Q&A: SMG’s Gadsby

CHICAGO A pioneer in the field of multicultural media strategy, Starcom MediaVest Group last week realigned its offerings to give each of its general market agencies—Starcom and MediaVest—its own specialty unit.

In doing so, the company’s previous multicultural arm, Tapestry, was aligned with Starcom. A new entity, Forty Two Degrees, has been formed for MediaVest.

They will function as separate operating units of a new division, SMG Multicultural, headed by former Tapestry CEO Monica Gadsby.

Gadsby, who’s been a marketing player for 20 years, answered questions about the move and the multicultural media landscape.

Q: Why restructure these operations to cater to each agency? What can they provide separately that they didn’t provide together?
A: Basically, so we can continue to enjoy growth in this important area. [And] to stay true to our total-market integrated solutions philosophy and offer each of our clients a total-market perspective.

What can they provide separately that they didn’t provide together?
What they can provide separately is a better alignment across all clients, embracing all of the philosophies unique to the two operating units.

How will they operate differently?
There are a lot of philosophies and tools that are going to be [shared between] the units. Where they’re going to be different is in the way each will interpret the philosophies and use the tools and insights. [Those choices] will be driven by each of the clients they serve.

How will they differentiate themselves in the marketplace?
I’m not so concerned about the two units differentiating themselves. I don’t see this as a situation where one unit needs to compete against the other. I think the differentiation will come naturally, based on the types of clients that each unit will end up servicing.

Are clients having a hard time grasping how to reach minority audiences?
I think the level of comfort is greater than it has been. But it has always been a bit of an enigma. For many clients, the comfort they have reaching the so-called general consumer isn’t the same when it comes to reaching multicultural audiences.

Because of the unknown. You tend to me most comfortable with what you know. So the multicultural consumers—[with] language differences and cultural differences—lead to a bit of an intimidation factor. That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing. It’s just a learning process.

Were these moves at all client driven?
We haven’t had a single client say, “You need to create this new unit.” I think that we ourselves came to the conclusion from seeing the growth that we were enjoying and wanting to stay true to the philosophy that we preach…that having two units is necessary.

Why is there so little variety among TV programs targeting African-Americans?
I think that there’s growing variety. I always like to look at the glass as half full. We have seen a number of targeted networks emerge, specifically TVOne, Black Family Channel, the Gospel Music Network. I believe that variety is growing, particularly as digital cable continues to gain traction and distribution. Many of these options will [expand into the mass market] even by the end of the decade. If you look at it half full, there are enough options out there that advertisers should be taking advantage of.

What about Hispanic programming?
There is now growing recognition of the bilingual and bicultural and English-dominant Hispanic. That is something that will be an evolution and change in the landscape over the next five to ten years.

Which is more developed at this point, African-American or Hispanic programming?
Hispanic is further along. There are more options in the Hispanic world. Not only do you already have four over-the-air networks that cater to the Hispanic community, but you have 20-plus cable entities that are continuing to grow against that segment. I do believe we will see growth in the African-American segment in the targeted vein, more in the cable area, as we’ve [already] seen in the last five years. On the Hispanic side of it, the growth is going to be in the general market, where we will see a greater mix of programming in the general community.

Which has to come first, advertisers looking to spend money on minority programming or the programming itself?
I’d like to be an idealist and say the vehicles will come despite the demand, but I think I know better. By and large, it’s the growing interest of advertisers that spurs the growth of the media.

Mainstream agencies say one reason they lack diversity among their staff is the minority applicants. Where do you find your talent?
We do have to work a little bit harder to find the right number of minority applicants. By that, I don’t mean we’re trying to fulfill a certain quota. But we do have a pretty concerted effort that consists of a number of things. We work a lot of referrals. It’s surprising how successful we’ve been in just using that. We also work on the campus level. We’re recruiting at schools that have diversity among students, and within those schools we’re seeking out organizations that we know have already demonstrated some interest in these disciplines. The last thing we do that works very effectively for us is an internship program that is specifically for minority students.

What do you have to do to keep minority staff invested once you’ve trained them?
To create retention, we have a mentor program. It does help us to be particularly effective with minority recruits, who are given a role model to work with. Another thing that has helped us is something we call affinity groups, where we encourage employees of like backgrounds to come together. [That] helps drive education and interest about their group and their culture throughout the organization at large.