Despite the fact that African-American spending power is expected to reach one trillion dollars by 2012, the advertising world has virtually locked blacks out of the industry, sometimes outright ignoring the African-American market. For example, Burger King recently ended its partnership with a black advertising firm that targeted the minority community for the fast food giant. And they aren’t the only major corporation that has cut spending directed at the African-American market.
The advertising industry still remains closed to black professionals entering the market. “Frankly, it is outrageous,” says Munson Steed, CEO of Steed Media Group, Inc., a multimedia conglomerate that includes newspapers, magazines, television programming, Internet properties, custom publications and signature events, among other things. “The discrepancy is basically discrimination. It must be addressed.”
Steed not only plans to address the issue but change the way they do business on Madison Avenue. He is now part of the team behind the Rev. Al Sharpton’s Madison Avenue Initiative (MAI). Steed was recently appointed director of the Madison Avenue Initiative.
Civil Rights leader Sharpton, president and founder of National Action Network (NAN), launched MAI to reverse the alarming trends in the advertising industry. MAI has focused on the needs of minority-owned companies that do not receive their fair share of corporate and governmental advertising expenditures. Since its inception in 1991, MAI has successfully pushed for corporations to make advertising purchases that approach the level of minority consumer patronage of their products in specific markets. But according to Sharpton, there is still work to be done and he’s looking to Steed to aggressively push the Initiative forward. In a press statement, Sharpton said, “Munson Steed is the right person to accelerate this vision in 2010 and his background and business acumen within the media and advertising industry exemplifies a vision of equal access and inclusion for minority-owned media outlets.”
Steed says he’s more than up to the task. But he adds, MAI cannot do it alone–minority consumers must take control. “We can no longer continue to be unconscious consumers,” says Steed. “We need to understand the corporate component. Are these companies we are buying from advertising to the African-American market? Do they have a diversity initiative within their ranks? Are they using a minority ad firm? Do they have African-American executives on the creative side? Are they advertising in minority media?”
The bottom line, says Steed, is that it comes down to employment. “The lack of employment in (the advertising world) will affect generations,” says Steed. “If you don’t have these corporations hiring African-Americans, there are very few role models and people to usher in the next generation of creative types. You will also have fewer on the side of ownership because the opportunities aren’t there. There aren’t mentorships being encouraged.”
There are, says Steed, some companies that are trying to open their doors, such as Ogilvy. “They at least have a diversity initiative,” says Steed, who has much planned this year for MAI. “We are planning a college tour of eight colleges, called the Knowledge Tour. We have already sent out letters to the Madison Avenue corporations to suggest a media day when they will have African-American firms in to pitch their services.”
In dealing with the corporations, MAI has approached CEOs and marketing executives to reach out to diverse agencies, conduct media days and potentially an urban marketing summit, expand candidate searches to include more Black and Latino candidates, create jobs, job readiness, college tours, and establish annual internships. “Opening doors for black professionals and students will create a pipeline of talent from the urban community,” says Steed.
MAI also offers a creative workshop that will facilitate internships and incorporate a national creative workshop tour to highlight future workplace opportunities in the areas of technology, science, marketing and design. “It is critical that the future generation is clear as to where their focus needs to be and that they extend themselves beyond simply listening to music and playing video games to embrace the economic opportunities enveloped in the creation and marketing of those activities,” says Steed.
Also in the pipeline is a record card on the best and worst practices among corporations and government agencies in their diversity recruitment. “It will be the first of its kind for the creative industry,” says Steed.
Steed says he’s confident that MAI will affect change. “Business cannot go on as usual. Things must change, and we are here to lead the call.”