Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Essay Eighty-Seven

Essay Eighty-Six presented a column that appeared in the latest issue of Marketing y Medios, along with the standard MultiCultClassics rebuttal. The author of the original viewpoint graciously posted a response. Essay Eighty-Seven continues the discussion. Readers are encouraged to view the previous essay and response before perusing below.


Dear Henry Louis Gómez:

First and foremost, thank you for reading and writing. Your participation in the MultiCultClassics experiment is honestly appreciated. The following attempts to clarify statements and advance the debate.

Your comment regarding the condescending tone indicates you’re a new visitor to the blog. Welcome to the party.

Rest assured, the entire point of your perspective was not missed. In fact, it was completely understood. While there is concurrence in certain sections, there is disagreement in others. Surely you didn’t expect folks to praise every word you wrote. After all, if your position were irrefutable, there would have been no need to publish it.

Please spend more time studying affirmative action, as your beliefs on the subject are somewhat blurred. Affirmative action was never intended to be a long-term or absolute solution for anything. The goal of affirmative action is to level playing fields and create equal opportunities. It’s not about “discriminating in favor” of anyone; rather, it tries to combat the continued biased behavior that disables qualified candidates from getting a fair shot. Affirmative action is not a legal mandate. Otherwise, our industry would never be so awful in the area of diversity. Additionally, affirmative action was not designed for specific communities. It’s for all people. Here’s a trivia question: What single group has benefited the most from affirmative action? (The answer appears at the end of this letter.)

You whined that your agency doesn’t get any bonus points. Mr. Gómez, you don’t deserve any bonus points — and, more importantly, you don’t need any! You admitted that Hill | Holliday provides access to tremendous research and disciplines you never had before. What the hell else do you require?

You also whined that you’re “just as Hispanic as the guy working at a Hispanic marketing shop owned by an individual Hispanic.” No argument there. At the same time, if you’ve been in multicultural marketing for over nine years, you know how the game is played. You should have realized the challenges you’d face by joining the minority practice of a non-minority agency. You’re enjoying the rewards, but griping about the little inconveniences.

Please don’t presume the seemingly cynical remarks seek to denigrate multicultural marketing. Yes, the system definitely demands improvement. But the proposals you might suggest probably will not bring positive progress.

You’re correct that the problems require starting to change mindsets. But the mindsets that need the most revision are not just between the ears of clients. The revolution must begin with the non-minorities who sign your paycheck.

Multicultural marketing is looked upon like something new, despite the fact that it’s been around for over 50 years. When jobs and budgets were plentiful, the non-minority shops allowed the segregated efforts to proceed without intervention. But as the consumer market evolved, and minority audiences gained importance (i.e., generated profits), the game shifted. And once non-minority bottom lines were disturbed, the response was not good.

Instead of revamping staffs to reflect the needs of consumers, the big companies simply bought their own minorities. The segregation lingers, even though everyone is under one virtual roof. And to add insult to injury, now the non-minority agencies beg for “equal” status and the same meager accommodations granted to smaller companies — despite already holding the superior resources, disciplines and positions.

You’re naïve to think minorities are not barred from ownership. Ditto if you imagine IPG is diverse in any sense of the word — except perhaps in the stock portfolios of its actual leaders. Need proof? Count the minorities employed at Hill | Holliday’s general agency. And don’t include the mailroom, secretarial and janitorial workers. The truth is, the majority of minority owners left non-minority environments to ultimately find major success.

Your editorial would have been more powerful and credible if co-signed by officers from all divisions. Why does the issue only affect you every day? Why isn’t everyone striving for a better way of doing business?

Don’t take this personally. You’ve earned respect for voicing your opinions. And believe it or not, you have it. But to be perfectly frank, your original tone smacked of condescension. Mr. Gómez, you’re attacking the wrong enemy — and inadvertently dissing the minority agencies that built your career.

Clients may appear misguided in their requests, but their true objective is to do the right thing. We just need to give them the right alternatives. Non-minority agencies have not offered excellent options yet.

Finally, clients wouldn’t be forced to delegate diversity objectives to minority partners if non-minority partners weren’t so damned monochromatic. In short, exclusivity sucks for our industry and society.

Please feel free to continue the dialogue. We should be allies in this cause.



P.S., Here’s the answer to the trivia question: White women have benefited the most from affirmative action. Think about that for a while.


Henry "Conductor" Gomez said...

Look, I don't know you or enough about you to know what axe you're grinding. If anybody isn't keeping a consistent point it's you. In fact, you made several points for me while trying to argue against me.

You said we don't need any bonus points because we have more resources. But how does the client ever know or get to see what those resources can do for them if they disqualify agencies at the questionnaire phase because they aren't minority owned?

You say that affirmative action was supposed to give minority candidates a fair shot. Yes, in hiring employees. Not in contracting vendors. Hill, Holliday hired me and my colleagues. I'm not in Hispanic marketing because I was pigeon-holed there. I'm in it because I want to be in it. I believe in the power of the Hispanic market and the ability for it positively influence the client's bottom line. You place a higher priority on "diversity" politics than on the bottom line. That's the exact behavior you criticized (and I agreed with) that's wrong with the review process for Hispanic marketing today.

