Necessity Is the Mother of Invention

UniWorld Group was founded 41 years ago, a time when minorities were not represented in a positive manner in mainstream media. Nor were there people of color in decision-making positions at the major Fortune 500 companies or at Madison Avenue advertising agencies. Centuries of negative and stereotypical portrayals of minorities had severely damaged minority and mainstream audiences alike.

During the late 1960s and ’70s, the federal government initiated a series of Affirmative Action mandates for major corporations and communications companies to hire minorities to help offset these negative social conditions.

However, minority recruiting and retention practices have diminished greatly since then. The recent Madison Avenue Project’s survey of minority employment in the advertising industry, for instance, concluded that African Americans are often excluded from “general-market” agencies and find work only in shops specializing in “ethnic markets.”

To address this, UniWorld had to adopt nontraditional recruitment methods to attract and find minorities who did not know how to reach out to us. Utilizing our relationships within the minority education, cultural and entertainment worlds, we created a grassroots national recruitment network. Our outreach included:

 • Black film, music, arts, dance, poetry and hip-hop festivals.

 • Black fraternal, professional and college alumni conferences and homecoming events.

 • Developing high school and college intern programs in association with national urban youth and community organizations. This included the Jackie Robinson and Tuskegee Airmen Scholarship foundations, A Better Chance, Inroads and the NAACP’s ACT-SO program.

By these actions and ultimately through word of mouth, we attracted an initial pool of people who had the talent though not the exposure or know-how to advance within the industry. To address the latter issue, we created an in-house laboratory/boot camp called UniPact to impart the basic tenets of marketing and advertising 101. This included portfolio development, presentation skills and the critical understanding of the fundamental creative, media and account-management functions. In the process, UniWorld developed a reputation for providing a “safety net” for multicultural talent.

Many minority employees started their careers at UniWorld. The agency grew with an eclectic mix of African-American,

Latino and Asian writers, actors, musicians, comedians, poets and fledgling filmmakers. Through their efforts, we have produced award-winning campaigns for both ethnic and general-market clients. This success can be attributed to our innovative and effective recruitment efforts. Today, with the advent of digital social networks, we have extended our reach and follow-up efforts.

Multicultural advertising grew from a need to address the complexities of a unique and underserved market. African Americans, Hispanics and Asians now represent the fastest-growing population and income growth sectors in the U.S.  The forthcoming U.S. Census will document that the combined multicultural U.S. population exceeds 100 million, concentrated in the heart of the nation’s major metro markets. In 2009, the World Bank reported that the combined annual buying power of this population in the U.S. will make it the fifth-largest economy in the world.

This spectacular growth will continue far into the foreseeable future. For economic viability, the industry needs a full complement of employees of color at all levels of marketing companies and related agencies. Serious ethnic recruitment will be required to take full advantage of this fantastic business opportunity.

Byron Lewis Sr. is founder and chairman, UniWorld Group, a multicultural marketing agency. He can be reached at