"Perhaps the debate on affirmative action will have an impact on industries that truly have a more diverse employee base," said Donna Paulino, exec VP of the Chicago Advertising Federation, a pro bono program designed to advance the careers of minorities in the advertising industry.
On June 12, the Supreme Court delivered a 5-4 decision which set a tough new "strict scrutiny" standard for justifying policies designed to benefit minorities. Additionally, Sen. Jesse Helms (R., N.C.) and Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R., Kan.) are both introducing separate legislation to eliminate preferential programs. And the state of California will most likely place an initiative on the November 1996 ballot that if approved could prevent the state from using race, sex or color as a basis for preferential hiring.
Although most agencies and marketers don't have affirmative action programs or hiring quotas, many companies have created diversity initiatives in employment and contracting to ultimately reach a broader consumer market.
"The agency business has never been into preferential hiring or treatment, so I don't see that current debates will affect us," said Don Richards, senior VP-director of resource development at Leo Burnett Co., and member of the Chicago Advertising Federation and the American Association of Advertising Agencies' Diversity Council. That program was started last year by former Four A's Chairman Ed Wax to improve the minority landscape in the advertising industry.
"Look, when women came into the business, it had nothing to do with affirmative action. Women were the ones purchasing a lot of the products. It's a business of ideas, and the more ideas from a diverse group of people, the better," Mr. Richards said.
Of about 2,000 U.S. Burnett employees, about 18% are minorities.
Procter & Gamble Co. Chairman Ed Artzt, in a May speech upon accepting the Private Sector Leadership Award at the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights said, "We have a moral contract to provide equal opportunity for employment, advancement and financial reward; and no change in law or regulation would cause us to turn back the clock."
However, some people believe many companies offer only token efforts when it comes to diversification and equal opportunity.
Lowell Thompson, a Chicago-based adman who runs a Minority Talent Hotline and has been in the ad business for 27 years, feels most agencies and marketers have been discriminating for a long time.
"Fewer black people are working in major agencies today than 20 years ago," Mr. Thompson said. "The conservative slant of the country, the lack of affirmative action laws and the lack of major clients to force agencies to diversify is the root of the problem ....If affirmative action were abolished the advertising industry would suffer no effect, because there's been no display of it anyway."