Monday, July 25, 2005

Essay Eighty-Six

Here’s another provocative perspective that appeared in the latest issue of Marketing y Medios, a Hispanic-focused magazine from the publishers of Adweek. MultiCultClassics’ responses appear throughout in ALL CAPS.

Who are the Owners Of Your Agency?
July 18, 2005

(Henry Louis Gómez is the planning director of Hispanic marketing for Hill | Holliday Hispanic in Miami Beach. Gómez has worked in the Hispanic marketing industry for more than nine years.)

Who are the current owners of your agency? That is a question that I often see in the Hispanic RFPs, and it is a great question.

The simple answer is this: I work in the Hispanic marketing practice of Hill | Holliday. Our agency is wholly owned by The Interpublic Group of Companies.

YO, G! YOU SHOULD KNOW BY NOW THERE ARE NO SIMPLE ANSWERS IN THE WORLD OF MULTICULTURAL MARKETING.

But this answer oftentimes automatically disqualifies us from further consideration. You see, it’s not the question they ask but the why.

Many clients want to know if a prospective Hispanic-focused agency is minority-owned. The reality is that clients prefer to select minority-owned and operated agencies for minority marketing since there’s considerable political pressure to do so for the sake of achieving diversity. In fact, many not only prefer minority ownership, they require it.

TECHNICALLY, YOUR LAST STATEMENT IS NOT A FACT. IT’S AGAINST THE LAW TO REQUIRE MINORITY OWNERSHIP, AS IT WOULD CONSTITUTE BLATANT DISCRIMINATION. PURSUE LEGAL ACTION IF YOU CAN PROVE SUCH MANDATES EXIST.

IT’S FRUSTRATING WHEN CLIENTS USE MINORITY AGENCIES TO SATISFY CORPORATE DIVERSITY OBJECTIVES. BUT IT’S MORE FRUSTRATING THAT THE INDUSTRY’S OVERALL LACK OF DIVERSITY DOESN’T OFFER BETTER ALTERNATIVES.

This makes sense if the only goal is to close the wealth gap between minorities and non-minorities, one agency owner at a time. Considering that my colleagues at Hill | Holliday Hispanic and I are just as Hispanic as our counterparts that work for minority-owned Hispanic agencies, this prevailing attitude strikes me as patronizing, self-defeating and myopic.

THE PROBABILITY OF CLOSING THE WEALTH GAP BETWEEN MINORITIES AND NON-MINORITIES IN THE ADVERTISING BUSINESS IS LESS THAN ZERO. ONE ACTUAL GOAL IS TO MORE FAIRLY DISTRIBUTE OPPORTUNITIES AND LEVEL THE GROSSLY UNEVEN PLAYING FIELD.

MULTICULTURAL CLIENTS TEND TO FALL INTO TWO CATEGORIES: THOSE WHO OPERATE FOR BUSINESS REASONS AND THOSE WHO OPERATE FOR POLITICAL REASONS. PERHAPS YOU AND YOUR COLLEAGUES SHOULD DECIDE WHICH TYPE TO PURSUE.

SIDE/SNIDE NOTE: PATRONIZING, SELF-DEFEATING AND MYOPIC ARE KEY ELEMENTS OF MULTICULTURAL MARKETING.

I thought the objective of an agency review was to find and hire the firm that brings the best ideas to the table, understands the brand and the target and otherwise makes the best business partner for the client.

NOT TO SOUND CYNICAL, BUT HOW LONG HAVE YOU WORKED IN THE BUSINESS? TO PLAY IN THE BIG LEAGUES, GET WITH THE REAL RULES OF THE GAME. ASK YOUR NON-MINORITY PEERS AT HILL | HOLLIDAY FOR INSIGHTS AND INSTRUCTIONS.

I once worked at a minority/woman-owned agency, and we didn’t have the breadth and depth of resources or expertise that we have at Hill | Holliday Hispanic. Yet, in some cases, our agency is completely hamstrung — unable to demonstrate its resources and expertise in the pitch process because we don’t meet the client’s diversity requirements. These clients are doing themselves a huge disservice by eliminating some agencies from consideration.

OH, PLEASE DEMONSTRATE THE EXPANDED BREADTH AND DEPTH OF RESOURCES. MULTICULTURAL MERGERS PRESENT A STRONG ARGUMENT ON PAPER, BUT IT’S USUALLY SMOKE AND MIRRORS. MASS MARKET AND MINORITY AGENCIES OPERATE VERY DIFFERENTLY ON MANY LEVELS, MOSTLY DUE TO VERY DIFFERENT BUDGET RESTRAINTS. FEW MERGERS ARE PROFESSIONALLY AND PROFITABLY SUCCESSFUL.

ADDITIONALLY, MINORITY AGENCIES ARE TRADITIONALLY ELIMINATED FROM THE PITCH PROCESS FOR MUCH CRAZIER REASONS THAN THE SOB STORY YOU’RE RELATING.

