Nielsen’s Supplier-Diversity Shake Up

The iconic ratings agency turns to Lamont Robinson as it drives down costs while providing increased opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses

Lamont Robinson VP of Supplier Diversity Company: Nielsen Location: New York, NY Vitals: Born in a troubled Chicago housing project, Robinson found another way through a program called A Better Chance, which took him to a school outside of Philadelphia where he discovered a new passion for learning. Years later, as vice president of supplier diversity at Nielsen, Robinson helps minority-owned and women- owned businesses get that same chance.
Lamont Robinson, VP of Supplier Diversity at Nielsen

Lamont Robinson came to Nielsen in 2012 with a single goal: create a supplier diversity program that could align the needs of the worldwide ratings giant with the services of minority-, veteran-, and women-owned businesses. “We need a sustainable supplier diversity program,” Robinson explains. “Many programs revolve only around spend, but we need to incorporate customer interface, connections with market, and communication. We need ways to have real conversations with strategic alliances.”

To achieve such goals, Robinson has created a road map for the entire organization. We break down his process to see how he’s not only setting benchmarks, but meeting them.

SETTING THE TONE

Nielsen has produced its famous TV ratings since the 1950s and now measures what the world is watching, buying, and listening to. Robinson’s job is to match diverse suppliers with procurement opportunities in the company and assist clients with their own diversity programs. When he came to Nielsen in August of 2012, the supplier diversity program was just three years old. He immediately set out to generate a  company-wide report.  “I wanted to make our supplier diversity program known and transparent,” he says. “I wanted a catalyst for talking about what we are doing, what we have planned for the future, and how it can impact the company.”

The 32-page document—carefully laid out and branded to match internal Nielsen documents—educates four main constituents: customers, employees, suppliers, and communities. Each group, Robinson explains, must understand how Nielsen is driving diversity in what he defines as “The Six C’s” of customers, competition, compliance, communities, customization, and costs. While each area is important, Robinson says that communities are the “primary way a supplier diversity program should be judged, because the most important goal is adding jobs based on the relationships you are establishing with diverse suppliers.”

Nielsen doesn’t post requests for proposals—diverse suppliers are asked instead to register with the company after identifying specific opportunities. “Potential partners should research our press releases and use other sources to get to know us,” says Robinson. Since 65 percent of the company’s spend falls in the tech and telecom sectors, most diverse suppliers are in those same industries.

ON THE PATH 

“If you put it out there, you have to execute on it,” Robinson says. The 2012 report forced his team to examine what happened in previous years and alter their strategy for the future. They set a company-wide goal to increase diversity in the supply chain by 10 percent, they’re discussing expanding the Nielsen program to include LGBT-owned and veteran-owned businesses, and they’ve launched a webinar series to educate diverse suppliers on how to do business with Nielsen.

Known as the Nielsen Supplier Diversity Academy, the series helps smaller diverse suppliers expand to reach national and even global companies. Nielsen is looking at New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, Tennessee, Tampa, and Los Angeles. In those major cities, it hopes to partner with local suppliers to expand programs directly into communities. At the time of publication, Robinson was working on his 2013 report, which focuses on strategic initiatives like building a global effort through International Women’s Day.

As the storied company continues to grow—Nielsen acquired Arbitron, its major competitor, last year—its supplier diversity opportunities increase. “We’re looking at what Arbitron used to buy from diverse suppliers and how we can integrate that into company-wide spend,” Robinson says. His team is also working on a major coding project that helps retail clients know through automated means what the market share is for diverse manufacturers.

These efforts represent a large investment for Nielsen, and Robinson believes he has broad buy-in. “Several of our executives are committed to increasing supplier diversity,” he says. Having diverse suppliers is a win-win for Nielsen and Robinson. It opens the door to competition, which drives corporate costs down and increases hard-to-find opportunities for suppliers who just need a chance to show what they can do.