Almost lost amidst the latest diversity initiative and Russell Simmons’ umpteenth attempt to launch an advertising agency is the AdAge.com news item below. Read it quickly and catch the MultiCultClassics commentary immediately following…
Nissan’s Multicultural Account Finds New Home at Omnicom
Innovative, Diverse Shop Takes Shape After Lengthy Pitch
By Laurel Wentz
NEW YORK -- Nissan North America is moving its multicultural account to Omnicom Group, to a new agency that will be set up to comply with Nissan’s requirement for certified minority ownership and attempt to create a new model for handling multicultural business.
The new agency will be minority-owned by Omnicom and draw on the three-agency team that pitched to Nissan. The agencies are Dieste Harmel & Partners, which is the largest U.S. Hispanic agency but couldn’t officially lead the business because the shop is majority-owned by Omnicom; small African-American agency Footsteps, 49% owned by Omnicom; and Admerasia, an Asian-American agency that isn’t owned by Omnicom but has partnered with the group before on multicultural accounts like Lowe’s. The majority owners of the new, still-unnamed multicultural shop are likely to come from one or more of those three agencies. Omnicom can take up to a 49% stake in an agency that is still considered minority-owned.
Nissan has been the longest and most talked-about multicultural pitch of the year. The review started more than six months ago, seeking economic efficiencies and requiring that contenders field a team of agencies with Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American capability. Marketers frequently try to bundle multicultural together, but usually end up working with individual ethnic agencies, so creating a new Nissan shop is a big move, although in keeping with Omnicom’s willingness to set up new units to handle specific clients.
The multicultural review started with 19 agencies, and was cut to six teams, with three entering the final pitch. Nissan spent about $35 million on Hispanic advertising, the bulk of the multicultural account, in 2007.
Other contenders for the business said they had figured Dieste was the agency to beat because Nissan’s general-market business is already at Omnicom’s TBWA, but that they believed they had a shot since Dieste isn’t eligible for minority certification. Nissan didn’t return calls, and Omnicom agencies referred calls to Nissan.
Hispanic agency execs involved in the Nissan pitch said Omnicom executive Carmen Baez played a key role in pulling together the Omnicom offering and that the new unit will report to her. Ms. Baez is president of Omnicom’s Diversified Agency Services division for Latin America, and oversees U.S. multicultural agencies.
Mix and match
Three groups pitched in the final round. The Omnicom team was up against independent Lopez Negrete Communications, the No. 4 U.S. Hispanic agency, pitching with E. Morris Communications, and a team composed of Infiniti’s Hispanic incumbent Marca Hispanic, working with Carol H. Williams.
The Hispanic Nissan incumbent, the Vidal Partnership, stayed in the review until June. Another participant, Grupo Gallegos, pitched with True Agency, the African-American incumbent on Nissan and Infiniti, and Asian-American shop Pancom, but dropped out before the final assignment.
There were so few Asian-American agencies to go around that in the early rounds of the pitch, those agencies were allowed to join more than one rival team. Nissan didn’t have an Asian-American agency previously.
It’s unclear what the loss of the African-American accounts for Nissan and Infiniti will mean for True, the former incumbent. The automaker appears, from the agency’s website, to be True’s main client. The only other clients listed on the site are AARP, Hilton’s Diversity Vendor program and the California African American Museum.
Wow. Not sure where to begin.
The True Agency is in true trouble. Ironically, the shop spent many years in an on-again-off-again relationship with TBWA\Chiat\Day and Omnicom, but nixed the idea of long-term marriage. There were even protests when True captured the Nissan account in 2002, as critics including Rev. Al Sharpton called the appointment unfair because of the Omnicom connections. Guess Omnicom ultimately decided if you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em. And better yet, beat ‘em out of business.
Don’t know why anyone believes this Omnicom coalition is a new model. It’s hardly the first time a shop has hawked multi-minority expertise. Muse Cordero Chen and GlobalHue come to mind.
Regardless, there’s plenty of bullshit in the scenario.
For starters, it’s slightly obscene that Omnicom—the holding company whose agencies have the worst minority hiring records among shops that signed diversity pacts with New York City’s Commission on Human Rights—is behind the victory. Omnicom CEO John Wren had ordered his agencies to come into compliance with the diversity agreements by the end of 2008. Wonder if Wren will count this groundbreaking enterprise toward the quotas.
It’s equally disgusting that the multicultural agencies were forced to team up for the pitch. Maybe Nissan believes all minorities look alike. It’s so convenient to lump them into a single space and invoice. Let’s reduce the silos by giving the colored folks one shared pigeonhole. Omnicom can’t get its White agencies to embrace diversity, but the conglomerate will force minorities to coexist in harmony.
As expected, the Ad Age story features zero references about Nissan being blown away by awesome campaign concepts. Indeed, the most creative exhibition will involve Omnicom accountants making the venture appear to be certified minority ownership.
Finally, the entire affair demonstrates the persistent inequities in our industry. When general market accounts are under review, the minority shops are never allowed to compete. But when minority accounts are available, the White agencies are free to step in and steal the billings.
What’s more, the press will trumpet the schemes as innovative.