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Our diversity challenge

There is a groundswell of interest in such diversity programs as internships and mentoring efforts. Even filmmaker Spike Lee is taking an active role as a board member for Virginia Commonwealth University's AdCenter program. The results of all this activity remain mixed.

Robert Wehling, Procter & Gamble Co. senior VP-advertising, marketing and government relations, notes in this week's Special Report that "there are different levels of progress in each [P&G] agency just like there are in each part of P&G."

Some times it takes a crisis to bring about change. Texaco, where tapes of white executives disparaging African-American employees made headlines in 1996, has since moved with determination. As one African-American agency executive put it, "Texaco got religion on diversity. They've gone from zero to hero." But diversity shouldn't be on the back burner until it's part of a crisis management plan.

What's required is persistence and commitment. In Minnesota, minorities make up only about 8.4% of the population. Ad agencies trying to build a more diverse staff find the small pool of available minority workers a challenge. So the shops there are reaching out -- to schools and minority organizations and through special interviews -- to boost the percentage of their workers drawn from minority communities.

Certainly, an ever increasing number of internships can help open the door for minorities and attract new talent. The goal -- to have the work force at advertising agencies and in corporate marketing departments reflect the diversity of the nation as a whole -- is smart business. We in the business press have our role to play in furthering this effort, and are not immune to criticism. (See "Letters to the Editor" on this page.)

A particular task for marketers is to give minority-managed agencies more consideration for general market accounts. Consider, for example, M&M/Mars' selection of UniWorld Group for its humorous 3 Musketeers general-market work. Marketers -- and minority agencies themselves -- should not let skin color or ethnicity be the sole definer of an agency's expertise. Until capable "minority" agencies have a more equal chance to pitch general market accounts, it's going to be hard to claim success at achieving diversity in the this business.

Gone gamy

The best thing about the come-ons in the mailings from American Family Publishers and Publishers Clearing House is the BIG print:

"Bob Garfield: YOU ARE OUR NEWEST $11,000,000 WINNER . . . !"

The problem comes in the not-so-large print that says, "If you have the winning number." And if the entry is returned on time. And so on. Is this just copywriter hyperbole? Or outright deceptive flim-flam?

It can be a fine line, but we think there are legitimate problems here. Lawsuits have been filed and no less than a multi-state task force of more than 20 state attorneys general is poring over these sweepstakes come-ons.

Scrutiny of sweepstakes mailings is not new. State laws regulate their graphics and copy. A 1997 New York law requires, among other things, that the odds of winning be conspicuously disclosed.

What is disturbing is that the breathless tactics employed in these sweepstakes mailings are starting to creep into promotions from credit card marketers and other institutions. That is a mistake. The come-on is the chance to win. But no reputable marketer wins if the consumer ultimately feels suckered by all the hoopla.

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