News Analysis: Lots Of Talk, But Where’s The Action?

Agencies Doubt Minority Ad Summit Will Lead to Fast Changes
NEW YORK–Although ad agency officials and the Rev. Al Sharpton were encouraged by each other’s goodwill and willingness to listen at last week’s summit on race and advertising, significant change will likely come more slowly.
Ad executives last week appreciated the change of Sharpton’s tone, but heard little to make them recommend that clients shift significant money to minority targeted media. Others cautioned that any change will take time, and be based on business reasons rather than political ones.
“This is not a one-day wonder; the results won’t happen in a nanosecond,” said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers. “There will be a drumbeat of various activities and conferences that I believe will lead to substantially more [minority] business down the road.”
Mitch Burg, director of media planning at The Media Edge, said his attention has been captured by the sheer volume of minority purchasing power–$500 billion for blacks, $300 billion for Hispanics and $150 billion for Asian Americans, according to estimates presented at the conference.
“I think it is important to raise the issues in terms of understanding volume contributions to our clients’ business and to remember that America is not a homogenous population across markets,” Burg said.
“I don’t think there needs to be pressure,” said Linda Jefferson, group media director at African-American shop Burrell Communications in Chicago. “There’s good business reasons for this whole effort.” She cautioned, however, against expecting too much too soon.
“It’s going to take time, it’s about education,” she said. “It’s about extending the invitation. It’s about inclusivity up front and being accountable. There’s a lack of, or at least a limited, understanding of this audience.”
Allen Banks, executive media director at Saatchi & Saatchi, also wanted more data. “I think if the tone is we have to better educate advertisers and agencies to the value of special markets, then so be it,” he said. “What is also needed is some research [showing] that special-market media is more effective than advertising in general-market media.”
Some expressed skepticism, however, at the data presented by Sharpton. One statistic cited at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel last Monday was that blacks watch 48 percent more TV than members of a general-market household.
“That doesn’t take into account preference,” noted Starcom chairman Jack Klues. “That suggests I need to do nothing more to reach them if I am already advertising on TV.”
Other industry executives questioned whether agencies and clients have deliberately shunned ethnic groups, as Sharpton claims.
“In 25 years, I’ve never seen a target audience statement from an advertiser or an agency that explicitly excluded minorities,” said Rich Hamilton, chief executive at Zenith Media in New York.
A media director at one Boston shop said his clients are so far unmoved by Sharpton’s arguments: “Nobody’s called me and said, ‘Hey, I think we ought to start thinking about the Hispanic markets.'”
The meeting came on the heels of a Federal Communications Commission report charging advertisers and their agencies with bias against minority media.
Sharpton, co-sponsor of the summit with New York State Sen. Efrain Gonz‡lez, president of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, claimed victory during the meeting, citing prior deals with Macy’s and PepsiCo.
He also toned down the harsh rhetoric used in a protest last June at Young & Rubicam in New York.
“We can always be confrontational and make noise,” Sharpton said. “We can also sit at the table and make sense. We did not invite you here to beat you up.”
Sharpton and others also said they would like agencies to increase the minority presence on their staffs and to recommend that clients give assignments to minority-owned ad and media agencies.
For those on the sharp end of the debate–minority targeted media–the big hurdles remain. Rossana Rosado, editor-in-chief and general manager of El Diario-La Prensa, said the New York newspaper still struggles for advertising dollars.
“We’ve been beating our heads against the door for years,” she said. Though the 68,000-circulation daily has existed for 85 years, it added first-time advertisers from the pharmaceutical world, along with discounters like Kmart and Caldor, only last year. “When we look at the overall ad budgets, we realize it’s only crumbs.” –with staff reports