FORUM: AD SPENDING SLIGHTS BLACK CONSUMERS

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Robert Johnson of Black Entertainment Television reported that in 1997, for the first time, advertiser spending targeted to African-Americans would exceed $1 billion. Although it sounded like a lot, something made me ask, "Compared to what?"

It took a few weeks to nail down the number I was looking for-the total amount expected to be spent on advertising in the U.S.: $115 billion in 1997, according to investment house Veronis, Suhler & Associaties.

A BIG DIFFERENCE

What difference does it make to African-American communities? Well, if you think local black newspapers should have more color pictures or a bigger staff of writers or add more sections; or if you wonder why your local TV station has no shows that cover the community or only shows them after midnight, then these figures make a big difference.

If you wonder why the only ads seen on outdoor boards in our neighborhood are for malt liquor, or tobacco, then these figures make a big difference.

And when big issues like O.J., ebonics or Rodney King come up and our community media are obliterated by a torrent of hostile media, it all goes back to the big disparity in advertising dollars.

Let's discuss what real parity might mean-about $13.8 billion in ad revenue based on the 12% African-American percentage of the population. Even if we take the much smaller African-American percentage of national income, 3%, the figure should be $3.45 billion.

ADS PLACED ONCE A YEAR

A good portion of the advertising directed towards the African-American community was focused in on last month, because of Black History Month. Although we're supposed to feel good when corporations recognize this history, we must take a hard look at what they're really saying with a quarter-page ad once per year.

Successful publications get consistent advertising from their clients based on the market they're going after. Anyone who really wants black consumers must realize they are consumers all year around.

There isn't a single major national advertiser who devotes at least 3% of its ad budget to the black market. That has to be a new benchmark for consumers who evaluate who to do business with.

There is a direct relationship between those low figures and the 2.9% hiring percentage reported in Advertising Age (AA, Feb. 17). (Editor's note: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported awareness that ad support would not occur due to structural racism in the ad industry.

Yet the minstrel-show antics of the WB, UPN and Fox TV networks have been underwritten by the same industry, which doesn't ask how NBC moved from the Cosby channel to Nothing But Caucasians.

A 1996 national survey of ad agencies taken by the University of Missouri School of Journalism for the National Newspaper Publishers Association found very few ever place any advertising in black-owned media and most could not recall scheduling a visit from their ad representatives. As a publisher of 25 years standing, I know that is not because we're not calling; it is because the calls aren't being returned.

NETWORK FORMED

Our publication just formed the Parity Business News Network, along with the Network Journal of New York, Philadelphia Business Review and other business-to-business publications to provide a one-insertion package that covers the country for product, recruitment and procurement advertising.

The strategy of hiring a couple dozen interns indicates the industry is still stuck in a rut of marginalizing and stereotyping an African-American audience that has grown from 40,000 managers and professionals in 1964 to 2.3 million in 1994. More than 60,000 of them are graduates of communication programs from just the historically black colleges and universities. So the qualified entry-level and management people are there. None of my fellow publishers recall receiving recruitment ads from agencies with vacancies.

When my son graduates from J-school in three years, he is likely to face the same reception I received from Washington's top ad agency as a 20-year-old. After I scored the highest aptitude for advertising ever measured by its psychological testing, it still had no job available. I remember the chairman's words: "According to the test, you should have my job." Perhaps that was the problem.

So please don't pat yourself on the back for achieving 2.9% African-American hiring in the advertising industry. You're still behind the percentage of black Ph.D.'s in physics, 3.5%. And advertising isn't rocket science.

Mr. Templeton is executive editor of Griot in San Francisco, an African-

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