NEXT ISSUE IN MINORITY PUSH

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Now that there are signs multicultural markets are getting more attention (and potentially more dollars) from major marketers, advertisers should brace for what's next: Controversy over which suppliers of media and marketing services will profit from the spending when it comes.

That can be a touchy call as minority-owned agencies and media square off with big general-market agency holding companies and non-minority-owned media that target minority audiences. It becomes an emotional Big Business vs. Small Business battle, with race issues added in. The best strategy for marketers: Make sound business decisions no matter who the competing vendors are.

Multicultural marketing budgets first and foremost serve advertiser needs. Minority-owned businesses deserve a fair and careful hearing in determining where those dollars go, and many of their leaders would argue that part of their problem has been the difficulty of getting a hearing from the country's big corporations.

Ultimately, however, these businesses need to stand on their own feet. The ones that get -- and keep -- new business will do so not because of some informal quota system but because they offer service, price and skills comparable or better than marketers can find at the Big Agencies and Big Media, some of which are actively building or buying specialized resources to offer clients access to multicultural markets.

There are intense feelings here. When True North Communications revealed it had created from its various multicultural marketing units a specialized media planning and buying company targeting multicultural consumers, there was a frosty reception from the chiefs of some minority-owned agencies. Chisholm-Mingo Group Chairman-CEO Sam Chisholm dismissed the TN unit, New America Media Group, as "an attempt to look at minority media through white eyes" and a "business opportunity built by minorities capitalized on by a multinational."

Moreover, politicians and minority leaders will scrutinize every decision by corporate marketing executives looking for hints minority-owned companies did not get a fair shake.

These difficulties should not deter marketer investment in multicultural markets. But it's imperative that marketers search broadly and with an open mind for the vendors helping them reach those markets -- and size or ownership alone

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