N.Y. Human Rights Chief ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ About Ad Agencies’ Hiring of Minorities

Patricia Gatling, head of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, testifies she’s optimistic that agencies will ramp up the numbers of minority executives in their ranks.

September 16, 2011

Many people aren’t satisfied with Madison Avenue’s progress on the diversity front, but Patricia Gatling, head of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, on Tuesday, September 23, said she was “cautiously optimistic” that ad agencies would ramp up the numbers of minority executives in their ranks.

Gatling made the comment at a public hearing at City Hall called by New York City Councilman and Civil Rights Committee Chairman Larry B. Seabrook. The goal of the hearing was to discuss the progress, or lack of progress in some cases, of the agencies that two years ago signed a pact to boost minority hiring and set individual goals.

As part of her testimony, Gatling reiterated statistics released this spring that found that five of the 16 ad agencies that had signed on have not met all of their minority-hiring goals in the first year of their diversity pact with the New York City Commission on Human Rights. The other agencies either met or exceeded all of their 2007 goals.

BBDO, DDB behind
Four of the five firms that did meet their goals were from the country’s biggest holding company, Omnicom Group: BBDO, DDB, Merkley & Partners and PHD. The fifth was Publicis Groupe’s Kaplan Thaler Group.

Although Omnicom eventually signed the pact with its competitors, it went its own way at first. It pledged more than $2 million for diversity initiatives, including the establishment of an advertising, media and marketing curriculum at the historically black Medgar Evers College.

Weldon H. Latham, a diversity counsel to Omnicom who testified at Tuesday’s hearing, said the holding company’s CEO, John Wren, has firmly communicated to those shops that they must come into compliance by the end of 2008. “We gotta make sure that those numbers get up,” Seabrook told Latham, recommending that Omnicom appoint an executive solely to monitor the agencies’ progress.

Those that have failed to meet their self-created diversity goals have hired consultants to help them improve their numbers, Gatling said as part of her testimony.

Hiring up 25 percent
The other agencies that signed the 2006 agreement have all met or exceeded their goals, Gatling said. They include Havas’ Arnold and Euro RSCG; WPP Group’s Grey Direct and Grey Interactive, Young & Rubicam and Ogilvy & Mather; and Interpublic Group of Cos.’ Avrett Free Ginsberg, Gotham and DraftFCB (counted as two agencies because it was created out of the merger of Draft and FCB Worldwide). The average goal was 18 percent for minority hiring and the average result was 25 percent, Gatling said.

In certain cases, the agencies have raised their minority-hiring goals for 2008. For example, Ogilvy this year increased its goals 2 percent, and is aiming for 18 percent of its senior management and 35 percent of all staff to be members of minority groups.

At the hearing, in addition to an attorney for Omnicom, Interpublic executive vice president-strategy Philippe Krakowsky and representatives for WPP also testified about the status of their companies’ diversity initiatives, as did executives from Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi & Saatchi.

Saatchi was also one of two ad agencies that turned up for a public meeting called by the Human Rights Commission about the issue in July.

Representatives for Havas or Havas agencies did not testify.

There was no talk of a threat of a class action lawsuit against the industry, but Seabrook said he would stay on top of the issue. “The commission is going to stay on your case, and I’m going to stay on the commission’s case until we get it done and get it right,” he said at the conclusion of the hearing.

Filed by Rupal Parekh of Advertising Age, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail

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