Black leaders turn up heat

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Civil-rights leaders and minority-agency executives are ramping up the threats of action against marketers that don't employ minority-owned agencies or buy time from minority-owned media.

As the Federal Communications Commission last week formally unveiled a re-examination of almost all its media cross-ownership rules, the leaders spoke out in three Washington forums. They warned that African-Americans are losing political and economic clout as a result of consolidation, saying 50 years of hard-won civil-rights gains are threatened when African-American media owners sell out to white media owners.

taking back marketplace

"No matter what the intent is from consolidation, the effect will be that [African-American] people will find themselves less empowered to control their lives if they don't [withhold] their consumer dollars [in a boycott] to demand more," National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President-CEO Kweisi Mfume told the Congressional Black Caucus last week. "Consciousness [raising], boycott ... protest. ... Those things have to continue if there are going to be real or meaningful changes."

At the second forum, a meeting of the National Association of Black-Owned Broadcasters, Sam Chisholm, CEO of New York-based independent Chisholm-Mingo Group said mainstream agencies were using the term "multiculturalism" to claim expertise they don't have. "We need to take back the marketplace," he said.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who heads the National Action Network's Madison Avenue Initiative, spoke at both NABOB and the Black Caucus. He called major ad agencies' multicultural units "fronts."

"This whole new setup of going into the African-American advertising world by setting up bogus corporations must be exposed. Before, [major ad agencies] acted like the market wasn't there. Now they reinterpret the market to keep the control in the same hands.

"We intend to move towards direct confrontation," he said. "We should not be confused by bogus advertising agencies that claim multiculturalism. ... This is nothing but a new spin on an old game of setting one against the other and to set up fronts to duck the point."


The Rev. Sharpton also accused the big agencies of hiring "toms" to front the multicultural agencies, and at the Black Caucus he warned black media owners about selling out.

"We didn't go to Selma and Birmingham to try to drive up the price to sell out. We did it to underscore our worth as human beings and American citizens, " he said.

At a third forum, conducted by the American Advertising Federation, Byron Lewis, chairman-CEO of WPP Group-backed UniWorld Group, while less strident, said the push toward multiculturalism provides "a major opportunity" but too few marketers are using it.

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