Ad Agency Chiefs Subpoenaed for NYC Diversity Hearings

Testimony Scheduled to Coincide With Advertising Week

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- There will be two parades taking place during September's Advertising Week: a march of ad icons and a procession of Madison Avenue's leading executives to testify at hearings on the issue of their agencies' poor records in hiring black employees.
Among those subpeonaed are DDB CEO Chuck Brymer; Mary Baglivo, CEO, Saatchi & Saatchi, New York; Christoph Becker, chairman-chief creative officer, FCB, New York; and Ogilvy's Co-CEO North America Bill Gray. | ALSO: Comment on this story in the 'Your Opinion' box below.
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16 executives
The Human Rights Commission last week sent subpoenas to 16 chief executives of large New York City-based agencies, including such adland luminaries as DDB's recently appointed CEO Chuck Brymer and Ogilvy's Co-CEO North America Bill Gray. Those subpoenas, according to an executive familiar with the situation, request the ad chiefs to appear at the public hearings, which will be held in New York from Sept. 25-29.

That means their testimonies will coincide with the annual celebration of advertising that is Advertising Week -- although maybe "coincide" is the wrong word, given that shaming the industry into improving its minority recruitment efforts clearly seems to be part of the HRC's strategy. A commission spokeswoman declined to comment on anything relating to the matter.

In addition to Messrs. Brymer and Grey, other executives who have been subpoenaed include Gerry Frascione, CEO, BBDO North America; Lawrence Kimmel, CEO, Grey Direct; Mary Baglivo, CEO, Saatchi & Saatchi, New York; and Christoph Becker, chairman-chief creative officer, FCB, New York.

Two-year investigation
The hearings are the next step in a nearly two-year-long investigation by the commission into Madison Avenue's hiring practices of minorities, with a specific focus on the number of black people employed by the shops. After the hearings, a report will be written, based on the findings, and the commission will "take appropriate action," depending on what is uncovered, according to an executive close to the matter.

Scrutiny of the industry began in November 2004, when the commission queried nearly 20 agencies regarding their employment of minorities, asking for such details as the number of agency employees; a breakdown of those employees by job categories; and an analysis of employee race and ethnicity within each job category.

The commission took action after receiving allegations that the industry could be in violation of New York City's Human Rights Law, said an HRC spokeswoman at the time. Several months later, the commission upgraded its probe to a formal investigation.

Legal powers
Its jurisdiction includes the ability to prosecute discrimination based on race, creed, color, and national origin in employment, public accommodations and housing as well as commercial space. Those found to have violated the law may be fined up to $100,000. To date, no ad agency has been sued for discrimination. The hearings look to bring clarity to the investigation and reach a resolution, said another executive familiar with the matter.

Lawyers for the agencies and the HRC over the past year have had on-and-off discussions on the issue. The HRC has not publicly disclosed data garnered from the agencies. One executive familiar with talks said that in 1968, the last time the commission investigated the issue, of 40 agencies, black employees represented 3.53% of total employment. Today, of the 16 agencies being spotlighted, 9% of all employees are black. Critics charge that blacks, which represent 25% of New York City's population (whites comprise 35%), are underrepresented in the ranks of agency employees, particularly within senior management.

The HRC's September hearings are separate from plans underway by the Civil Rights Committee of New York's City Council to hold hearings on similar issues. Councilman Larry Seabrook, head of the Civil Rights Committee, has pledged to hold hearings but a date has not yet been set.

Attorneys representing the agencies didn't return calls for comment.
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