An Interview With Anita Laney: Vendor-Diversity Expert

How the Economy Is Affecting Minority- and Women-Owned Vendors

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Carol Watson
Carol Watson
September is the time of year for thinking about reinvention and refocusing for those trying to build new businesses and making career changes. On the eve of Advertising Week, opportunities for diverse vendors and marketing partners will be a hot topic at a few events.

On Monday, Sept. 21, the AAF will be holding its annual Mosaic Vendor Fair and Thursday, Sept. 24, DraftFCB will sponsor a seminar called "The New Dynamics of Diversity -- Growing Businesses via Inclusive & Strategic Client, Agency & Supplier Partnerships." The seminar will include Mary Beth West, CMO, Kraft Foods; Daisy Expósito, chairman-CEO, d expósito & partners; and Laurence Boschetto, CEO-president, DraftFCB.

Keisha Vaughn who leads the diversity and inclusion initiatives at DraftFCB has made the growth and development of diverse partnerships a major focus at DraftFCB and the agency will be awarded the MOSAIC Award for Multiethnic Supplier Partners next week.

What's driving this new interest? Client demand. Shifts in business needs at the agencies and massive layoffs in the ad industry mean that agencies more than ever need vendor partners that bring diverse perspectives to the table. Constance Cannon Frazier, exec VP-corporate programming and development for the AAF says " diverse vendor-partnership development is a crucial initiative for the AAF since providing more access to diverse vendors strengthens the return on investment for agencies and marketing partners".

New companies and former advertising executives are anxious to get more insight into what the needs are for agencies and how to navigate the vendor-partnership process. Anita Laney, president-CEO of Professional Partnering Solutions, is a forerunner in diversity solutions for advertising, marketing and media and her firm has been working with the top ad agencies across the country and leading the charge in supplier diversity immersion in the ad industry. She shared some insight for diverse marketing firms.

Carol Watson: How has the business landscape of supplier-partner relationships in the advertising industry changed over the last year?

Anita Laney: We've seen an increase in the number of agencies interested in developing or enhancing their vendor diversity and development efforts along with their increased awareness of diversity throughout the industry. . . . We've also seen an interest from the Fortune 100 to have vendors work with their agencies of record to reflect the increasingly diverse consumer anticipated to dominate the consumer base.

Ms. Watson: Where do you see the most need and demand for businesses looking to work with the advertising industry?

Ms. Laney: That's difficult to say, as there are over 1,800 agencies with varying specialties. We believe that diverse media vendors with cross-platform, digital and events specialization will see an increase in opportunities.

Ms. Watson: What services and vendors are the hardest to find or to qualify for ad business and why?

Ms. Laney: One of the most challenging areas for agencies is finding minority vendors for broadcast production. We've seen more women-owned production companies gain their certifications, however there are fewer minority-owned companies. The reasons range from access to capital to the ability for a start-up to attract the top directors. Unfortunately, some of the larger minority-owned businesses were unable to sustain the business as agencies were developing their own efforts. We also see similar issues on the media side. Industry consolidation and the relaxation of FCC ownership rules have reduced the number of minority- and women-owned media outlets. Historically, certification has not been a factor in media-buying decisions so there are few certified media vendors. Media plans that do not have a focus on minority audiences also impact the ability to deliver in this arena.

Ms. Watson: How has the change in the economy and the changing business model of ad agencies changed the demand and needs of diverse vendors?

Ms. Laney: While the interest and desire for agencies to embrace supplier diversity exists, the challenge for some agencies is finding a way to allocate the resources at a time when the bottom line is shrinking. As with all businesses, the agency vendor is faced with re-engineering their offerings to meet their client's changing business needs. The holding company full-service offering may often present a challenge for independent businesses wishing to gain access. It's a tough environment for start-ups and new businesses. The good news is that there are opportunities for certified firms to work with agencies in support of client's with robust initiatives, and I believe those businesses that can clearly articulate their value and service offering stand the best chance of succeeding.

Ms. Watson: What advice do you have for companies that are frustrated by the barriers to entry?

Ms. Laney: It is difficult not to get frustrated due to the economy. Invest the time to establish the relationship with agency decision-makers. Sometimes it takes 12 months or more to establish the relationship. Develop your niche. You can't be all things to all people. Keep in mind the services that the agency provides. It is more difficult to sell someone on the services that the agency already provides.

Ms. Watson: How do you respond to vendors that are frustrated by the vendor certification and information gathering process? What are the advantages to certification?

Ms. Laney: Certification by National Minority Supplier Development Council and the Women's Business Enterprise National Council provide the validation that the company is minority- and/or women-owned and keeps other companies at bay. The certification process is like doing your taxes. It is a minor burden for a small firm since it is a bit time intensive. The advertisers want to make sure that the numbers that they are providing to the regulatory bodies and constituent groups are correct. The advantage to certification is that is where the opportunities are right now in working with ad agencies. Certification is not what you lead with when building a prospective agency relationship but it is another value --added to women and minority-owned business development pitches. . . . The good news is that more and more ad agencies are embracing the idea of broadening their vendor partnerships to more diverse companies, particularly in this economy.

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