Will the Recession Put Multicultural and General Market on a Level Playing Field?

It's the Perfect Time to Let Go of 'This Is the Way It's Always Been Done'

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Nils von Zelowitz Nils von Zelowitz
There is a chasm that separates trimming existing plans and budgets to generate savings and re-evaluating the overall approach to marketing to drive efficiency and effectiveness. The first is the equivalent of treating the symptoms, but the not the disease. This post is a call-to-marketers to do the latter.

For as long as anyone can remember, multicultural agencies have been subsisting on budgets left over after general-market initiatives are funded. A typical conversation might go as follows: "Now that we have the general-market budget established, we can narrow down on spending for multicultural (or Hispanic, Asian, African-American)." The sub-text is that the allocation to multicultural comes from the remaining scraps.

This leaves multicultural agencies frustrated and dreading this conversation. However, the dread comes from the wrong place and for the wrong reasons. The focus needs to change from worrying about what leftovers clients can be persuaded to allocate outside of general market to understanding how to most wisely invest the dollars that are in the marketing budget.

Multicultural agencies have the same responsibility to clients as their general-market counterparts. The above conversation should evoke dread because it is not an effective or reliable methodology for maximizing the impact of each dollar spent by a client. The leftover approach may or may not align resources with opportunities. The way it has been done and continues to be done may perhaps deliver the most effective results possible. What is concerning, however, is that it may not.

It is effectively a crap shoot.

Clients and agencies need to insist on a zero-based approach to prioritizing opportunities and allocating dollars. If there was ever a moment to shed the "this is the way it has always been done" and take a fresh and unencumbered approach, it is now. It's doubtful anyone would dispute that the focus on ROI has increased exponentially in the last year. Partnership and commitment is required to shift the conversation and concentrate on figuring out how to generate the best return for every dollar invested.

Of course, the impact of the economic crisis is felt all over: consumers' approach to spending and saving, a greater focus on value, crash of the markets, and the shattering of the over-inflated American Dream are a few painful examples. The same influences and occurrences that are driving these changes should change the way clients and agencies approach planning, prioritization, and budget allocation. CEOs are being removed by the government; it is time to wipe the slate clean and start fresh.

If it is more efficient to start with Hispanic, African American, Asian, or general market, so be it. This is about doing the homework and making informed decisions vs. doing things the way they have always been done. And in today's world, that means doing less of the same.

Agencies and clients have an obligation to do this hard work. Further, this is likely an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create real change and reinvent how clients and agencies maximize return on marketing investment.

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Nils von Zelowitz is VP-associate director of direct and digital marketing at The Vidal Partnership.

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