Do-Nothing Execs Take One Step Closer to Diversity Suit

An Ad Age Editorial

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We hate to say we told you so, but only two months ago in this space, we wrote the following about the lack of diversity in the advertising industry: "If agency executives don't come to the table and start using their own sets of tools (and money) to unravel this mess, the next tool likely to be reached for will be lawyers."

Of course, there is no lawsuit -- yet. But Cyrus Mehri, of the firm Mehri & Skalet, has commissioned his own study of the advertising industry. That study hasn't been completed, but the preliminary findings aren't a surprise to anyone. African-Americans account for 13% of the general population. By extrapolating from industries similar to advertising, they should account for 9.5% of the professional ranks and 7.2% of the managerial ranks. Instead they account for 5.8% of the professional ranks and a stunning 3.2% of the managerial ranks. And those figures include African-American specialty shops.

Mr. Mehri refused to comment on what exactly he planned to do with his findings, but one would have to assume that he didn't commission this study out of idle curiosity.

"I want to be clear that our firm has commissioned this study because we do our homework before we come in with guns blazing," he told Advertising Age, adding, "We're serious players. . . . We're going to build this up step by step. This is a world of difference compared to anything [the industry has] faced before."

The majority of our readers may not think a lawsuit or the threat thereof will accomplish anything. But when one considers what lawsuits accomplished in the halls of Coca-Cola and Texaco and offices on Wall Street, it would have to be hubris -- or worse, absolute cluelessness -- to think that advertising agencies can somehow withstand this sort of assault.

Separately from the threat of lawsuit, the New York City Committee on Civil Rights has called a hearing this week. When a similar meeting was called two years ago, no one from the agencies showed up.

"What needs fixing isn't the African-Americans; it's the white guy running the agency. The leadership has to come from the top," said Mr. Mehri.

Maybe some of those white guys could clear some time on their schedules to start leading on this issue.
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