NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The New York City Commission on Human Rights is gathering data from some of Manhattan's largest advertising agencies regarding their employment of minorities, following allegations that Madison Avenue's hiring of minorities lags behind other industries.
Letters, mailed to agencies in early November, requested specifics on agency staffing, said Betsy Herzog, a commission spokeswoman. "At this time, our effort is fact-finding," she said. "This is not an investigation."
Ms. Herzog did not provide details on the sort of information being requested by the commission. But knowledgeable executives said the query asked for 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's 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.
Asked why the commission is undertaking the effort now, Ms. Herzog said, "We've received allegations that many agencies in the industry could be in violation of the New York City human rights law."
Former adman and current WRKS (98.7 FM) radio talk-show host Sanford Moore (who uses the on-air name Charles W. Etheridge) said he contacted Patricia Gatling, the agency's commissioner and chair, last summer. "I brought up statistics from prior years," he said. "In managerial and professional categories, you are looking at a minute proportion ... you do not have representation of blacks on the boards of directors and in higher managerial echelons at the major agencies, whereas blacks represent some 30% of the population in New York City."
Commission letters were sent in early November, said the executives, and requested a response by early December. One executive said that subpoenas have been sent to some of the agencies that have not replied.
Four of a dozen of New York City's largest agencies, contacted by Advertising Age confirmed they had received such a request and responded: Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide; Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote Cone & Belding; and Grey Global Group's units Grey Interactive and Grey Direct. Spokespeople at two agencies, Havas' Euro RSCG MVBMS Partners and Publicis Groupe's Kaplan Thaler Group said they had not received a letter, and spokespeople for other agencies were checking into the matter at press time.
A spokesman for the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the industry trade association, said it does not provide breakdowns of the ethnic and racial composition of the work forces of its member agencies. "New York City's work force is among the most diverse of all markets in the U.S.," said Four A's spokesman Kipp Cheng. "Even if the data doesn't reflect that diversity, I'd venture to guess that the ad industry has gotten better than it has been in the past. I'd also guess that it is on par with or exceeds other service industries in New York City."
The Human Rights Commission evolved out of the Committee on Unity by Executive Order established in 1944 by New York Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia. In the past year, the commission has investigated the resident real estate industry.
Following several years of the commission's monitoring agency hiring practices, in the early 1970s the Commission targeted three ad agencies as "complaints of discrimination." Each signed so-called conciliation agreements, which resulted in the agencies implementing commission-approved procedures intended to produce a "positive change" in hiring, according to a Commission on Human Rights Analysis published in 1978.