The letter below was posted at The Big Tent. It is immediately followed by commentary from MultiCultClassics.
Association of Black-Owned Advertising Agencies Challenges ANA
An Open Letter to the Association of National Advertisers
By Eugene Morris and Howard Buford
The Association of Black-Owned Advertising Agencies (ABAA) is requesting a meeting with senior leadership of the ANA in order to open a substantive dialogue about how to bring Black-owned agencies into the mainstream.
We are the only organization representing the interests of Black-owned agencies. Since the 1960s, our membership has engaged in a relentless uphill battle to be included in the business paradigm of the marketing industry. In the wake of the groundbreaking Bendick & Egan study about discrimination in the advertising industry and as representatives of leading advertisers, ANA should take a leadership role in the development of solutions to cause major changes in this industry. Our voice is certainly one that needs to be heard. ABAA’s membership is ready to establish a partnership with ANA to lead this effort.
As “the only trade organization exclusively for client-side marketers, providing indispensable business insights, extensive opportunities and strong industry advocacy” you will appreciate the following:
• Most ABAA members began their careers as employees of general market agencies.
• Most of us excelled as marketers, producing substantial profits for these agencies.
• As a rule, we were treated as unwanted foster children subject to the “pervasive bias” described in the Bendick & Egan study.
• Most of us were motivated to start our firms as a direct result of our disheartening experiences.
• With notable exceptions, we found potential clients (many of them ANA members) typically uninterested in retaining our services.
• Again with notable exceptions, when we were retained, we were usually paid far less than industry standard and required to do far more to get and retain the business.
• Just as discrimination in agency hiring has not improved over the years, neither has the situation for Black-owned agencies.
The Bendick-Egan study calls for clients to demand inclusive employment practices on the part of their agencies, citing the fact that many of the major firms are “already publicly committed to equal employment opportunity in all aspects of their operations, including their procurement of services from firms such as advertising agencies.”
A cursory review of the top 200 megabrands indicates that most have never utilized the services of a Black-owned agency. This is despite the fact that blacks are a large and growing segment of the population and are thus major contributors to the profitability of virtually every brand! They are consistently unique in their consumer preferences and behaviors.
If your members are truly committed, they need to not only encourage their agencies to improve hiring practices, they need to practice diversity in the awarding of brand assignments. Ask yourselves why it is that general market agencies are routinely given assignments targeting Black consumers while Black-owned agencies are routinely deemed incapable of developing campaigns for any segment other than Black. Additionally, in most cases when we are given assignments, we are placed in minimal roles that don’t provide us with adequate resources or authority to help brands “move the needle” with Black consumers.
The inaugural activities of Jan. 20, 2009, provided a compelling example of cultural inclusion. It was a snapshot of the new America, one that is evolving to embrace ALL of America and all it has to offer future generations.
Black-owned agencies represent a valuable but overlooked resource. We have talent, experience and a proven track record of achieving sales results. The uniqueness of our American experience makes us sharply attuned to the culture and lifestyle nuances that characterize many different consumer segments. We are also eminently efficient and flexible due to the business constraints under which we have always had to operate. It would seem that, in today’s hugely competitive global marketplace, any client would welcome the opportunity to access the best ideas and talent, regardless of the source.
ABAA offers new insights to an industry that is still mired in 1960’s values. It’s time to join the audacious bandwagon of the 21st century.
There are a few things screwy with this scenario. Apologies in advance for anyone about to be offended.
First, the Association of Black-Owned Advertising Agencies is a misnomer of sorts. Upon last inspection—and the organization’s website doesn’t appear to be allowing fresh inspections—the ABAA boasted ten member agencies. And the top Black shops (at least in terms of billing) were not among them. What’s up with that? Before you seek the alliance of the Association of National Advertisers, perhaps it would help to recruit the majority of minorities comprising the niche. The lack of unity looks bad.
But that’s not the worst of it.
Why the hell is the ABAA reaching out to the ANA? Um, the shoe that’s been pressing on your neck for decades is the size 29 triple E of Ronald McDonald—and he’s backed by all the ANA co-conspirators. In short, the advertisers have been extraordinarily responsible for holding down Black agencies. Procter & Gamble & Everyone Else are completely aware of the inequities. These corporations helped create and perpetuate the silos, as well as the stereotypes. Once a year they will smile and hand out Multicultural Excellence Awards, but that’s the extent of their generosity. Your clients are cutting your budgets, ABAA. They’re also reducing the budgets of the leading Black agencies.
The ABAA would be better served writing letters to elected officials, including President Barack Obama, who just signed a bill for equal pay. And if the ANA does grant a meeting, make sure you bring Cyrus Mehri.