Sharpton Vows 'Long Hot Summer' In Ad Biz

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Civil rights activist Al Sharpton threatened "a long, hot summer on Madison Avenue" if targeted ad agencies and marketers don't respond to charges they are not doing enough to support minority media.

At a rally June 18 in front of Young & Rubicam's Madison Avenue headquarters in New York, the Rev. Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network, accused Y&R, PepsiCo and retail chain Macy's of avoiding placing ads in media outlets targeting African-American and Hispanic consumers, calling it a "moral crime."

The rally, which drew about 100 people, fanned the flames of an ongoing controversy about whether marketers too often pass over minority media outlets in favor of supporting mainstream radio and TV stations and print publications.


The Rev. Sharpton called on each of the companies to meet with his group within 10 days of the rally or face a boycott; Macy's, a unit of Federated Department Stores, agreed to the meeting.

Ed Goldberg, VP-government affairs for the retailer, said Macy's already advertises on minority radio stations and in minority newspapers, but added, "The more people we can reach, the better off we're all going to be."

Y&R denied the group's accusations, saying it is committed to the minority community. Y&R said in a statement it places more than $150 million of advertising in ethnic and minority-owned media each year and has worked with the Sharpton

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United Negro College Fund for more than 20 years, as well as for the National Urban Coalition and National Urban League.

A Y&R spokesman declined to say whether the agency would meet with the Rev. Sharpton's group.

A spokesman for Pepsi-Cola Co. said he had not yet gotten details of the meeting request. But he said the marketer has a "solid track record in a wide array of ethnic and minority marketing."

Pepsi-Cola has quadrupled spending in each of the past four years on Black Entertainment Television, he said, making it one of the network's top 10 advertisers. Half of Pepsi-Cola's local radio budget in New York is spent with ethnic stations, he added.


The call for attention to the issue struck a chord with minority media executives. They said the problem needs to be addressed.

"I've had a major advertiser in the automotive business say to me that the budget we spend in the ethnic market doesn't even come up on the radar screen," said James Ebron, exec VP-group publisher at BET Publishing Group, who until recently oversaw ad sales for Black Entertainment Television.

"When it comes to handing out the budgets, ethnic media are not even invited to the table," he said. "There are no decisionmakers in the process."

Leon Van Gelder, general sales manager for Emmis Broadcasting's WRKS-FM in New York, a station aimed at African-American adults, was one of several local broadcasters who attended the rally. He said marketers are wrongly discounting the buying power of minorities.

The rally was sparked in part by an internal memo from Amcast, a division of Katz Media, Chancellor Communications, instructing sales execs to encourage agencies to avoid buying urban radio outlets. Katz issued an apology after the memo came to light and said it's addressing the concerns raised.

It's difficult to pinpoint ad spending in minority-targeted media. Some research is available; Nielsen Media Research, for instance, reported that PepsiCo spent nearly $450,000 last year in two magazines aimed at African-Americans, Black Enterprise and Essence.

Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo

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