Study Finds Racial Bias in Advertising Industry - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

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diversitymandisgruntlednew“Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark,” Nat King Cole said about the advertising industry in 1957 after he abandoned his eponymously named television show. Despite the show’s success, no advertisers were willing give national sponsorship to the first show hosted by a black man.

A new study released yesterday by the Madison Avenue Project, a partnership between the NAACP and civil rights law firm Mehri & Skalet P.L.L.C., addresses racial disparities that continue to exist in the advertising industry. (Madison Avenue and the ad industry have been synonymous since the explosive growth in the New York City street in the 1920s.)

The study found that compared with the overall labor market, the racial pay gap in advertising is more than twice as large as it was 30 years ago– evidence Cyrus Mehri says is proof that things have not changed much since Cole’s show.

“Forty-five years after the passage of the civil rights act of 1964, they are still a closed society. They are an industry where favoritism rules the day and merit is cast aside,” says Mehri, founding partner of Mehri & Skalet. Mehri has served as co-lead class counsel in some of the largest and most significant race and gender cases in history.

Among other issues, “Research Perspectives on Race and Employment in the Advertising Industry” measures the pay gap between whites and blacks and addresses what can be done to rectify the problem. The study, conducted by Bendick and Egan Economic Consultants, found that the black—white gap averages 38% larger in advertising than in the overall U.S. labor market. Additionally, blacks with the same qualifications would need to be paid 25% more to earn the same as whites.

Urging inclusion

“We are going to call on all of the clients and companies that rely on the multibillion- dollar advertising industry to take a really good and hard look at the facts surrounding African American employment and to join the Madison Avenue Project in seeking change,” said Angela Ciccolo, interim general counsel/secretary to the NAACP.

In order to even the playing field in this $31 billion a year industry, leading global advertising companies such as Omnicon, WPP, Interpublic, and Publicis would need to triple the employment of black managers and professionals, which, at the present rate, will not occur for another 71 years, according to the study.

“Madison Avenue erected a semi-apartheid marketing system in America,” says Sanford Moore, a radio personality on Kiss-FM, who worked for both general market agencies and minority-owned agencies for more than 40 years. “The industry wants to terrorize the financial situation [of black media, whether magazine or radio] by discounting the importance of black consumers.”

The study suggests that public oversight and pressure from advertising agencies’ client firms could also be a promising source to influence advertising agencies to decrease the employment, promotion, and pay gap.

Earl G. Graves Jr., president and CEO of Earl G. Graves Publishing, which publishes Black Enterprise magazine and, and an outspoken

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.