NAACP calls on Top 25 advertisers to hold agencies accountable


On the heels of the public launch of the Madison Avenue Project, and a recent study that exposed pervasive racial bias in America’s ad industry, the NAACP has sent a letter to Procter & Gamble Chairman of the Board/CEO A.G. Lafley asking the big budget advertiser require their agencies to use diverse teams in creative and account management positions. In addition to Procter & Gamble, which spent $5.2 billion on advertising in 2007, the NAACP has also issued letters to AT&T, Verizon, General Motors, Time Warner, Ford, GlaxoSmith Kline, Johnson & Johnson, Disney, Unilever, Sprint Nextel, GE, Toyota, Chrysler, Sony, L’Oreal, Sears, Kraft Foods, Bank of America, Nissan, Macy’s, Anheuser Busch InBev, Honda, Viacom and Berkshire, as the 25 highest budget advertisers in 2007. Together, these 25 firms spent $52.6 billion on advertising in 2007.

The letter, from NAACP Interim General Counsel Angela Ciccolo, requests that each company, identify a senior exec to serve as a point of contact on the issue of racial bias in the advertising industry and to meet promptly with the NAACP. It states, “The initial emphasis in the Madison Avenue Project is the Big Four holding companies that dominate the industry — Omnicon, WPP, Interpublic and Publicis…[We] seek your support as the NAACP works to fight discrimination in the advertising industry.”

The initiative comes two months after representatives of the NAACP attended a news conference in New York called by Cyrus Mehri, a lawyer with a track record of extracting large settlements on behalf of employees who believed they had been the victims of racial discrimination. Mehri announced the Madison Avenue Project at the news conference, which addresses possible discrimination at the agencies in hiring, compensation, assignments and promotions of and for black employees and potential employees.
The ad industry has responded to by pointing to many efforts to increase the number of black employees at agencies. The most recent was the appointment on last week of Adrianne C. Smith as executive director for the Center for Excellence in Advertising at Howard University. The center was founded in September with an initial $250,000 grant from the American Association of Advertising Agencies and is being managed by the John H. Johnson School of Communications at Howard.

Drawing upon the Madison Avenue Project study, “Research Perspectives on Race and Employment in the Advertising Industry,” which found dramatic levels of racial discrimination throughout the industry against African-American professionals within pay, hiring, promotions, assignments, and other areas, the NAACP letter states:

“African-Americans have worked in advertising since the modern American advertising industry emerged more than 100 years ago. Yet, as employment discrimination has sharply diminished across the American labor market over recent decades, systemic barriers to equal opportunity in this $31 billion a year industry have remained largely intact. Racial discrimination is 38% worse in the advertising industry than in the overall U.S. labor market, and that ‘discrimination divide’ between advertising and other U.S. industries is more than twice as large today as it was 30 years ago.”

The letter further cites specific findings including:

Black college graduates working in advertising earn $.80 for every dollar earned by their equally qualified White counterparts; based on national demographic data, 9.6% of advertising managers and professionals would be expected to be African-Americans. The actual percentage in 2008 was 5.3%, representing a difference of 7,200 executive-level jobs;
About 16% of large advertising firms employ no black managers or professionals;
Black managers and professionals in the industry are only one-tenth as likely as their White counterparts to earn $100,000 a year;
Blacks are only 62% as likely as their White counterparts to work in the powerful “creative” and “client contact” functions in advertising agencies.