Advertising Week 2008

Ad Agencies Making Progress on Hiring Minorities, After All

Human Rights Commission: Most Met or Exceeded Pact Goals

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NEW YORK ( -- Many people aren't satisfied with Madison Avenue's progress on the diversity front, but Patricia Gatling, head of the New York City Human Rights Commission, today said she is "cautiously optimistic" that ad agencies will ramp up the numbers of minority executives in their ranks.
Patricia Gatling
Patricia Gatling

Ms. Gatling was speaking at a public hearing at City Hall called by New York City Councilman and Civil Rights Committee Chairman Larry B. Seabrook. The goal of the hearing was to discuss the progress (and lack thereof, in some cases) of the agencies that two years ago signed a pact to boost minority hiring and set individual goals.

As part of her testimony, Ms. Gatling reiterated statistics released this spring that found that five of the 16 ad agencies that signed on have not met all their minority-hiring goals in the first year of their diversity pact with the New York City Commission on Human Rights. However, the remaining agencies either met or exceeded all their 2007 goals.

BBDO, DDB behind
Of the shops that signed a memorandum of understanding with the commission in 2006 vowing to boost diversity, five did not meet their goals. Four of them were from the country's biggest holding company, Omnicom Group: BBDO, DDB, Merkley & Partners and PHD. The fifth was Publicis Groupe's Kaplan Thaler Group.

While it eventually caved and signed the pact with its competitors, Omnicom went its own way at first. It pledged more than $2 million for diversity initiatives, including the establishment of an advertising, media and marketing curriculum at the historically black Medgar Evers College.

Weldon H. Latham, a diversity counsel to Omnicom who testified at today's hearing, said the holding company's CEO, John Wren, has firmly communicated to those shops that they must come into compliance by the end of 2008. "We gotta make sure that those numbers get up," Mr. Seabrook told Mr. Latham, recommending that Omnicom appoint an executive solely to monitor the agencies' progress.

Those that failed to meet their self-created diversity goals have hired consultants to help them improve their numbers, Ms. Gatling said as part of her testimony.

Hiring up 25%
Meanwhile, the other agencies that signed the agreement have all met or exceeded their goals, said Ms. Gatling. They are: Havas' Arnold and Euro RSCG; WPP Group's Grey Direct and Grey Interactive, Young & Rubicam and Ogilvy & Mather; and Interpublic Group of Cos.' Avrett Free Ginsberg, Gotham and DraftFCB (counted as two agencies because it was created out of the merger of Draft and FCB Worldwide). The average goal was 18% for minority hiring and the average result was 25%, Ms. Gatling said.

In certain cases, the agencies have raised their minority-hiring goals for 2008. For example, Ogilvy this year increased its goals 2%, and is aiming for 18% of its senior management and 35% of all staff to be of color.

The hearing garnered a far better turnout compared with those called two years ago, though agency and holding company chiefs were still absent. During Advertising Week 2006, Mr. Seabrook had called hearings decrying minority-owned media outlets' lack of advertising, and nobody turned up. The agencies, Mr. Seabrook said at the time, "ran like chickens with their asses plucked clean."

Reviving that metaphor today, Mr. Seabook said, "I'm putting some feathers back on you now," as a means of commending the majority of the agencies for their progress.

In addition to an attorney for Omnicom, Interpublic Exec VP-Strategy Philippe Krakowsky and representatives for WPP also testified today about the status of their companies' diversity initiatives, as did executives from Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi.

Saatchi was also one of two ad agencies that turned up for a public meeting called by the Human Rights Commission about the issue in July.

Representatives for Havas or Havas agencies did not testify.

Nancy Hill speaks
Also submitting testimony was Nancy Hill, president-CEO of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, who Mr. Seabrook commended on her presence, noting that her predecessor, O. Burtch Drake, had not shown up for hearings in the past.

There was strangely no talk of a potential threat of a class action lawsuit against the industry, but Mr. Seabrook promised to stay on top of the issue. "The commission is going to stay on your case and I'm going to stay on the commission's case until we get it done and get it right," Mr. Seabrook said at the conclusion of the hearing.
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