Industries without color: Advertising, marketing & PR pale in the spotlight

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In an industry known for perfect pitches, jolly jingles and funny phrases, the advertising business is far less colorful in its managerial and executive ranks, a fact highlighted late last year in a widely released study and subsequent complaint filed by the New York City Human Rights Commission. The commission found that a paltry 2.5 percent of senior advertising executives are African-American and earning more than $100,000 a year. The study also revealed that some of the biggest agencies on Madison Avenue employed few, and in many cases, no, people of color in their managerial ranks.

Last September 16, leading advertising agencies avoided an embarrassing and potentially costly racial discrimination lawsuit by the New York City Human Rights Commission by unanimously agreeing to implement hiring and retention initiatives that will foster diversity among its ranks. Over the next three years, the city will aggressively monitor those initiatives, documenting the hiring, promotion and retention figures of all employees. If the agencies do not achieve specified goals, the commission will require the agencies to hire an outside consultant to help them achieve those goals. 

Patricia Gatling, the commission’s chairwoman and media spokesperson, says the findings of the group will finally spur progress in an industry that has seen minimal progress in four decades.

“In a city where African-Americans make up one quarter of the population, with billions of dollars in purchasing power, the lack of representation in the advertising [marketing and public relations] industries is completely unacceptable,” Gatling said in a statement to the media. “There are plenty of secretaries and clerks, but very few African-Americans have risen much higher.”

Colorless and Clueless
Reasons abound as to why the multi billion-dollar advertising and public relations remain industries pallid and austere after decades of seemingly sincere efforts to change them. Steve Cody, executive chairman of the Public Relations Society of America in New York, says agencies and public relations firms must be made aware of the importance of diversity. “If clients don’t force the issue, it won’t happen. Agencies [simply] don’t go out of their way to become more diverse,” he says.

Cody is the managing partner of Pepper-Com inc., a New York agency that was named 2006 Small Company of the Year by PR Week, in part for its promotion and commitment to diversity in advertising and marketing. “No one really understands the marketing and business reasons why diversity is so vital. Many don’t see it as a mission critical to business issues,” he adds.

White House Inaction
Former presidential candidate and popular Massachusetts Senator John Kerry (D-MA) sharply criticized the Bush Administration for falling woefully short in ensuring that minority-owned businesses receive a fair share of the more than $1.5 billion advertising contracts the federal government awards annually. In a contentious and occasionally emotional address to the Congressional Black Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., in September, Kerry noted that minority entrepreneurs are being “left behind” in obtaining a fair and substantive share of federal advertising contracts.

“We need to shed light on the fact that this administration doesn’t place a priority on making sure minority small businesses get their fair share of federal advertising contracts,” he said.

Kerry, who is the senior Democrat on the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, says dozens of federal agencies are failing to comply with an Executive Order issued in 2000 by former President Bill Clinton. The order requires federal agencies to develop a strategic plan to widely include small minority-owned businesses in federal contracting initiatives, including advertising, marketing and public relations.
Kerry also introduced a measure to promote diversity in media ownership. “Media consolidation is making it harder for everyone to compete in the [advertising and marketing] industry, especially small businesses, minorities and women,” Kerry says. “Ownership should reflect the diversity of our country, not defy it.”

Ken Smikle, president of Target Market News, a Chicago research company that tracks buying trends in the African-American community, contends that lapses in the advertising industry’s efforts to diversify have existed for decades both regionally and nationally. It was Target Market News that broke the story that several of the ad agencies under fire had vowed to sign the agreement put forward by the Commission. Smikle and others saw the move as a last-ditch effort by the agencies to avoid embarrassing and potentially costly revelations about Madison Avenue’s less-than-adequate minority hiring and recruitment.

“[It’s important to note that] the agreements reached last year between the advertising agencies and the N.Y.C. Human Rights Commission will bring attention to the lack of diversity in the industry,” Smikle says. “Until information on what is happening and the failure [by some agencies] to invest in the Black community is disseminated, the Black consumer will not know how to make noise,” he says.

A Few Bright Spots
Some argue that inroads indeed have been made, pointing to the communications industry as a whole. Rosalind Clay-Carter, senior vice president of A&E Television Networks in New York, says her company is perhaps at the forefront of fostering a diverse workplace. The company has increased its diversity by more than 69 percent in the past ten years, she says.

Clay-Carter cites a recent survey by the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications, which shows that minorities comprise nearly one-third of the industry. However, the report supports the New York City Commiss-ion’s claim that minorities are represented in lower positions in the industry, not in the senior ranks.

“The biggest struggle for supporters of diversity is to break the glass ceiling of the high-paid positions. It’s not only ad agencies and PR firms that should focus on this area,” Clay-Carter says.

Largely in response to the commission’s study and its fallout, Carol Watson, former publisher of Vibe magazine and president of CW & Partners, in November joined forces with the executive search firm Tangerine to create an agency for the express purpose of educating Madison Avenue about the need for diversity and recruiting Blacks and Hispanics for the advertising industry.

