A General Market Agency for Ethnic Work? It's a Waste of Money

You Get What You Pay For: Bad Research and No Cultural Expertise

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Bill Imada Bill Imada
Is there really any value hiring a mass-market media firm to assist you with your multicultural media strategy? Not really. But why would you anyway? To save money? To consolidate your media planning and buying under one roof? Or, because your mass-market media agency is feeling the pinch of reduced corporate media budgets? Clearly the reasons aren't always that simple to explain.

AT&T, General Motors, Rémy Martin and Wal-Mart are just a fraction of the firms that have shifted media assignments from minority-owned firms to mass-market media agencies. Could this now be a trend?

Having worked with a few of these firms, I know first-hand that these large, often multinational media firms don't offer the same level of strategic thinking, creativity, cultural awareness, or even the promised savings that ethnic media experts offer and often guarantee.

And while most ethnic advertising firms offer a full array of media services as part of their primary business offerings, nearly all of the mass-market firms are simply trying to appear as if they can do it all -- when they really can't.

If I were a marketer searching for an ethnic media expert, I certainly wouldn't trust the mass-market media firms. But even if I didn't have a choice, I'd still demand some proof from the mass-market firms to support their claims of being ethnic media experts. And so should you.

Wouldn't you like to know who at the agency is actually handling the ethnic media assignment? And their qualifications? In many cases, there may only be one person or perhaps two people handling your ethnic media planning and buying needs at the mass-market media firm. And most of them aren't fully dedicated to any of the specific ethnic markets.

A few months ago I attended a meeting where the mass-market media agency was asked point-blank how many experts were dedicated to their ethnic media team. The representative from the agency paused for a few moments before she answered. She proudly indicated that there were at least 10 people dedicated to the ethnic media business. When asked how many were black, Hispanic and Asian, she hesitated again before she answered what appeared to be a very simple and straightforward question. If you were responsible for a dedicated team of ethnic media experts, shouldn't you know this answer without having to think about it?

Nearly all of the ethnic agencies have a team of dedicated media professionals at your service. And you don't have to pay extra for their cultural expertise because they make it a point to select, negotiate and offer the best strategic thinking when planning ethnic media buys for their clients. And oftentimes at a better price.

But even more importantly than what I covered above, all marketers should ask if their mass-market media experts know how to negotiate value-added options such as news coverage supporting product launches or enhanced company service offerings; preferential consideration on media sponsorships that include product placement at time-honored events such as Chinese Lunar New Year, Tet, Philippine Independence Day or Diwali. It is also important to determine if the mass-market agencies have formed strong ties and bonds to the ethnic media to secure coverage at press events or ensure media attendance at press briefings (specifically to appease and impress clients).

The ethnic advertising and media agencies have strong, long-standing relationships with most of the ethnic media that have been developed over a number of years. Nearly all of the mass-market agencies only care about getting the best price and don't spend enough time nurturing the relationships with the ethnic media.

Marketers also need to know that mass-market firms are not certified as minority-owned and operated firms, which also places them at a disadvantage when dealing with community leaders and key influencers. These community leaders expect and occasionally demand that corporate marketers support bona fide minority-owned business owners.

If marketers are truly committed to reaching the ethnic consumers, they should invest in the agencies that support these markets, too.

I welcome your thoughts.
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