of the Nielsen spend is in technology and telecommunications.  The opportunities are as diverse as the suppliers they seek. “The majority [of need] is technology and telecom but we also have other areas of opportunity.  We do have needs that arise that may be a one office opportunity versus something that is global when it comes to technology and telecom,” explains Robinson.

“We do a lot of market research. Again, we look for diverse suppliers that are in quantitative and qualitative areas that are providing customized market research. We also look for diverse suppliers that are executive search firms that are focusing specifically on diverse candidates – that’s another big plus for us. These are the categories we’re looking to see. We just awarded a contract to a woman-owned company for premium promotional products, so no opportunity exists in this category with us for the next three years.”

One of Nielsen’s goals is to establish a new initiative to help achieve its procurement objectives.  “We’re looking at developing a mentoring program where we are going to focus on five of our major office sites: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Cincinnati and Tampa,” says Robinson. “We’re looking at what they buy on that local level that may not be a need across Nielsen, but could be a great opportunity for a smaller diverse firm. Shirelle and I will uncover more of those kind of opportunities.”

“As we continue to expand our internal reach, we also need to make sure that we expand it externally.  We want to be able to bring diverse suppliers to the table as we start finding more opportunities across other business areas at Nielsen,” adds Magee.

A Passion for Purpose

Almost any M/WBE supplier can regale one with stories of supplier diversity department heads who seemingly are more concerned with keeping their position than doing their job. Their actions – or lack thereof – clearly show a predilection to not do anything that may cause them to take a stand in which there is no need for matrices to measure the spend with minority- and women-owned businesses.  These title holders are able to remain in place as long as senior management is content to merely give lip service diversity.

“That’s definitely not the case with us. What I would say candidly is that you had a lot of folks in our position who were given the job and they have no passion for it. That’s the difference between Shirelle, myself and some of our industry peers.  We have a true passion to help. We’re not just focused on the make of a certain group because of the dollar amount that we spend with diverse suppliers or constantly active in terms of sponsorship dollars.

“First of all, we can’t. Our budget does not dictate that. That’s why I mentioned early on that we have to be creative and innovative with the way that we approach supplier diversity.”

Magee says that Robinson’s passion for supplier diversity helps inspire her. “I have a lot of admiration for him. I’ll sometimes look at things and say that this looks a little tough. But then he’ll come back with ideas and I see what he’s able to do. He’s mentoring me and that’s key. I can say, ‘you know, Lamont this is what I’m chewing on, how we can make this work?’ He’ll say ‘yea or nay’ or, ‘ok let’s think about this differently.’ I love the passion that he has and I think that’s what makes us a great team. We love what we’re doing and we’re really trying to make a positive difference in the lives of the people we meet.”

Team Nielsen is aggressive in their diversity standards – and the benefits of their requisites extend beyond boardroom borders. At Nielsen, being able to provide a solution is the beginning of getting your foot in the supplier door. An invitation to sit at the table is given to those who are committed to improving the communities in which Nielsen operates through employment, education and/or outreach.

“As a corporation, we have to have an aggressive approach first when it comes to MBE and then WBE just because we look at our Program as how does it help communities. We would have a preference for working with a company that is an integral part of a disadvantaged community. One that is underserved.

“Even though we have our process for registration, ultimately we are still responsible for the vetting,” Robinson continues. “So the ones who graduate, in a sense, from the vetting stage to meeting our buyers, are the businesses that impressed us with their “A game” and contribute to the economy in their communities. The ones that are firmly entrenched in the community, those are the ones we give our stamp of approval. And we are going to build matrices from which to judge the suppliers on how they have impacted the community.”

Making it Count

At Nielsen, Robinson has the support at the levels necessary to put some teeth behind the diversity initiatives. Each quarter he, along with the senior vice president of Diversity and Inclusion, conducts a scorecard meeting with the company president and other leaders of the various business units.

“We get on the phone and talk about where that business unit is in terms of workforce and supplier diversity and we talk about solutions. We give them goals –specifically for supplier diversity – and we provide feedback on whether they are reaching their goal, how they can continue to support us at that level. If they are not reaching goals, then they may need some assistance. We’ll conduct an assessment of their spend and we’ll point out areas where we know there are potential diversity opportunities and then we’ll follow up during the next meeting.

“We are fortunate that every business unit leader has been open, not only open but proactive, in terms of making sure that they meet their goal.”  In addition to the aforementioned quarterly meetings, the Nielsen chief financial officer, Brian West (former CFO at GE Aviation, Infrastructure), implemented a quarterly Diversity Spend Summit Call. “If it’s not the business unit leader it’s somebody that represents their spend – basically the decision maker for their spend – on the call. Everybody is on the call at once and we go through and give everyone an opportunity to talk about where they are with their current goal,” Robinson explains.

“The calls are conducted by our CFO and he’s very aggressive in terms of wanting to make sure that there’s no fluff involved in it, that they come with specific goals and objectives and that they’re looking at specific opportunities to grow.  The greatest part about this is that it develops into a best practices session. For instance, if a business unit is struggling with finding a diverse market research firm, there may be another person on the call that can give them specific ideas in terms that they can work with. And we’ve had those types of conversations back and forth on these calls.”

Ready for Primetime 


What makes a good candidate to become part of the Nielsen family? Robinson offers a few suggestions.  “Education is the biggest one. And this is education about understanding our company, the supplier diversity program and their business. Education may even include understanding themselves.  I think diverse suppliers, sometimes, really don’t know how to represent themselves and their business.  Among our peers in the industry, we’ll discuss some of the differences in terms of a supplier or business rep approach about telling us about product or service that they are offering. So education
on “fit” is what I’m going to say. You have to understand what your business capabilities are and know ours in order to help us determine if it matches a potential or existing need.

“The second piece, which we’ve already talked about and which is very important to us, is registration. We have to know who you are. We’ve got to have the opportunity to be able to present solutions to some of our business units without having to go outside of our database. Plus, we give you great advantages to being in our database by offering invitations to our webinar series.

“Shirelle does a great job of sending out reminders about conferences that we’re going to be attending even with specific booth information so you have an advantage just by being in the system.  That’s the ticket to dance – leaping into that registration portal.

“The third thing, for me, I think this is for any diverse supplier, you have to have patience. I’m sure a lot of people say that but we truly mean it.  You have to have patience and be realistic when it comes to having that patience.”

Robinson says that suppliers have to realize that registering your company through the Nielsen database one day does not mean a contract will be forthcoming the next. “I’ve had suppliers call me on Monday and say, ‘well I registered on Friday, where’s my contract?’ ”

While Robinson and Magee have learned to rely on humor when faced with the unexpected, the impression given by a prospective supplier is serious business.

“We’re working hard on the inside in many areas to try and grow the program outside of our sourcing team,” says Magee. “That’s the value of having Lamont – he’s a superstar. He is very good at preparing quality candidates. If we put someone in place to have a meeting, even if it’s a telephone conversation, and they’re not up to par it is sometimes a reflection about our judgment and whether or not diverse suppliers are ready to compete for business in corporate America. How diverse suppliers represent their business, good or bad, corporate will see it as a reflection of the supplier diversity industry as a whole.”

When opportunities arise, well prepared suppliers – those who have done their homework and are able to bring their best to the table – will always be given an opportunity to compete. At Nielsen, speaking with the supplier diversity team and registering in their database is used to put you in place; not to get you out of their face.


Nielsen Website:
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Phone: 877-603-9122

Republished from MWIB Magazine Oct. / Nov. 2013 issue  

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