Sharpton’s Group Seeks Ad Contract Split

WASHINGTON–The Rev. Al Sharpton’s Madison Avenue Initiative wants the federal government to issue separate advertising contracts to minority-owned firms instead of awarding business directly to one large agency, group officials said at a meeting here on Tuesday.

The group, fearful that the momentum started with former President Bill Clinton’s executive order demanding that federal ad contracts fairly represent minority agencies will die in a Bush administration, plans to make large government contracts a priority this year.

The issue has been a growing concern since the Federal Communications Commission released a report two years ago saying discriminatory advertising practices reduce revenues of minority-owned stations. MAI’s chairman, Black Enterprise magazine’s Earl Graves Jr., said last week that when a large agency like Leo Burnett is awarded the U.S. Army’s nearly $100 million contract, not enough money is allocated to subcontractors to spend on ethnic media.

Images USA, the Atlanta-based agency handling the African-American part of the Army contract, agreed. “We don’t have enough money to penetrate nationally,” said Joy Barnes, an account executive.

Burnett said the Army contract requires that $35 million–or nine percent–be spent on minority businesses, not ethnic media. “We plan to go beyond what the contract requires by spending more than 20 percent,” an agency rep said.

MAI faces an uphill battle because many government agencies resist issuing more than one contract. Tracey Pinson, an Army rep, said the government finds it more efficient to deal with one prime agency rather than award several different contracts.