Let’s open by stating for the record that MultiCultClassics is a fan of Jim Edwards at BNET. He’s an exceptional journalist and smarter-than-hell writer. Edwards has never hesitated to share his views on the Madison Avenue diversity drama, which puts him in a very rare and elite class.
So it’s no surprise that Edwards posted his perspective regarding the NAACP letter to advertisers. Edwards wrote:
The letter uses language that is by turns collaborative and threatening. Like the Mafia, it makes P&G an offer it can’t refuse. Specifically, the letter says that using minority agencies is no longer an acceptable strategy for hiring minority talent. This will cause some consternation inside minority agencies, who may previously have assumed that the NAACP was on their side. The letter:
We are also aware that the large advertising agencies funnel some business to minority owned or minority targeted agencies. But for reasons discussed at length in the report, such initiatives do not effectively address the issues raised in the report, and we do not want to hear back from either the advertising agencies or Procter & Gamble about such initiatives. To address the issues raised in the report, it is important that Procter & Gamble understands that such responses are inadequate and, in some cases, counter-productive.
MultiCultClassics might be reading the letter a little differently than Edwards. First, the NAACP is hardly kicking multicultural shops to the curb. Rather, they are keeping the focus on Madison Avenue’s resistance to diversify mass market agencies.
Using multicultural agencies as an excuse for the industry’s exclusivity is an old and tired tactic. The platform simply doesn’t hold water. The reality is, multicultural shops are separate and unequal, even when they join a network. The shops do not see the amounts of revenue that mass market agencies enjoy—at any percentage or level. They are dissed by the networks, often relegated to minority supplements for the mass market agencies. Need proof? Name the last time a network permitted one of its multicultural shops to pitch a mass market account. Now, the culturally clueless might holler, “Hey, multicultural shops shouldn’t pitch mass market accounts because they specialize in minority audiences.” Fine, except it’s common knowledge that minorities actually make up the majority of consumers for certain brands. And minority figures for damned near every brand on Earth definitely warrant much larger slices of the budgetary pie than the shops currently receive.
As for the belief that “the large advertising agencies funnel some business to minority owned or minority targeted agencies,” well, show us the money. In the past years, there have been blatant examples of mass market agencies swindling their multicultural counterparts. And what’s more, the clients are co-conspirators. Take a look at the Omnicom-Nissan affair. Check out how P&G makes multicultural shops serve as “consultants” when mass market agencies execute campaigns targeting minority audiences. General Motors reassigned multicultural projects to mass market agencies. Mercedes-Benz allegedly rolled its total billings to the agency boasting the worst minority-hiring record of all the companies that signed pacts with New York City’s Commission on Human Rights.
The NAACP is merely acknowledging the bullshit and blowing off the stereotypical smokescreens. It’s not about the multicultural shops. It’s about the dearth of diversity within mass market agencies.
When addressing the NAACP’s request that advertisers instruct their agencies to use diverse teams, Edwards wrote:
That’s a laudable goal, but where are these execs to come from? The letter says that the industry already has plenty of “already available Black talent.” One possible answer: Big agencies could hire these execs from existing minority agencies—thus decimating the minority agency business, but getting clients and agency holding companies off the hook with Mehri and the NAACP.
“Decimating the minority agency business” is an old and tired excuse too. Please review the preceding paragraphs. The mass market agencies are already decimating the multicultural shops. Why stop at half the distance? Besides, when have mass market agencies ever hesitated to poach talent? Eric Silver recently left BBDO for DDB, and Agency Spy revealed that a number of BBDO creatives are following him. Omnicom has mandates prohibiting recruitment between sister agencies. Sure, the players cleverly maneuvered around the rules. But the fact is, no one lets pesky policies—legitimate or perceived—hamper their employment schemes.
Let’s push the matter further. Poll the professionals at multicultural shops and ask if they’ve been approached by mass market agencies. Better yet, pose the same question to minority executives at mass market agencies. MultiCultClassics will bet a week’s salary that nobody reports a significant increase in recruitment activity (unless a mass market agency is attempting to build its own multicultural unit). Harry Webber went so far as to offer donating $1,000 to the favorite charity of the Chief Diversity Officer who would set up an interview with him. Webber did not write the check. Multicultural shops, like everyone else, have experienced layoffs. Mass market agencies have dumped people of color. The market is flooded with minorities. It would be one thing if mass market agencies could say they met with minority candidates and found their skills lacking. But the meetings have not even occurred.
Jim Edwards is a brilliant guy, and he deserves praise for putting the opinions out there. Too bad the mass market agencies can’t support the positions in any way, shape or form.