Ad Trade Groups Retains Lobbyist for Diversity Issue

Move Comes as NYC Prepares for Public Hearings on Hiring Practices

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- As the specter of public hearings on the Madison Avenue's diversity hiring practices looms, the advertising industry's trade association has hired a lobbying firm to target members of New York City's City Council.

Former state official
The American Association of Advertising Agencies contracted with Bolton-St. Johns, a lobbying firm whose principles include former New York State assembly speaker Mel Miller, in early April, according to New York City's office of the city clerk, for a period ending in December 2006, to target the New York City City Council on "issues related to advertising."

Adonis Hoffman, senior VP-counsel for the Four A's, said the City Council's focus on diversity is "one of the issues" that led the trade group to hire Bolton-St. Johns. "We thought it would be appropriate and prudent to work with a firm who could monitor all the developments in New York that affect our industry."

Calls to Bolton-St. Johns were not returned at press time.

Harsh criticism
In early March, City Councilman Larry Seabrook harshly criticized the New York City advertising industry's hiring practices of minorities, calling them "an embarrassment for a diverse city." At the time he vowed to hold hearings within three months and said he'd likely subpoena industry executives to testify. He also raised the possibility of asking clients for their positions on diversity and "how they feel about working with agencies that aren't diverse." A spokesman for Mr. Seabrook said that holding hearings in June remains the goal, but added that budget hearings, which are ongoing now, take precedence, which delay them until the fall.

As the chair of the City Council's Committee on Civil Rights, Mr. Seabrook oversees the New York City Human Rights Commission, which in late 2003 launched a probe into New York City agencies' hiring practices of minorities and requested data on minority employees from 17 agencies, including some of the city's largest -- BBDO, Saatchi & Saatchi and Ogilvy & Mather. Patricia Gatling, head of the Human Rights Commission, has not revealed the results of the investigation, but in March publicly expressed concern over agencies' low numbers of minority employees. A HRC spokeswoman said the investigation is ongoing.

Previous lobbying efforts
This is not the first attempt by the advertising industry to lobby city politicians on the diversity issue. Back in May, 2004, the law firm of Davis & Gilbert, which represents a number of agencies involved in the HRC's investigation, hired Bill Lynch, former New York City deputy mayor and ex-vice chair of the Democratic National Committee. At the time, he said his role was to help Davis & Gilbert establish a dialogue with the HRC as well as with Councilman Seabrook. Mr. Lynch is no longer employed by Davis & Gilbert.

This time around, the Four A's efforts could be dampened by new legislation, passed in May by the City Council, intended to curb lobbyists' influence on elected officials. Among other things, the bills add enforcement powers and investigators to the City Clerk's office, which oversees lobbyists, and increases the dollar amount of penalities for violating lobbying laws.

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