Census ad buys still under fire: Black lawmakers continue probe

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by Pharoh Martin
For New Pittsburgh Courier

WASHINGTON (NNPA)—During a recent congressional hearing to discuss what many contend is an insufficiently funded Black advertising campaign of Census 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau’s media-buying agencies were blistered by a charge that they allegedly played unfair politics with Black newspaper publishers. These charges have resulted in an ongoing probe into why the Census allocated so little to count African-Americans.

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ENSURING EQUITY—U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, discusses possible Census ad discrimination with NNPA Chairman Danny Bakewell.

In a reflective interview following the hearing where NNPA Chairman Danny Bakewell testified, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said the hearing was a positive step toward ensuring equality in the distribution of media ad dollars, but there is still a long way to go.

“I don’t think it’s where we need to be,” Lee told NNPA in a phone interview. “One of the things that we need to do is make sure that the Department of Commerce and all of the agencies responsible for insuring media buys for the 2010 Census are distributing fairly and go into the area that are hard-to-count. This is a very important issue for everyone. I think it’s extremely important to have the fairness in the media buys and I think that’s what we are trying to achieve and I don’t think that we are there yet.”

The bottom line is that Black legislators and publishers say that advertising budgets proposed for African-American media are insufficient to effectively reach a “hard-to-count” Black population.

Chaired by Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., the Information Policy, Census and National Archives Subcommittee, which held the congressional hearing, was moving offices on the week following the hearing and was unable to send updates on resolutions.

But the intense dialogue during the hearing indicated that change might be coming.

Representative Maxine Waters, D-Calif., grilled executives of Census 2010’s media buying agencies about a charge from Black publishers that the agencies were unfairly demanding that Black newspapers provide free content, which they called “added value” in exchange for ad dollars.

Jeff Tarakajian, vice president of advertising agency DRAFTFCB, never directly answered the question; only replying that the “request for added value was standard.” He couldn’t testify under oath as to how the “added value” was requested but could confirm that it was, in fact, requested.

“We seek them, we encourage them but we do not make the requirement that somebody provide added value to literally qualify for a media buy,” Tarakajian said.

A key moment during the hearing was when Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, asked Bakewell about a matter involving New York-based GlobalHue—which bills itself as a leader in cultural-based marketing—and the NNPA, in which the ad agency allegedly demanded that Black newspapers provided free editorials favorable to the 2010 Census in return for an advertising buy.

According to a letter submitted to the hearing from GlobalHue to Bakewell, the advertising agency wrote:

“In lieu of free ad space, all papers must agree to running six articles (preferably during hiatus weeks) about the Census 2010 as well as two editorials. If paper does not agree to the added value stipulations, buy will be canceled immediately.”

Waters tried probing the representatives in charge of the Census’ media buys but the congresswoman said that she believes that she was misled under oath. She called for an investigation to see if GlobalHue acted discriminatory and into the utilization of the accounting of the $300 million dollar budget set under the previous administration.

“It appears that the African-American newspapers are being told that they must give free space and editorials or they will not get money,” Waters said.

Bakewell stated that the GlobalHue’s demands were later retracted.

Hundreds of Black newspapers are supposed to divide a $2.5 million advertising budget that is supposed to reach an estimated 40 million Black people that were undercounted by 2 percent in 2000, according to statistics cited during the hearing.

“We need more money,” Bakewell said. “The Black Press of America needs at least $10 million to have a consistent message in 200 Black newspapers throughout America. There is no reason to cherry pick.”

The hearing’s final panel included heads of ethnic media organizations such as James Winston, executive director of the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters; Sandy Close, executive director of New America Media; and Danny Bakewell, chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association.

Census Director Robert Groves defended the amounts used to purchase media ads saying they were were based on statistical and historic data.

“I can honestly say that the program was set up in an objective manner guided by data on what audiences needed given their historical behavior,” Groves said in response to the perceived unfairness in media buys with ethnic media outlets.

The Census director said that the Black media buy plan was developed by GlobalHue. The total media buy for 2010 is $23 million, an increase of 35 percent over the 2000 Census budget amount.

According to their research, their media plan for Census 2010 is estimated to effectively reach more than 95 percent of Blacks in every market in the country.

(Pharoh Martin is a special correspondent for the NNPA.)

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