In order to avoid being left out of reviews, many Hispanic agencies are technically 51 percent minority-owned with the remaining 49 percent being owned by a public corporation. Ah, the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law, an age-old challenge!

MAYBE YOU DO UNDERSTAND A FEW RULES OF THE GAME AFTER ALL. FYI, WORSE INJUSTICES REGULARLY OCCUR IN OUR INDUSTRY. BUT THAT’S ANOTHER TOPIC FOR ANOTHER ESSAY.

But I think I’ve figured it out now. The next time I’m asked who owns Hill | Holliday Hispanic I’m going to give a more honest answer. Our company is owned by a multitude of people of both genders, various races, religions and ethnicities that all hold stock in IPG. After all, according to Scarborough Research, of all the individuals reporting that their household owns mutual funds/stocks/stock options 9.63 percent are Hispanic, 8.11 percent are black and 48.19 percent are women.

SORRY, YOU HAVEN’T COMPLETELY FIGURED IT OUT NOW. YOUR NEW ANSWER IS DISHONEST, IF YOU CONSIDER THE PEOPLE WHO OFFICIALLY OWN YOUR COMPANY. IT’S UNLIKELY THERE IS TRUE DIVERSITY ON THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS — OR EVEN IN THE EXECUTIVE SUITES OF INDIVIDUAL AGENCIES WITHIN THE IPG NETWORK. HOLDING STOCK DOESN’T MAKE YOU AN OWNER. OTHERWISE, THE KID IN THE MAILROOM WOULD HAVE AS MUCH CLOUT AS THE CEO.

How much more diverse can you get?

HISPANICS ACCOUNT FOR ABOUT 14 PERCENT OF THE U.S. POPULATION; BLACKS ACCOUNT FOR ROUGHLY 12 PERCENT. SO THE SCARBOROUGH RESEARCH FIGURES LEAVE MUCH TO BE DESIRED IN TERMS OF DIVERSITY.

WHILE YOU MAKE VALID POINTS, THERE ARE ALSO DISTURBING ELEMENTS TO YOUR VIEWPOINT. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO SOLELY REPRESENT HILL | HOLLIDAY? THE NON-MINORITY OFFICERS SHOULD STEP FORWARD AND VOICE THEIR GRIPES TOO. BUT THAT MIGHT LOOK POLITICALLY INCORRECT, RIGHT? LET THE COMPANY MINORITY LODGE THE GRIEVANCES INSTEAD.

REGARDING YOUR PERSPECTIVE IN GENERAL, TRY ASKING PROSPECTIVE CLIENTS TO RETHINK THE QUESTION. THE INQUIRY SHOULD BE, “WHO ARE THE LEADERS OF YOUR AGENCY?” IF YOU CAN SHOW LEADERSHIP DIVERSITY, THERE SHOULDN’T BE A PROBLEM. YET THEREIN LIES A BIG PART OF THE PARADOX.

IN CLOSING, HERE’S THE MULTICULTCLASSICS RESPONSE TO NON-MINORITY AGENCIES COMPLAINING ABOUT BEING VICTIMS OF DISCRIMINATION: NOW YOU KNOW HOW IT FEELS — IMAGINE IF YOU CONSTANTLY FACED THIS BULLSHIT.

1 comment:

Henry "Conductor" Gomez said...

I just read your counterarguments to my column in Marketing y Medios. Setting the condescending tone of your comments aside, you missed the entire point because you apparently have some sort of axe to grind.

You say that discrimination is illegal. You are right discriminating against minorities is illegal. Discriminating in favor of them is very legal and in fact en vogue, see affirmative action. And that's my point. 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.

I agree completely with your assessment that "multicultural clients tend to fall into two categories: those who operate for business reasons and those who operate for political reasons." My colleagues and I target the former but unfortunately there are many more of the latter. The purpose of writing about this situation was to shed light on the problem and try to start changing that mindset.

I've been working in Hispanic marketing for nine years, on both the minority owned and publicly held sides of the fence. The reason I wrote about this problem, and not my CEO, is because I'm a lot closer to the situation. It affects me every day.

As far as the resources we have that we didn't have at the minority owned agency go, I can tell you that as the Planning Director, I have access to hundreds of thousands of dollars of syndicated research now that I never did before. Also within our agency we have many fully developed disciplines such as relationship marketing and interactive. At my old shop the interactive dept was one person who was also the agency MIS guy. The problem is a small agency/large agency problem. But a company that's privately held is almost always going to be smaller than a company that's publicly held.

Lastly, though minorities are underrepresented among the ranks of stockholders, they are not barred from ownership. That's why they call it "publicly held." And while I don't know the exact number or percent of IPG's shareholders that are Hispanic, the point is that it's a diverse ownership by its very nature.

Henry Gomez