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MAI Seeks Executive Director

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WASHINGTON -- The Rev. Al Sharpton has begun a search for an executive director to head his Madison Avenue Initiative as the group expands its focus beyond advertising to cable programming.

Sharpton will step down as president of the National Action Network, of which the MAI is a part, next April to pursue a possible presidential bid. He said the MAI, which concentrates on getting large advertisers to spend more money on ethnic media, needs a leader who can also scrutinize minority representation in cable programs. Sharpton will continue to serve as an adviser.

"Programming and advertising work hand in glove," Sharpton said. "So much of the advertising and programming can affect the minority community pro or con."

The MAI is talking with Comcast officials about its minority hiring and programming practices, Sharpton said. Comcast did not return calls by press time.

The MAI's strategy has focused on corporate negotiations and calls for consumers to boycott companies who fail to spend their ad dollars on African American aimed media.

Sharpton said the tactics have raised awareness of these issues and that several companies make progress reports to the MAI on their minority ad efforts.

Adonis Hoffman, svp and counsel of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said Sharpton's work with the ad industry has been productive. "Rev. Sharpton has proven to be a very insightful advocate for his constituency. He knows how to work within the system and he knows how to shake the system up."

The MAI has targeted Burger King, Colgate-Palmolive, PepsiCo and Microsoft, among others. The group has also closely scrutinized federal-government advertising contracts.

The MAI has considered a class-action lawsuit since April against government and ad agencies that have not paid minority contractors fair rates [Adweek, April 8].

Sharpton said the lawsuit, which is being handled by Johnnie Cochran and New York attorney Michael Hardy, will proceed, but declined to discuss why it had not yet been filed. Hardy did not return calls by press time.

The suit will focus on noncompliance with an executive order that requires federal agencies to pay market rates. The MAI has been concerned about the relationship between Leo Burnett and its minority subcontractors on the U.S. Army's account.

Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick, D-Mich., is considering possible legislation that would make the executive order law, sources said.