IN CHILLY NORTHLAND, SHOPS STRAIN FOR DIVERSITY: MINNESOTA'S SMALL MINORITY BASE MAKES RECRUITING THAT MUCH TOUGHER

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Different voices, different faces" is the oft-stated goal of Minnesota advertising executives -- an admirable goal considering the state is not known for the diversity of its general population.

Minneapolis agencies Carm-ichael Lynch and Martin/Williams have been striving to cultivate more diverse workplaces. The efforts were sparked several years ago by an affirmative action certification program, run by the state's Department of Human Rights.

STATE MONITORS EMPLOYEE BASE

The certification is based on the state's quarterly monitoring of the agency's employee base. The state considers hiring and recruiting practices, company training programs and how terminations are handled.

A formula that incorporates job skills and workforce populations based on information from the U.S. Census also is used to determine compliance status, according to Melanie Miles, investigator compliance division, Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

TWO AGENCIES CERTIFIED

Both agencies are certified by the state, but only Carmichael Lynch currently handles state accounts.

Carmichael Lynch handles advertising for the state's lottery, tourism and Department of Natural Resources. Martin/Williams has previously handled the Department of Health's Stop Teenage Smoking campaign.

Agency executives agree that it's in their long-term best interests to encourage diversity among their employees. While it is not forthrightly stated by clients, executives say they sense clients do notice a lack of minority representation at the table.

"It's not that clients are looking at us or counting heads and actually saying, `well, how many people of color do you have on staff?' but they want to know whether we have the depth of experience, the diversity in backgrounds, the creativity and flexibility that would allow us to successfully understand a client's advertising needs," says Mike Gray, partner-business development at Martin/Williams. "Clients want to be assured that their business is in the hands of an agency that is up to the challenge of communicating with a diverse audience."

NUMBERS ARE IMPORTANT

The state, on the other hand, does count heads. All businesses who want to work for the state must be certified.

For an advertising agency -- or any other business -- to receive certification from the state it must conform to state regulation.

"Our job is to certify businesses as affirmative action employers, meaning diversity of workforce, backgrounds, cultures, race, sex and disability," says Ms. Miles.

Of the 204 employees at Carmichael Lynch, 6% -- or 12 people -- comprise the agency's minority population. Martin/Williams employs 11 minority employees; that's 4% of its 281-member staff.

Doug Spong, managing partner at Carmichael Lynch, says the certification is more than a tool to obtain state contracts for his agency.

"It's a broader issue -- that of marketplace diversity. And how can we as an agency talk to the public ... without reflecting the diversity of the public ourselves?" says Mr. Spong, who also is president of Carmichael Lynch Spong PR, the shop's PR division.

MINORITIES 8.4% OF POPULATION

Mr. Spong notes that achieving workforce diversity in the state is difficult, given the state's predominantly Caucasian population.

According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, 8.4% of the state's 4.6 million residents in 1995 were classified as minority (that classification includes African-American, Aleut and Asian-Pacific Islanders, Eskimo, Hispanic and Native American.

Minneapolis agency executives say because there's a small pool of home-grown prospects, they must try to make both formal and informal efforts to reach out to potential employees.

"Because we deal with mass audiences, it's in our best interest to be sure our people are of different backgrounds," says John Forney, director of administration, Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis. Fallon is not certified by the state. "We've done a lot on an informal basis, with staff members reaching out to various groups, organizations and schools, but now we're trying to formalize a minority scholarship program that frankly would help us balance out a fairly vanilla organization."

AGENCIES LOOK TO IN-ROADS

Martin/Williams this summer plans to hook up with InRoads, a minority internship program that places college students in the workplace. Campbell Mithun Esty, another Minneapolis agency, also participates in InRoads.

Improving agency diversity is considered the most challenging issue faced by the industry overall, CME executives say, but that through InRoads the agency has been able to bring some diversity to its workforce.

"Our goal is to have them work with us. We'll coach them, mentor them and develop an ongoing relationship so that when they're graduated, they'll be ready for a full-time position with the agency," says Tena Murphy, director of human resources, Martin/Williams.

"One of the keys to improving diversity is to increase the number of people of different backgrounds that are encouraged to apply for work here. I often try to talk with promising candidates, even if there is not an opening at the exact moment."

FUTURE REQUIRES DIVERSITY

More often than not in the coming years, says Mr. Gray, that means agencies will have to work hard to insure a workforce that mirrors the audience to which it intends to communicate.

"So much advertising is based on actual experiences," notes Mr. Spong, and having that experience in-house makes it easier to create the best possible advertising.

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