Rev. Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network and the Madison Ave. Initiative, met with Chrysler's Jim Schroer, exec VP-sales and marketing, on April 15-the day requests for proposals in the review were due-to discuss fears that Chrysler might award the business to a non-minority shop. "He left under good terms" at the automaker's headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., according to a Chrysler spokesman.
While Mr. Sharpton said the meeting lasted about an hour and went well, he emphasized, "There is no way we are going to sit by silently and watch minority entrepreneurs be swallowed up by big agencies that... are now trying to form minority market wings to their companies to get the minority budgets. Because in effect, they are trying to have it both ways."
Rev. Jackson, founder and president of Rainbow/Push Coalition, sent a letter dated April 13 to Mr. Schroer requesting a meeting "at the earliest possible date." At the end of the business day April 17, he hadn't heard back from Chrysler. A Chrysler spokesman said April 18 the letter hadn't arrived yet.
Rev. Jackson said he's concerned the account will go to a general-market agency. DaimlerChrysler "sees us as consumers, as workers and as shareholders, yet they can't seem to see us as trading partners," he said. When asked if he will call for a boycott, he replied: "Let me tell you what our process is-research, education, negotiation. If that fails, there's demonstration."
Of the more than 20 shops that received the RFP, most are multicultural, according to a Chryslter spokesman, who declined to identify them. The RFP asked whether shops are pitching alone or in alliance. Advertising Age has learned that alliances have been formed by Hispanic, African-American, Asian-American and gay shops.
The next step, according to an executive in the review, is likely to be speculative campaigns that are to be reimbursed by Chrysler.
Independents E. Morris Communications, Chicago, and Cartel Creativo, San Antonio, which are both 100% minority-owned, are believed to be contenders. At least three other shops believed to be in the review are not registered with minority business councils. Omnicom Group's PASS, New York, and its S/R Communications Alliance, New York, are not certified as minority-owned companies by the New York/New Jersey Minority Purchasing Council, and its Footsteps Group, Detroit, is not listed by the Michigan Minority Business Council. Companies must be 51% owned by minorities in order to be certified.
The incumbent, Interpublic Group of Cos.' GlobalHue, is certified in Michigan. A spokesman for Chrysler's diversity-supplier department said bids don't necessarily go to shops registered with minority business councils.
Footsteps handles multicultural business for DaimlerChrylser's Mercedes Benz and is 51% African-American owned (Omnicom owns 49%). Alvin Gay, managing partner, Footsteps, would not comment on the review, but believes an urban-marketing approach "is not about taking money away from someone. It's all about finding where your business opportunities are."
Mr. Sharpton is keeping an eye on the situation. "We want to make sure the process is fair and minorities are not cut out of the competition," he said. "It's like watching the Lakers against the Knicks. We just want the playing field even and may the best man win. My problem is I don't want the hockey team coming in and taking the ball from them."