Ad Industry Blasted for 'Sanctioned Segregation'

Comments by True Agency's Richard Wayner Heat Up Panel Discussion

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LA QUINTA, Calif. (AdAge.com) -- Advertising agencies remain segregated remnants of the 1950s, in effect casting multicultural agencies aside in virtual "Negro leagues," said Richard Wayner, CEO of the True Agency, during a heated question-and-answer session after a panel discussion at the Los Angeles Association of Advertising Agencies on May 6.

'Sanctioned segregation'
"The ad industry is essentially a segregated industry in terms of how people work and think," said Mr. Wayner, who was seated in the audience at the discussion about agency issues. "It is sanctioned segregation and supported by clients."

The panel, moderated by Jerry McGee, exec VP-Western Region, American Association of Advertising Agencies, held five Southern California executives. Mr. McGee asked why, after all the years of programs the industry has endorsed to bring more minorities into the business, were there only two African-Americans -- Mr. Wayner and Jo Muse, chairman, Muse Cordero Chen & Partners -- in attendance at the session.

Recruitment troubles cited
Panelist Rick Colby, president-executive creative director, Colby & Partners, Santa Monica, Calif., said he is looking to create a more diverse work force, but has had trouble finding minorities to bring on his staff. Recently, he said, he called a recruiter and the only names she offered were of two white males in their early 30s. Carisa Bianchi, president, TBWA/Chiat/Day, also on the panel, noted that the next generation coming into the work force is truly diverse.

Other panelists pointed out that marketers construct their ad budgets in a manner that allocates a certain percentage specifically to minority or ethnic spending, thus leading to the tendency of minorities to gather in ethnic agencies.

Mr. Wayner, a former investment banker, said marketers have designated 5% of their budgets to African-American and Hispanic advertising. The result is that instead of integrating multicultural employees and management into the work force, the marketing industry as a whole has set up multicultural shops tantamount to asking aspiring agency executives to play in baseball's "Negro leagues," he said.

Mr. McGee volunteered to help Mr. Wayner and moved on to another questioner.

Rise to prominence
True Agency came to prominence in July 2002 when it won a pitch to handle urban and African-American marketing for Nissan North America. The agency shortly thereafter moved to Playa del Rey, Calif., where it rented space in the offices of TBWA/Chiat/Day, Nissan's general market agency.

Over the years, a number of True's campaigns were lauded in the press, among them a tour of a Nissan Armada placed in a glass cube labeled "Break Glass in Case of Adventure." Others including dressing a New York City street with parking meters and other street furniture appearing to be melted because a "hot" new Nissan was nearby.

The agency, which espouses a concept it has dubbed "transculturalism," stirred up controversy when it won the Nissan pitch because it did not immediately have minority certification. One competitor, Eugene Morris, chairman-CEO of minority-certified E. Morris Communications, Chicago, complained to the Rev. Jesse Jackson over True's win.

Although several reports indicated TBWA and its parent, Omnicom Group, had a stake in the agency, Mr. Wayner said True Agency has been 100% independently owned. He said that after three-and-a-half years of on and off discussions, True and TBWA/Chiat/Day were unable to agree on merger terms. One stumbling block was price. He said the other was his desire to have True merged into TBWA/Chiat/Day in a way that the agency would have more of a say in the general advertising, and not be relegated to an African-American focus.

"We are trying to find a strong partner willing to integrate us and take us out of the Negro Leagues and the Latin Leagues," said Mr. Wayne in an interview Saturday afternoon.

Pulling away from TBWA
The 40-plus employee agency, which still works on Nissan, moved out of TBWA/Chiat/Day's offices at the beginning of this year. True's new headquarters is a few blocks away.

Neal Grossman, chief operating officer, TBWA/Chiat/Day, said the talks broke down because True wanted to be "100% independently owned." He added, "We respect that." He also said that because TBWA is part of a holding company, "there are certain requirements you have to live with."

The 4A's Mr. McGee, in an interview after the session, said, "We absolutely need to do more as an industry to diversify. We have to re-examine our programs and make those work. This is not acceptable. Just as media goes cross-platforms, why don't we do that culturally ourselves?"

The event, held at the La Qunita Resort & Club, drew 175 registrants and featured presentations by Susan Lyne, president-CEO, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and Stuart Redsun, exec VP of startup mobile phone service Helio. The Los Angles Association of Advertising Agencies also said it plans to rename itself ThinkLA, and expand representation to include Hollywood and the media in a push to tout the creativity of the region.

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