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Howard University Forum Urges Multicultural Marketing

NEW YORK – In a panel organized earlier this week by Howard University, representatives from top media and marketing companies advised advertising executives to “adapt or die,” saying that, if they don’t learn how to engage and to market in a multicultural society, advertisers will reinforce stereotypes about minorities and miss opportunities to connect with ethnic consumers.

The discussion, “‘Minority’: Now Trending Majority, A Look at the 2010 U.S. Census Data and What It Means to Advertisers,” comes months after U.S. Census data released earlier this year revealed the growing “majority minority” in America, especially in southern and western regions of the nation.

U.S. Census figures released in March 2011, analyzing population and housing data collected from the 2010 Census and the 2010 Census Redistricting Data, found that Asians and Latinos represent the fastest growing racial and ethnic groups. If trends continue, the U.S. is expected to be a “majority minority nation” in three decades.

At Time Warner’s headquarters in New York City on Monday evening, the panel featured speakers from major companies, including Ogilvy, Time Warner Inc., and the Nielsen organization. The panel was convened by Howard University’s Center for Excellence in Advertising (CEA), an academic program housed in the university’s School of Communications.

Drawing chuckles from the audience, David Burgos, head of Multicultural Practice at Millward Brown, a leading market research agency based in New York, told the audience that ethnic communities have different experiences and backgrounds but they are not “aliens from a different planet.”

Burgos said that advertisers must acknowledge that consumers are diverse regardless of race and ethnic background and that they don’t always want to be targeted in a way that emphasizes their cultural differences.

“Don’t just rely on Jose, Kesha, or Jin for ethnic strategy,” said Ola Mobolade, managing director of Firefly, a Millward Brown-affiliated marketing company.

Advertising companies should make sure their non-White employees are valued outside of ethnic marketing and they should find experts outside of their company to help with targeting multicultural audiences instead of targeting their ethnic workers for advice, Mobolade noted.

Yla Eason, the Learning and Development Director at the advertising agency R/GA and a former learning and development director at CEA, focused her presentation on ethnic minority spending power and the usage of technology, revealing how advertisers can take advantage of this knowledge when devising advertising strategies.

For instance, many Blacks are heavy users of social networking sites, such as Twitter, and others only use their mobile devices to connect to the Internet, Eason said.

Dr. Jannette L. Dates, dean of Howard University’s School of Communications, said the panel was organized by her and several other current or former members of CEA, including executive director Adrianne C. Smith, Eason and CEA board directors.

The Monday event was the latest the center has hosted in its short history. The center, which debuted in fall 2008, was founded as a response to dismal information about minority representation in advertising as highlighted in a New York Human Rights Commission investigation that looked at how the advertising industry hires, retains and promotes minority employees.

The center is funded in part by the American Association of Advertising Agencies and has gone on to launch two education modules, which included a pilot program that resulted in five lateral move hires in the advertising industry.

Dates and her colleagues found that minority groups were underrepresented in middle and upper level management positions.

“Our best students would go into advertising and stay there for two or three years, and then they would leave,” Dates said.

She said the trend was the result of the lack of diversity in the advertising field. Many of the university’s alumni were going into the field with no mentors or coaches with shared backgrounds to help navigate them through the system and their supervisors “were not making them feel welcome or embraced.”

The diversity challenges in advertising are reflective of a much larger issue in media that also affects the public relations and journalism fields, said Dates, who once researched media images and media treatment of women and multicultural groups as a fellow at Columbia University.

The CEA provides professional development, leadership training and resources to its students and seeks to become a talent resource and pipeline for people of color in the advertising industry.

Dates said students from other HBCUs and even predominantly White institutions often take advantage of CEA’s programs, including the communication school’s annual career fair held in October, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year.

Dates said Howard has strong leadership in advertising and public relations because its faculty members have worked in the industry and bring in “rich experiences” that also can help students with internships and other professional development initiatives.

“There is such a need for an influx of African-Americans and other people of color in the advertising industry,” Dates said.

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