Omnicom Shops Ink Diversity Pacts

WASHINGTON Four Omnicom Group shops yesterday signed binding agreements with the New York City Human Rights Commission to increase the number of minorities in their management ranks, thus avoiding the potential embarrassment of their executives testifying before the commission during the Advertising Week industry celebration in New York, Sept. 25-29.

“I commend the CEOs of the agencies committing themselves to enhanced equal opportunity programs that will yield lasting results, said Patricia Gatling, who chairs the commission. “These 16 agreements will augment the city’s initiative to create a workforce reflective of our rich diversity.”

Omnicom ad agencies BBDO, DDB, Merkley + Partners and media firm PHD were the four remaining shops out of 16 subpoenaed by the commission in June. The others reached accords with the commission earlier this month [Adweek Online, Sept. 11].

Omnicom had forged a separate agreement with the New York City Council, which included paying $2.5 million over five years to promote diversity programs [Adweek Online, Sept. 7].

One executive familiar with the commission negotiations had said the Omnicom shops initially objected to establishing goals and sought to resolve the issue via the separate agreement City Council. “What Omnicom’s move was about was to try to get around the commission. But they overplayed their hand,” the source said.

Asked why the four agencies ultimately signed, Omnicom representative Pat Sloan said, “We never stopped talking to [the commission] and we’ve decided to do both,” i.e., sign the agreements and carry through with the separate City Council initiative.

“Our agreements with both the City Council and the City Commission assure a long-term commitment that we believe will be tangible and effective in generating long-term solutions,” said John Wren, Omnicom’s chairman and CEO.

The agreements commit the agencies to establishing diversity-hiring goals for minorities over a three-year period, which include advancing them to higher ranks.

Each year, the shops must report their progress in writing to the HRC. Failure to meet the goals could result in further action.

Specifically, the goals include the promotion, retention and recruitment of minorities and women, although the focus is on African Americans, to professional and managerial positions, according to a copy of one of the agreements. In return, the HRC has agreed not to bring any new action against the agencies during the three-year period.

The issue of diversity among ad agency management (which first surfaced in the 1960s) has been heating up at least since 1999, when the Federal Communications Commission accused the industry of racism based on an internal memo that encouraged media buyers to avoid urban and Latino radio stations. The issue gathered steam in 2000 when President Clinton signed an executive order requiring federal government agencies to award more contracts to minority-owned businesses. But the order has fallen flat under the Bush administration.