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White Ad Agencies Accused of Giving Crumbs to the Black Press
By: George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief
Originally posted 9/11/2006

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The Congressional Black Caucus panel on advertising at the Washington Convention Center started out like typical panel discussions. An array of experts were assembled, Al Sharpton and Sen. John Kerry (D, Mass.) stopped by for star appearances; panelists were careful to compliment one another and Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick of Detroit, the sponsor of the event, darted in and out of the session.

But the typical quickly turned to the atypical last week once the question-and-answer segment got underway. John B. Smith, Sr., president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), and others had made reference to Dorothy Leavell, president of the NNPA Foundation, by her first name.

When Ken Smikle, an advertising expert pinch-hitting for Representative Kilpatrick she was out of the room, skipped over Leavell, the publisher refused to be ignored.

“My hand was up first,” she said loudly as members of the audience looked her way. “They’ve called my name twice. Nobody knows who Dorothy is – I’m Dorothy.”

And before she sat down, everyone knew Dorothy – or at least got an approximation of what stirred the passion of Dorothy Leavell, publisher of the Chicago and Gary, Ind. Crusader newspapers.

Reacting to one panelist’s complaint about having a hard time with White advertising agencies, Leavell said, “I am weeping that you’re having such a hard time in your business. I’m just weeping. Guess what? You don’t know what a hard time is unless you own a Black newspaper.”

With passion dripping off each word, Leavell continued, “We need you to stand up. We have no advocates…Nobody cares, but when you decide that we all have a vested interest in this business, where we can employ our own, where we can all enjoy the finer things in life and be able to provide for our people the means to get their message across the world, not just this country, until we decide that we are all going to put it together and not care about my office is on the 19th floor and you’re on the 13th mentality, we are not going to get anywhere.”

Leavell, who had worked with most of the panelists for decades, directly challenged them.

“We need to circle the wagons, not play games,” she pleaded. “We all got problems. You didn’t get there by yourself. It was the Black Press hollering and screaming for you. Why have you forsaken us? We need you; you need us. And if we don’t get it together, we are all going to be holding hands, crying woe be unto me.

“What I’m saying here is that the civil rights organizations, everybody needs to realize when they’re talking about strategy, they’re talking about those who are in the limelight and forget about those who got them there. So you’d better come back to your roots and know what’s going on and get everybody involved.”

When moderator Smikle attempted to interrupt Leavell after she complained that no Black publishers were invited to be part of the panel, she countered, “You, too. We have supported you, we have supported everybody in here.”

Falling back on what she laughingly described as “French,” Leavell said, “We are not going to sit back and take this anymore on the sidelines. We’re going to kick [butt].”

Responding to Leavell, Adonis Hoffman, senior vice president and counsel for the Washington office of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, invited NNPA officials to make a presentation at the 2007 Media Conference & Trade Show in Las Vegas. The conference is Feb. 28-March 2.

Following an earlier comment about Black media being relegated to smaller, ethnic budgets instead of enjoying a share of the larger advertising pie, Hoffman said: “Whomever the NNPA representative is, we’ll put you on a general market session panel so that you can make the pitch to the folk who provide the media -- $146 billion media in 2005.”

Leavell promptly accepted the invitation and NNPA President John B. Smith Sr. invited advertising representatives to appear on a special panel at the NNPA mid-winter meeting January 24-28 in Phoenix.

New York City Councilman Larry Seabrook was blunt: “If you don’t raise hell, nothing is going to be done.” He added, “One thing I learned about Black people: We’re too nice to people who are too nasty to us.”

Others agreed that African-Americans must put pressure on companies that exploit Black consumers. According to the Selig Center at the University of Georgia, African-American spending power rose from $319 billion in 1990 to $716 billion in 2005. By 2010, the figure is expected to rise to $1 trillion annually, a 222 percent increase in two decades. Over that same period, White spending increased only 164 percent.

To use that clout, Smikle suggested that African-Americans dial the 800-number listed on their favorite products and ask two questions: How much money did you spend with Black media last year? How much did you give to Black non-profit organizations? He wants people to forward the replies they receive to and he will post the findings on his Web site.

After previously meeting with NNPA publishers, Senator Kerry asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the paucity of federal advertising dollars spent with Black media.

One GAO report showed that seven federal agencies spent $1.62 billion on media contracts between 2003 and the first half of 2005; another half-dozen or so did not report their media-related expenditures. Kerry has requested a report from the GAO seeking to find out how much federal money was spent with Black media.

In 2000, Bill Clinton issued an executive order directing all federal agencies to “take an aggressive role in ensuring substantial minority-owned entities’ participation in federal advertising-related procurements.”

“Not once in five years has this administration met the federal contracting targets,” Kerry said.

“Not once. And not only do they not meet them, they even leave Homeland Security, which is a huge proportion of federal spending, completely out of the measurement. So their statistics are not even honest.”

Kerry said, “I can tell you from my experience on the SBA [committee], these folks just don’t care about those goals and standards. To the degree that they care, they care about finding a way to make an end run around the executive orders or avoid their responsibilities.”

Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, set up a Madison Avenue initiative in 1999 after receiving a memo from a top radio insider.

“The memo said in direct language, ‘Do not buy Black and Latino radio. We want prospects, not suspects.’”

Looking at the radio industry, Sharpton said that even when African-American radio stations are No. 1 in their markets, they do not receive advertising commensurate with their ratings.

“We found that people with the highest percentage of listeners had the lowest percentage of ad dollars,” he said.

“That’s how our Madison Avenue initiative started.”

Black newspaper and broadcast owners, along with Black ad agencies, complain that the advertising industry spends the overwhelming majority of its budget with White-owned outlets, putting aside token amounts for African-American publications and agencies. Even worse, they are hiring major White-owned agencies at an increasing rate to provide racially-sensitive ads previously handled by Black agencies.

“The so-called mainstream budgets – general market budgets – are not given to Black agencies, which means you have an official policy of apartheid in the advertising world,” Sharpton noted.

“What they have said is that Black people are not general market. In many of these businesses, we are their general market consumers. In many businesses, we are 20-, 30- and 40-percent of your market, but we’re some kind of minority when it comes to how you deal with ad dollars.

“The agencies have to fight over 2 to 3 percent of the ad budget, when we’re much more of the consumer budget than that. If we’re going to be your general market consumer, we ought to have some of those general market contracts.”

Demonstrating a clear understanding of how the advertising community works, Sharpton asked, “Who determines general market? You don’t advertise by saying, ‘We’re not talking to Black folk and Latinos.’ You advertise to everybody, but you spread your ad dollars: ‘This is the Negro money, this is the Latino money – the rest is American money.’ That’s ridiculous, that’s segregation.”

Sharpton urged Congress to hold hearings on the unfairness in advertising.

“I just want the CEOs of these companies to put their hand on the Bible and the other in the air and answer the questions because you can’t say, ‘I don’t remember my budget.’ We’ll have it for you. We’ll refresh your memory.

“They have to answer or they’d be in contempt,” Sharpton said. “And I would love to help drag some of them out of there for being in contempt of Congress. That would be an activist’s joy, that would be like one of you getting a major contract.”

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