Skip to main content

Ad Agency Committee Recommends Nondiscrimination Framework

The American Association of Advertising Agencies has made it official. As reported by B&C Oct. 26, AAAA is recommending a new advertising antidiscrimination best practices policy to its members.

"Many of our members have made it a goal to provide equal opportunity for all media vendors, supplier and agents," said Bill Koenigsberg, president and CEO, Horizon Media, and chairman of the Media Policy Committee. "We want to make sure all members have the same information to work with and continue to expand their outreach including but not limited to proper training, education and internal guidelines that provide a forum for open discussions. Access to all makes for better advertising."

Violators of the policy should be "provided the opportunity to voice [their] dissatisfaction through Agency's complaint review process," said Koenigsberg in a letter to member agencies. "For purposes of this review process, discriminatory buying practices shall be defined as any buying policy that is in conflict with FCC media regulations, and thereby negates equal opportunity."

The FCC in 2007 adopted prohibitions on so-called "no urban" and "no Hispanic" dictates in ad contracts and put broadcasters on notice that they could lose their licenses unless they certified that those contracts were nondiscriminatory. But that applied only to stations. Agencies and their clients are not subject to the FCC rules.

The AAAA policy framework is not mandatory, but Koenigsberg suggests it "might" be incorporated in policy manuals and training materials.

"As most of you know, it is my firm belief that advertising works best when everyone has the opportunity to participate - whether that's the people working in our industry or those doing business with the industry," said AAAA President Nancy Hill. "Best practice recommendations serve to strengthen our industry as a whole."

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell praised the move. "I am delighted to learn that the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A's) has developed and circulated to its members an advertising nondiscrimination policy framework," he said. "I have been working on this issue since arriving at the Commission in 2006.  Shortly thereafter, I was deeply troubled to learn that discriminatory advertising practices - namely ‘no urban' and ‘no Hispanic' dictates - existed. Such conduct unjustly harms not only minority-owned broadcasting outlets, but minority consumers as well. Furthermore, discriminatory dictates have been estimated to cost minority broadcasters approximately $200 million every year in revenue.   

"I applaud the advertising industry for working to eradicate this despicable practice. Although the Commission has implemented advertising non-discrimination rules for radio and television broadcast licensees, we do not have the authority to regulate advertisers or media buyers. [T]his is yet another example of the private sector resolving an industry-wide concern without a government mandate to do so."

"The nondiscriminatory policy statement is a great starting point to address the longstanding practice of no-urban, no-Hispanic dictates which exist in advertising and media buying practices," says Adonis Hoffman, former general counsel for the AAAA's and currently a professor at Georgetown University. "And the complaint review process is a novel and welcome change. Ultimately, resolving this problem will hinge on two very simple principles: (1) the decision by agency CEOs to make sure that their down-the-line junior staffers abide by the spirit of the rules, not just the letter, and (2) the decision by agency CEOs to buy minority media, not just tolerate them."

Hoffman says the complaint process should protect against retaliation against a minority vendor who complains. "It is human nature to foreclose opportunities on anyone who says you are not playing fair," he says. "While the review process is welcome, there are questions as to whether the agency itself has the capacity to conduct a fair and credible review. Self-regulation in that instance can only go so far. Beyond those caveats, it is a good start, and I commend the 4As leadership for taking this important step."

In 2008, followed by action in March of this year, the Commission took steps to eliminate 'no urban, no Spanish dictates,' by requiring broadcasters to include nondiscrimination clauses in advertising contracts," said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. "4A's progress takes the Commission's action a step further and demonstrates how effective regulation can set off a positive domino effect. I commend 4A's for its efforts, and I look forward to continuing my efforts to effect positive change and increased diversity through thoughtful regulation."