The AAF Hosts the First Congressional Summit on Diversity

On July 14, 1998 in Washington, D.C., AAF and our educational foundation convened the industry's first Congressional Summit on Diversity in Advertising. This continues a commitment begun several years ago to increase opportunities for minorities in advertising. Our first efforts targeted opportunities for African Americans. Now, we are expanding this priority to embrace all minorities, including Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans, as well as African Americans.

The summit demonstrated that many clients do not appreciate the marketing implications of a multi-cultural society. It is time to forge a proactive agenda with government, clients, and minority groups to promote a stronger and more diverse advertising industry in a changing world.

Summit attendees reached consensus on a number of action items, including: Guests at the standing-room only summit session included African American and Hispanic entrepreneurs who head agencies, media companies and other suppliers of advertising services, as well as researchers, regulators and representatives of national advertisers.

The summit began with remarks from two leading legislators, Chief Deputy Democratic Whip of the U.S. House of Representatives, Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Representative Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-MI).

The summit emphasized that diversity in advertising requires the attention of CEOs and the senior-most decision makers. Decision makers can provide access for young people interested in working in advertising, for professionals who hope to advance, and for the minority institutions that can enhance an advertiser's ability to prosper. With access, everyone has an opportunity to compete.

Representative Menendez said, "You (in the advertising industry) have this incredible growth market - in many ways the marketplace of the future - with more and more disposable income, and greater economic clout, but many advertisers and media buyers are apparently not just ignoring this growth market. By some charges they are actively discriminating against it."

Congresswoman Kilpatrick picked up a similar theme, and questioned whether federal government officials are adequately informed about demographic trends so as to shape governmental advertising programs. Citing the upcoming government anti-drug abuse campaign, she indicated concern that government advertising, particularly in public health, be sufficiently directed toward the different minority communities.

Also heard from were minority media people who believed their business was limited because advertisers did not often see this media as a vital part of the marketing mix.

One conclusion most participants shared was that a significant number of companies and federal government agencies appear to make decisions about how and to whom to advertise without an understanding of what the new world of consumers looks like.

Advertising must respond more quickly to the growing value of ethnic minority groups as customers. Certainly, this includes using minority media as part of the media plan. Minority professionals should be called upon to advise how to creatively reach targeted audiences.

Since AAF adopted its cultural diversity mission priority ten years ago we have learned a lot. We've been shown the quantifiable, increasing opportunities resulting from changing demography, and the measurable, bottom line results that are possible. On the other hand, we've also seen the numbers that demonstrate how far advertising has to go on all fronts.

With the help of AAF minority members, the AAF Foundation has worked to increase entry level hiring opportunities for qualified minority students for almost ten years. Through our "Most Promising Minority Students Program," in partnership with Advertising Age, we delivered 175 qualified candidates over the past two years. Of those candidates, seventy percent were hired full time or as interns in the industry.

We have made strides in drawing attention to the contributions of minorities to advertising through efforts like the historic 1996 industry-wide gala salute to the achievements of African Americans in the advertising community. And we're working to create the same kinds of opportunities to provide exposure for Latinos and Asians. Most recently we offered intensive sessions on the human resource management and advertising implications of cultural diversity during our national conference in Minneapolis.

The exchange of ideas and information during the summit validated those kinds of tactics, the need for forums like this, and even resulted in the formation of a Hispanic subcommittee that will work through the AAF Foundation to nurture bilingual talent and to recognize the accomplishments of advertising's Latino stars.

Initiatives like AAF's strategic alliances with other trade groups to educate the upper echelons of entire advertiser industries will facilitate the kind of education that is needed. Using our access and the influence of legislators like Representatives Menendez and Kilpatrick will help open doors so that minorities can obtain a hearing. So will presenting more forums like this inaugural summit.

Our industry can be thought of as the language of marketing, the most significant communications link to the American consumer. No business profession can hear the heartbeat of consumers like we do. And no business discipline is more capable of influencing the thinking and behavior of our nation than advertising.

As custodian of the mutual interests of the entire ad industry, AAF is determined to help the industry succeed in this new multicultural marketing environment. All the strategic thinking, technology and media alternatives in the world aren't going to help us hit our marks, if we don't know who and where the targets are.

This is a bottom line issue for us. And it ought to be for you.

Wally Snyder
President and CEO
American Advertising Federation
July 20, 1998