The city’s foreign-born population of 2.87 million was at an all-time high and represented 36 percent of the city's population of 8 million and nearly one-third of the city’s black population is now of Caribbean origin with migrants from the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Guyana ranked as among the top five.
Yet it’s interesting that the advertising budgets for many of the major corporations, who do business with our community, are zero to nothing and are yet to reflect the rapidly changing face of America’s consumers.
How much of the US $2.4 billion advertising budget spent by Coca-Cola is spent in the Caribbean media in the US or what portion of General Motors $1.3 billion for 2006 has gone to this market? The specific figures are hard to ascertain since the entire ‘urban” market is lumped together and African American agencies are given the hard task of serving a national marketplace on a fraction of the budget given to the Madison Avenue firms which are even charged to deliver “hip-hop-infused messages to the masses.”
As Rev. Al Shaprton pointed out during his ‘Madison Avenue Iniative,’ “The so-called mainstream budgets – general market budgets – are not given to Black agencies, which means you have an official policy of apartheid in the advertising world.”
We’ve seen the demise of WLIB radio’s Caribbean-formatted program as well as the recent switch of the format of WWRL radio, leaving a huge void in Caribbean American radio circles in New York City.
The burden of sustaining this service has fallen squarely on the shoulders of independent radio producers, who buy time and air their own programs in an effort to keep our community informed.
Yet very few of these producers and independent media owners like myself, are able to access the billions in corporate advertising dollars spent annually. Apart from the likes of companies like Air Jamaica and Western Union, the corporate support for this community’s media as well as for its events and organizations, is nonexistent.
For ethnic media owners, the biggest obstacle is access. How do we get access to the marketing/media budgets of corporate and city government agencies? Especially when the personnel occupying diversity supplier posts are often a waste of time.
Instead of being the gatekeepers, they really are more the fortress guards whose role seems often to be keeping you out with red tape and bureaucracy rather than helping you attain and secure diversity-advertising dollars.
Recently, as a minority-certified member of the New York/New Jersey Purchasing Council, I attended a top supplier diversity event at a Manhattan hotel. At the American Airlines booth, the diversity programs offered were touted but largely missing from the mix was anything Caribbean related, even though this carrier flies to our regional destinations.
And at the Bank of New York booth, the diversity officer had no answer when I queried about their marketing plan to this community, especially given the fact that many Caribbean nationals I know hold accounts with this bank. These, ladies and gentlemen, are just two real examples of the struggles of an ethnic publisher in obtaining advertising dollars to stay afloat in this, the media capital of the world.
As a colleague of mine put it recently, “Getting ad dollars as an ethnic media owner in the Caribbean American marketplace in New York City, and to a larger degree, the United States, is like pulling teeth.” And we all know and can relate to the horrors of a tooth extraction at the dentist.
So what should be done? Firstly, as members of the city council, each and everyone of you should begin by setting an example, especially at election time, by apportioning some of your spending with the ethnic press.
After all, compared to mainstream publications, the ethnic press in New York City is most likely to give coverage to you and your issues.
Secondly, tougher legislation has to be put in place to ensure that companies and agencies of government follow the federal government plan and actually spend diversity-advertising dollars with the varied ethnic media that serve this city instead of taking the easy way out and bundling a tiny percentage of their ad buys in larger ethnic publications. It is no secret that top corporations, when questioned about their diversity ad budgets for the ethnic market place, point out that they are spending money in this niche market with publications like Black Enterprise.
As a Caribbean American publisher in New York City and the wider U.S., it is also my sincere wish that as a community of consumers and as a burgeoning voting bloc, we are taken much more seriously – especially given our numbers, and not simply lumped into a mix of the ‘African American’ marketplace.
We are a distinct group of consumers and as specific studies like the AT&T and WLIB independent studies have shown, we do get our news from and trust our independently owned media and these media houses must in turn be supported with advertising that targets this economically viable niche market.
The status quo has to change as the demographics and economic and voting power in this city changes. The minority is now the majority and Caribbean Americans are definitely part of this ethnic majority. It is time Corporate America and city government gets this too.
The above was presented by Felicia Persaud, publisher, Caribbean World News Network – Hardbeatnews.com, as testimony to a City Hall hearing on the lack of advertising in the ethnic press, held on September 24, 2006.