Diversity plan has data gap

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The advertising industry should be embarrassed that few companies apparently have been willing to contribute to an important voluntary data collection effort on workforce diversity. If the industry is serious about giving minorities, minority markets and minority-owned or minority-focused media more serious consideration, that needs to be changed.

Painting a statistical picture of how many minorities now work in the ad business was a particularly promising part of the new set of multicultural principles unveiled last year by the American Advertising Federa-tion, in cooperation with other ad groups. The data effort, however, relied on the goodwill and support of executives at advertisers and ad agencies, and it appears to be off to a slow start. While AAF officials say progress is being made in other parts of the initiative, they concede that relatively few companies have thus far responded to their appeals for workplace data.

Lack of industry participation in this effort breeds doubt and cynicism among critics in the minority media community, as was evident in a report issued this month by the National Black Media Coalition. It reexamined the complaints of African-American radio station operators about current media buying practices and renewed the charge that white media buyers and planners with "little exposure to" or "life experience" with racial and ethnic communities cannot properly value minority stations or audiences.

That's not a view likely to be shared among many planners and buyers, who no doubt are confident of their professionalism. But that's no excuse for being less than open about the racial or ethnic makeup of media departments, or any other unit at agencies or advertisers that is important to the advertising and marketing process.

If marketers and advertisers are serious about getting the ad industry's workforce to look more like the country as a whole, they all have an interest in seeing where things stand today. If the numbers show there is a long way to go, why hide it?

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