Almost all of the major Hispanic agencies today have some corporate ownership because the individual owners decided to cash in and enjoy the benefits of being aligned. The only difference between that and any other agency that WPP or IPG acquires is that they only acquire 49%. It's a "work-around" that is cynical and gives these agencies an edge in the review process.

I'm not whining about anything. I'm pointing out a mistake that many marketers make. It's more than a slight incovenience when you know you could do a great job on an important piece of business but aren't even allowed to pitch it because of some requirement (spoken or unspoken) from the "purchasing department."

Yes I knew this was going to be a challenge. And not being one to stand aside, I decided to write about it and open a discussion with a point of that is rarely heard.

If I were the Vice President of Marketing of Client X, I would want to hire the agency that delivered the best work. Requiring that it be minority-owned only benefits the smallest minority of people in the agency business, the owners. Not only that, if being publicly held is good enough for Client X why shouldn't it be good enough for Client X's agency?

Maybe your right, maybe I should have others in my agency sign my column. I didn't think of that, plain and simple. It's not that others don't care. I'm sure the CEO of Hill, Holliday wants us to get as much business as we can and wants us to grow a large and profitable practice. That goes without saying. I also think I'm my own man and can have my own opinions about the industry and am capable of expressing them by myself.

Your right, I didn't expect everyone to agree with me. The subject matter IS provocative. That's why I chose it. It's not the only thing that keeps me up at night but was simply something on my mind. I thank you for the thoughful response and the venue to post my counter-responses. Best of luck with the blog. I have a couple myself and it's very rewarding.


Henry Gomez

HighJive said...

Uh, never promised to keep a consistent point. Prefer exploring all angles until something begins to make sense. And it was never about arguing against you. It’s about presenting alternative perspectives. This shit is deeper and more complex than minority ownership.

Your original statement was: “I’m just as Hispanic as the guy working at a Hispanic marketing shop owned by an individual Hispanic. Yet our agency doesn’t get bonus points.” You don’t deserve “bonus points” because you’re the Goliath conglomerate-owned agency. You admit having superior resources and disciplines — but you want extra advantages too? Sorry, things don’t work that way.

Come to think of it, toiling for a non-minority-owned agency may make you appear less Hispanic to certain clients. That sucks, man.

The truth is, you should start by asking, “Mr. Prospective Client, would you prefer a minority-owned shop?” If the answer is yes, you lose. Game over. Sure, it’s frustrating to be denied the chance to show your stuff. But minority-owned agencies are disqualified from pitches too — just as often as you — for reasons just as outrageous.

Your original statement was: “Discriminating in favor of them (minorities) is very legal and in fact en vogue, see affirmative action.” The subsequent reply sought to rebut your definition of affirmative action, which contained inaccuracies. Nothing more.

The 49/51 percent factor is cynical — but not any less cynical than outright buying minorities to steal the assignments traditionally handled by minority-owned agencies. Again, you’re not being denied significantly greater opportunities than the 49/51 percent agencies.

Not sure what you mean by favoring “diversity” politics over the bottom line. The position here is disfavor for racist and exclusionary politics that block candidates from the chance to affect someone’s bottom line and/or make minority status critically important.

There are larger dilemmas that have us asking similar questions. Why can’t the racial and political issues remain separate from the professional? Why is minority status even part of the equation?

Here are a few answers. Because the business is minority-unfriendly. Because the big agencies created a segregated industry, and they have no idea how to fairly integrate it. Because the only way clients can be good corporate citizens is by utilizing minority shops and calling it multicultural marketing.

Clients didn’t create the real problems. Minority agencies didn’t create the real problems. But we’re forced to spend the most time and blog space contemplating solutions.

HighJive said...

Additional random thoughts…

If a client is preferring to use a minority-owned agency to spread opportunities — or practice “diversity” politics, as you might call it — then more power to them. It’s a paradoxical, contradictory and complicated mess. But a better solution has not yet been hatched.

Plus, partnering with a 49/51 percent agency is still slightly better than the alternative, which is continuing to support a system making little or no effort to evolve in a positive direction.

As marketers, bottom lines should always play important roles. But the public does make purchasing and brand loyalty decisions based on the character of a company. As a planning director, you must be aware of that growing trend. It’s not just about providing the best service. Advertising agencies have as many social responsibilities as other corporations.

Maybe the next RFP answer shouldn’t involve discussing minority owner status — or even your half-baked notion that a publicly-held company is owned by a diverse sea of stockholders. Perhaps you could present the tangible and measurable efforts your company is making in the area of diversity. Of course, that would probably demand partnering with Hill | Holliday’s top creative writers to fabricate some serious hype.

All the best.

Mr. HustleKnocker said...

Genius!!!! I smell some actual dialogue and exchange of ideas on a tough topic... too bad the rest of our still lily white industry has almost no interest in this.

By the way... Is anyone concerned with the fact that "marketing y medios" while absolutely necessary was started while the industry has spent years ignoring blacks? folks have tried to put together similar publications for african americans for generations, almost, but mainstream ad folks, specifically those as Adweek believed it wasn't "necessary"...