Row over minority practices: Black radio targets Ogilvy in protest aimed at agencies

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Supporters of investigations into the advertising industry's minority-hiring practices and the allocation of media dollars on federal advertising contracts turned up the heat last week with a rally in front of the Manhattan headquarters of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide.

Press releases were handed out to curious onlookers, some on break from their jobs at the agency. Bearing the headline, "NY Black Radio Talk Jocks Protest Continued Federal Ad Dollar `Redlining' of Black Media by Madison Avenue Agencies," the press release charged, "WPP Group agencies and the other major NYC ad agencies continue their policy of de facto segregation in both employment and media buying."

The New York City Commission on Human Rights launched a fact-finding effort in November into the hiring of minorities at the city's largest agencies, following allegations that Madison Avenue's hiring of minorities lags behind other industries (AA, Jan. 19). The probe was recently upgraded to an investigation (AA, May 24).

The point of last week's event, said its organizer Sanford Moore, host of WRKS-FM's "Open Line" and "Week in Review" radio shows, "was not to demonstrate, but to represent a point of view and show involvement." Attendees included Bob Law, a long-time jock on American Urban Radio Network and current chair of The Coalition of Artists and Activists; Samuel Spady, host of WVOX-AM Monday-night talk show, "Straight from the Ghetto"; and attorney Roger Wareham of Thomas Wareham & Richards, Brooklyn, one of the firms suing several U.S. corporations for their alleged involvement in the slave trade.

past issues

While Ogilvy is not the only agency targeted by the city's probe into employment practices, the WPP shop was singled out in 1999 during an inquiry by the Congressional Black Caucus regarding how it purchased media time on behalf of its client, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. CBC members at the time questioned why only a small portion of the total budget was spent in African-American media markets when, the CBC argued, African-American youth suffer more than other groups from the consequences of drugs.

"ONDCP is by far the largest government advertiser in African-American targeted newspapers. African-American teens receive nearly 40% more overall campaign exposure than the general population," said Tom Riley, director-public affairs, ONDCP. He said there is no mandate that a percentage of the media purchased must correspond to the percentage of an ethnic group's representation in the general population.

Agency representatives, meanwhile, have held meetings with Human Rights Commission Chief Patricia Gatling. Howard Rubin, partner at law firm Davis & Gilbert, which represents eight shops in the matter, recently hired Bill Lynch, former New York Deputy Mayor and ex-vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, to lobby on behalf of its clients. Mr. Lynch met with Ms. Gatling on May 24 and "expressed our willingness to cooperate," Mr. Rubin said.

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