Taking on a role most actively exercised last by Cardiss Collins, who retired from Congress two years ago, the Democratic freshman from Michigan is leading the charge into one of the ad industry's most controversial areas.
The use of minority-owned media and agencies, and recruitment of minority talent, has moved to the forefront. And it was Rep. Kilpatrick who fired off a letter recently to the Association of National Advertisers requesting the formation of a task force on issues affecting African-Americans.
RECRUITED BY AAF
Rep. Kilpatrick didn't come to the role of her own accord. She actually was recruited by the American Advertising Federation, which is targeting diversity issues and sought the additional attention that a congresswoman's interest could bring.
"What Cardiss Collins was doing was working on a number of legislative issues, and then she goes and retires on us," said Jeff Perlman, AAF senior VP. "We thought it important to bring together interested public officials and the industry."
Rep. Kilpatrick "is respected and could provide the leadership and credibility we have to have to help build better relationships," he noted.
AAF didn't feel it needed someone in Congress to raise the issue, Mr. Perlman said, but did believe that congressional attention could help bring together the key players in marketing and media. That, in turn, could more quickly resolve issues.
Rep. Kilpatrick admitted she didn't start out with much knowledge of the advertising issues, but said she's been learning fast. And with that has come a growing interest in resolving some of the problems minority publishers and broadcast media owners face.
"I met with [AAF President] Wally Snyder and it was my first introduction to the advertising area," Rep. Kilpatrick told Advertising Age. "But when I took a closer look and saw $20 billion in spending and less than $80 million going to minority media and agencies," leaving the thought hanging for effect.
She said getting a fair share of media dollars has a major effect on minority communities as well -- providing jobs, business growth and training.
"You get more working with people than beating [them] over the heads," she said, adding that it's her intention to work with agencies, media buyers and marketers.
"I am not asking for a handout; I am asking for a business proposal," she said. "I want to get things done, to bring the parties to the table and make everyone happy."
Last week, the Association of National Advertisers said it would meet with the Congressional Black Caucus.
"Our members' interest is to find the most effective way to reach all consumers," said ANA Exec VP Dan Jaffe. "The issue of dealing with multicultural needs is high on the agenda of advertisers."