The Madison Avenue Initiative

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

citizens who pay taxes and participate in the bottom lines of many of these corporations will in fact begin to share in the American dream and those advertising dollars that are so sacred," says Cheeks Kilpatrick. A request that the Government Accounting Office conduct a governmentwide study to help determine whether the federal government has complied with the national policy favoring competition and the use of small businesses in the placement of advertising has been sent to Vice President Al Gore.

Sharpton is recommending that corporations make advertising purchases that approach the level of minority consumer patronage of their products in specific markets. "So, if we’re talking to a company that does 40% of its sales with blacks and Latinos, we’ll be expecting a lot more from them than a company that might do marginal sales," he explains. He also says that during the negotiations, the NAN will try to explain how advertising to minority consumers is beneficial to their company’s growth, and is not a philanthropic gesture. When negotiating with advertising agencies, Sharpton says that he will negotiate more than media placements. He says he wants to deal with "everything from employment to jingles and how they deal with a lot of black artists’ material but won’t hire black artists."

The "no urban/ Spanish dictates" and "minority discounts" policies have affected magazines and newspapers as well. "An ad agency told us last year that black folks do not read," says Tom Ficklin, CEO of Inner-City Newspaper, a weekly based in New Haven, Connecticut, with a statewide circulation of 35,000. "Whether it is described in the sanitized cloak of urban dictates or called just plain-vanilla ignorance, the result is the same-the denial of a bias-free evaluation of our market reach."

The hope is that if advertisers continue to avoid advertising in minority communities, gradually consumers will begin to wonder why. Similarly, if African American consumers become aware that advertisers are imposing a "black tax" on them, the hope is they will revolt.

"If you’re saying that the marketplace deserves one kind of revenue, but if it’s in the black community, it deserves a different kind of revenue, then you’re saying blacks are three-fifths of a man again," bristles Sharpton. "I’m not going to allow you to do that."

Sharpton says the NAN Madison Avenue Initiative will review the policies of advertisers and agencies with the goal of negotiating solutions that do not devalue minority consumers. Arriving at such solutions may be a long and possibly bitter process.

Even though "no urban/Spanish dictates" and "minority discounts" have been exposed and acknowledged, there is no evidence that ad revenue rates for minority media have been placed on a par with their white counterparts.

So far, there has been movement from several corporations that have entered into discussions with Sharpton and the NAN. Pepsi-Cola agreed to spend up to 15% more advertising on black-owned radio stations and up

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