Media Meltdown

With urban marketing hot, black agencies are the prime targets for aquisitions and mergers

abuse of the system.”

However, adds Gardner, “Advertisers don’t want controversy and may want to deal with black-owned agencies where there is a minority interest. This kind of political consideration is definitely going to be a factor. This will be especially true as the federal government looks to open doors for black agencies to compete directly with general-market firms for prime contracts and general-market business.”

Despite the rumbling at the top, the spoils have not only gone to the larger black agencies. In other deals, Omnicom Group Partners, which has holdings in ad leaders DDB Needham Worldwide and BBDO Worldwide, took a 49% stake in start-up Footsteps, a New York-based black agency. Created in January 2000 with Alvin Gay, a former executive at UniWorld, and Verdia Johnson, formerly with Stedman Graham & Partners, Footsteps landed Mercedes-Benz as its first and, at press time, only client.

“Marketing has dramatically changed for black advertisers,” says Johnson, Footsteps’ president and a former advertising director at BLACK ENTERPRISE magazine. “In the past, it wasn’t about business. It was about a handout and a way to appease the [minority advertisers] that were calling. Today, it is truly about business. Our account planning is what sets us apart from other black agencies, and African American marketing has not been taken to the extent that we’re going to take it.” Gay, the agency’s managing partner, says that Footsteps will go beyond the traditional consumer barometers of focus groups and surveys, and “talk to people about who they are and what they want to grasp.”

Other movers include Russell Simmons of Rush Media, who recently formed a joint venture with West Coast-based Deutsch Inc. to form dRush, an agency that will target urban youth.

With more than $ 1.8 billion in Internet advertising in 1999, the field is ripe for ethnic agencies. The Internet promises one-to-one, real-time marketing, but it has yet to really spread its wings. “I see more black agency activity in this area, especially with the media mix and a proliferation of Afrocentric dotcoms,” says AAFF’s Gardner. “However, it is still a challenge to sell to advertisers because of the misconception that black America isn’twired and doesn’t have income and education levels that call for dotcom ads.”

It’s a misconception indeed. In fact, the 4.9 million African Americans surfing the Web are younger, wealthier and more educated than those not currently online, according to a recent survey conducted by Cyber Dialogue, a leading Internet customer relationship management company. The survey revealed that nearly half were under age 30, with an average income of $ 58,000; more than one-third have graduated from college.

“The last three clients who’ve walked through my door have been dotcom companies,” says Charlotte Roy, president of Atlanta-based Roy Communications, which, in March, merged with the Hispanic agency Vargas Flores & Amigos of Atlanta. “Over the years, clients have asked if I could handle the Hispanic market and I never felt comfortable saying yes. I worked with Dan Vargas and Tony Flores for

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