“I wouldn’t have taken on this role if it were not for the Human Rights Commission agreement because I don’t think the industry cares enough to do this on [its] own,” Watson says. Some agencies embrace the diversity initiatives, but others remain reluctant, perplexed and skeptical.

A Telling Exit    
In what some may consider a telling sign of advertising’s diversity future, Ann Fudge, the first African-American to head a major agency, was reported in November to be exiting the industry altogether after what could be described as her occasionally mercurial tenure as chairman and CEO of Young & Rubicam Brands and chairman and CEO of its largest division, Y&R Advertising. Fudge, the former president of Kraft Foods’ $5 billion Beverages, Desserts and Post Division, reportedly will be leaving Young and Rubicam (Y&R) Advertising in New York in the next several weeks.

While Fudge is quoted as attributing her exit to a desire to spend more time with her family, industry insiders contend the separation is mutually agreed since Y&R has lost several major and long-term clients under Fudge’s direction.

Advertising, marketing and PR likely will remain under scrutiny for the foreseeable future, with the persistent question as to whether America’s increasingly colored landscape will emerge in those industries. Carl Kravetz, chairman of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, perhaps best sums up the concern: “I would hate to see an America devoid of the flourishing ethnic marketing community it now has,” he says.

African-American owned Public Relations & Marketing Firms
New York tri-state region
ADVERTISING
Compas Inc.
Kenneth Jones, president, general manager
Pennsauken, N.J.
www.compas-inc.com

Double Exposure
Angelo Ellerbee, CEO
New York City
www.double_xxposure.com

Matlock Advertising and PR
Ken Matlock, CEO
New York City 
www.matlock-adpr.com

Nu America Agency
Bret Wright, CEO
New York City
www.nuamericaagency.com

Prime Access Inc.
Howard Buford, president & CEO
New York City
www.primeaccess.net

Push Creative
Rudy Gaskins, CEO/executive creative director
New York City
www.pushcreative.tv

UniWorld Group Inc.
Byron Lewis, chairman & CEO
New York City
www.uniworld.com

MARKETING
135 Street Agency L.L.C.
Shante Bacon, CEO
New York City
http://135stagency.com
Akila Worksongs Inc.
April Silver, president
Brooklyn, N.Y. 
www.akilaworksongs.com

Double Exposure
Angelo Ellerbee, CEO
New York City
www.double_xxposure.com

Noelle-Elaine Media Inc.
Renee Warren, co-president
New York City  
www.noelle-elaine.com

Prime Access Inc.
Howard Buford, president & CEO
New York City
www.primeaccess.net

Real Life Marketing
Annette M. Davidson, president
Montclair, N.J.
www.reallifemktg.com

TSO Productions L.L.C.
Sharon Gordon, president
Brooklyn, N.Y.
www.tsoproductions.com

UniWorld Group Inc.
Byron Lewis, chairman & CEO
New York City
www.uniworld.com

Walker International Communications Group
Donna Walker-Kuhne, president
Brooklyn, N.Y.
www.walkercommunications
group.com

PUBLIC RELATIONS
135 Street Agency L.L.C.
Shante Bacon, CEO
New York City
http://135stagency.com

Akila Worksongs Inc.
April Silver, president
Brooklyn, N.Y.
www.akilaworksongs.com

Anita Ford Saunders Communication
Anita Ford Saunders, principal
Middletown, CT
www.anitafordsaunders.com

Barfield Public Relations Inc.
Pauline Barfield, president & CEO
New York City
www.barfieldny.com

Bazan Entertainment
Marketing inc.
Jackie Bazan-Ross, president
New York City
www.bazanpr.com

Double Exposure
Angelo Ellerbee, CEO
New York City
www.double_xxpsure.com

GQ Media Public Relations Inc.
Gwendolyn Quinn, president
New York City
www.gqmediapr.com

MGP & Associates PR
Michael G.  Paul, president
New York City
http://www.mgppr.com
Matlock Advertising and PR
Ken Matlock, CEO
New York City 
www.matlock-adpr.com

Millynneum Inc.
Lynn Scott Jackson, president
New York City
www.millynneum.com

Purple Giraffe Productions
Sharon Lopez
New York City
www.purplegiraffe
productions.com

The Britto Agency
Marvett Britto, CEO
New York City
www.thebrittoagency.com/

The Terrie Williams Agency Inc.
Terrie Williams, founder 
New York City
www.terriewilliams.com

TLH Communications Inc.
Teresa Lyles Holmes, president
White Plains, N.Y.
www.tlhcommunications.com

TSO Productions L.L.C.
Sharon Gordon, president
Brooklyn, N.Y.
www.tsoproductions.com

UniWorld Group Inc.
Byron Lewis, chairman & CEO
New York City
www.uniworld.com