Omnicom Pays $2.5 Mil. to Foster Diversity

WASHINGTON Omnicom Group has agreed to pay $2.5 million over five years to promote diversity at advertising agencies and establish a marketing program at Medgar Evers College, according to New York City Council member Larry Seabrook.

An Omnicom representative confirmed that the holding company had made a proposal.

Seabrook disclosed the deal here today at the annual legislative meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus, during a session on “Truth in Advertising: How You Are Affected by the Practices of Ad Agencies and Their Clients.” Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., hosted that session.

The issue of a lack of diversity among ad agency executives has gained prominence since the New York City Human Rights Commission sent subpoenas in June to the heads of 16 New York-based shops, including leaders at DDB, Saatchi & Saatchi and Ogilvy & Mather, among others.

Seabrook, who is chairman of the New York City Council’s Committee on Civil Rights, has also said he will hold hearings on the issue and include testimony from agency and client executives.

Human Rights Commission Chair Patricia Gatling, who also spoke at the session, would not confirm if a settlement had been reached with any of the agencies.

She said one of the driving forces behind the commission’s decision to pursue an investigation of the agencies was the fact that “the number of African-Americans in the advertising industry, particularly in the upper echelons (i.e. creative, professional or managerial titles) weren’t much better than they were in the 1960’s” when her office conducted a similar investigation.

“In a city where African-Americans make up one quarter of the population, with billions of dollars in purchase power, the lack of representation in the advertising industry is completely unacceptable,” Gatling said. “In citing management diversity, one agency went so far as to identify the African-American chief of security and director of janitorial services as company managers. While these positions are certainly important to the daily functioning of the agency and the individuals did make a substantial salary, they are not the molders of public opinion.”

Gatling said only 2 percent of the people who “create in us a desire to buy” at the 16 agencies are black. Of the 8,000 employees who work at the 16 shops, about 22 percent make more than $100,000, and only 2.5 percent of those staffers are black. Gatling said the commission is pressing the agencies for settlements.

Adonis Hoffman, svp and counsel for the Washington office of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said shops are often caught in the middle. “Advertising agencies act on behalf of clients,” Hoffman said. “Advertisers tell us where to go and how high to jump. I am not trying to shift the buck. Agencies have a big problem in terms of employment.”

Seabrook said he plans to continue pressuring the advertising industry for change. “To quote Martin Luther King, we are too nice to people who are too nasty to us,” he said.