The Madison Avenue Initiative

Millions could be at stake as minority media outlets face an ongoing "blackout" from national advertisers

industry and what can be done to root them out.

"The principle is really an outrageous one-that when media is purchased from minority media, it is not purchased on the same basis that it’s purchased from non-minority media," says Thomas Burrell, CEO of Burrell Advertising (No. 1 on the be advertising agencies list) and co-chairman of the American Advertising Federation Board of Directors Standing Committee on Multicultural Advertising and Diversity, which will study the matter. "I have no explanation for that, and I can’t imagine anybody else having an explanation for it."

Is there an explanation? All of the advertising industry trade associations have acknowledged the existence of "no urban/Spanish dictates" and "minority discounts," and have come out on record as condemning the practices. But while they express dismay over it, they claim ignorance as to why the problem exists, who is practicing the discriminatory policies or how widespread the problem actually is.

"We certainly feel, from talking to the minority members [of the American Advertising Federation], that there is a problem, but we don’t know why the problem exists," says Marjorie Valin, vice president of public affairs for the AAF. "In some cases we know that people are making decisions because they don’t understand the market or don’t know the market potential. The other issue is finding out whether the same criteria are being applied to mainstream and minority media."

What is telling is that the issue of race as an explanation for the policies has been avoided. Instead, theories involving different approaches to measuring market potential have been the focus. John Wolfe, senior vice president of public affairs and spokesman for the AAAA, offers another theory to explain some of what may have happened in the industry. "The media buyer’s job is to get the lowest rates for their client. We hope that there is no stigma attached to them trying to be tough negotiators," he says. "That is their job, and they’ll keep doing that."

Trying to get minority media owners to understand just how "tough negotiators" could rationalize the use of policies that penalize companies that are leaders in their markets is difficult. The FCC report does offer some explanation of why discriminatory practices exist in the advertising industry.

It also provides a snapshot of the effects these policies have had on minority media companies. The study, released in January, was presented at the Invitational Summit on Multicultural Markets and Media in New York. Attendees included be 100s CEO W. Don Cornwell of Granite Broadcasting, Inner City Broadcasting Chairman and CEO Pierre Sutton and New York State Comptroller H. Carl McCall. Its findings confirmed many things that minority broadcasters have been complaining about for years.

"There is a preconceived notion that minority consumers are unimportant and do not represent a particularly lucrative market. Consequently, advertisers are less inclined to purchase time on minority-owned stations," says Kofi Ofori, principal investigator for the FCC

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