November 29, 2015

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First Mediaworks

03/24/08 Letís End No-Urban And No-Hispanic Dictates

About 10 years ago I wrote a column about the problem of no-urban dictates, the practice of advertisers directing an agency not to buy Urban-formatted radio stations. At the time, a significant number of major brands had no-urban dictates, including one large Japanese automotive brand that allegedly didnít want African American customers. I felt it important to expose the problem, and Iím pleased to say that as a result of meetings, education, and pressure, many of these same companies are advertising to Urban audiences today. Yet to my dismay, no-urban dictates still exist among hundreds of national advertisers.

The FCCís recent adoption of a rule that requires broadcasters to affirm that their advertising contracts do not discriminate on the basis of race or gender gave me pause. While I believe some advertisers simply make incorrect assumptions about the audience, I suspect that most no-urban dictates are rooted in nothing more than bigotry. Nevertheless, I would prefer we solve the problem without regulation. The FCC controls over-the-air media; it does not control print, direct-marketing, and Internet. Iím worried that the new FCC rule wonít have the desired effect of equality; what happens if advertisers that donít want to contend with this new layer of bureaucracy simply stop using radio and television and take their money elsewhere?

The new rule also requires broadcasters to police clients and refuse advertising from clients issuing no-urban or no-Hispanic dictates. Frankly, this rule is absurd, because these decisions are made long before they reach a broadcast property. If an advertiser is contracting with a station, it is likely to be a station they wish to advertise on. Plus, who will police this activity? How will it be proven?

I also wondered recently if there are be times when a no-urban dictate might make sense for an advertiser. To explore this admittedly controversial idea, I phoned Sherman Kizart, senior vice president/director of urban marketing at Interep. Sherman is one of Radio Inkís Most Influential African Americans in Radio and a man who confronts this issue head on every day.

We carried on a friendly discussion exploring the pros and cons. I asked, for example, if it is wrong for a business with limited resources and a deep understanding of its target audience Ė which is not black or Hispanic Ė to forego targeting these audiences? I suggested that some companies may simply be trying to reach a quantifiable target that doesnít include African American or Hispanic listeners.

Shermanís response was firm: There is never a good excuse for a no-urban dictate. To him, they result in lost revenue for radio, and foolishly detach advertisers from customers with real buying power. He is deeply bothered to think that any business would not want black customers.

Back in January, Sherman called a meeting between FCC Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Robert McDowell and senior executives from the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the American Advertising Federation, the National Association of Broadcasters Educational Foundation, the National Association of Black-Owned Broadcasters, the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, Radio One, and, of course, Interep. Discussions focused on how the FCC could work with the ad industry to rid the industry of no-urban and no-Hispanic Dictates. The meeting resulted in a plan for these entities to work together.

I applaud this effort, and commend these advertising associations for getting out in front of this problem. I sincerely hope it leads to increased advertiser awareness and understanding of these vibrant audiences. I encourage broadcasters to sit face to face with CEOs of companies that espouse no-urban or no-Hispanic dictates and challenge their logic. If they can outline specific demographic research that demonstrates why itís illogical for them to advertise to urban or Hispanic audiences, perhaps broadcasters should be willing to let them off the hook.

In the cases of truly bigoted clients, however, economic pressure may be the only answer. For these bad apples, perhaps their company names can be posted on a website that could be promoted by Urban or Hispanic radio stations. That could have the kind of negative economic impact that any business would notice. I also think agencies should have the guts to turn down business from clients that carelessly impose these dictates, although I worry that simple greed may prevent such heroic behavior.

The bottom line: This is 2008. Itís long past time to put an end to discriminatory practices in radio. Unfortunately, weíll probably need more than an FCC rule to make it happen. The spirit of the FCCís decision is positive, because the goal is prevention. Other elements of the ruling designed to increase minority ownership do have value, if they can be implemented effectively.

However, the FCC is incapable of policing anything effectively. In my mind, this is simply designed to send a message of support, but will go no further.

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