Project MC Talks, Hopes for Action

NEW YORK Jo Muse expected a few hours of venting at the launch meeting of Project MC, an initiative designed to define the role and importance of agencies that specialize in marketing to African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics. Instead, said Muse, lead organizer of the initiative, he got a full day’s worth of gripes related to such shops feeling marginalized by clients and general-marketing agencies.

Also, opinions varied among the 23 participants at the spring meeting on key issues such as whether minority shops should regularly compete for general-market assignments. To weigh issues and opinions — and foster a greater sense of community within the group — Project MC is turning to social networking for help. In mid-July, it will start a social-networking group on Ning.com that will feature a blog and enable executives from minority shops to share knowledge, find talent and debate hot-button issues.

“This community that we’re creating is going to be an opportunity for the founders [of Project MC] to articulate points of view, [identify] resources and opportunities and [open things up] to a broader view of people,” said Muse, CEO of Muse Communications, a multicultural shop in Hollywood, Calif.

Social networking “is a good idea,” said Vicky Wong, president of Dae Advertising, an Asian-American shop in San Francisco and a Project MC participant. “How much time people have to engage in that, we’ll have to see.”

In addition, Project MC hopes to meet with executives from the Association of National Advertisers soon to express ongoing concerns about clients cutting back on minority-targeted efforts and general-market shops treading on speciality shop turf.

Project MC includes CEOs from African-American agencies such as UniWorld Group, Carol H. Williams Advertising and Burrell Communications Group; Hispanic shops like The Vidal Partnership and La Agencia de Orci & Asociados; and Asian-American shops such as PanCom International. The group also includes leaders from the American Association of Advertising Agencies and general-market shops Wieden + Kennedy and Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners.

The initiative comes against the backdrop of a minority population surge in America-at the end of 2007, minorities represented 34 percent of the U.S population, up from 30 percent in 2000. Also, the ad industry again finds itself under scrutiny for its relative paucity of African-Americans, this time via civil rights attorney Cyrus Mehri and the NAACP.

A major topic of conversation within Project MC revolves around the pitfalls of being a specialist among generalists and whether specialists should regularly vie for general-market work. Some participants favor the latter, while others argue that you can’t have it both ways, even if general-market shops encroach on minority-market ground.

That said, minority agencies have created work — albeit from minority-market briefs — that has become mainstream. In 2006, for example, Hispanic shop Conill Advertising produced a spot for Toyota that ran on the Super Bowl. Also, spirits marketers from time to time employ minority shops as lead agencies. But those instances are relatively rare.

“If anything, the exceptions suggest that there is a common ground and that [it] isn’t exploited to the degree it could be,” said Muse.

Project MC’s short-term goal is to produce a guide for multicultural shops to most effectively operate in this economy that will be presented at the ANA’s Multicultural Marketing & Diversity Conference in October. Long term, Muse hopes the effort will attract more participants and ignite a dialog that will continue within the Ning.com group.

The bigger challenge, of course, is turning dialog into action. “It’s a good start and I do hope to see some meaningful tactics or actions,” said Wong. “Otherwise, it’s just talk. I don’t think that’s productive. We can always talk at parties. There’s a group together, [so] you want to achieve something.”