Hoffman: Diversity Is Good Business

In this second of a two-part exit interview with Adonis Hoffman, the departing chief of staff to Federal Communications Commission Mignon Clyburn, the FCC and Capitol Hill talked about the need for more diversity in the television and telecommunications industries, and the reasons why diversity is good communications business as well as social policy. Hoffman, who is set to leave the agency at month’s end, spoke with Multichannel News Washington bureau chief John Eggerton.

MCN: We know you have definite views on diversity in the communications industry.

Adonis Hoffman: Diversity is an issue that makes everybody uncomfortable. Companies don’t really want to talk too much about it. Minority executives avoid the subject for fear of being ostracized, ghettoized or typecast. And advocacy groups tend to speak in terms that do not resonate with business, so it is a problem, but it’s not insurmountable.

The reality is that America will become a majority-minority nation by 2040, so diversity in the U.S. is already here. There is a legitimate, bottom-line business case for more diversity in communications, media, advertising and technology, and it is being broadcast right in front of our eyes every week — look at Empire on Fox and the ABC Thursday-night lineup with Shonda Rhimes. There is so much talent, so many good stories, and such an appetite for diverse content in the market, it is imprudent and bad business judgment for companies to ignore.

According to Nielsen, minorities overindex on just about every media — TV, radio, mobile and social — and overindex in numerous product consumption categories. In short, an advertiser’s dream demographic. As in politics, minorities typically provide the margin of victory or profit. So I would say that more diversity is a winning and profitable formula for networks, content producers and advertisers.

Of course, I would like to see more diversity among corporate executives, law firms, behind the cameras, in the media and beyond. When it comes to diversity in the communications sector in Washington, there is still a long way to go. Law firms, lobbying shops, trade associations and even the media all have diversity challenges. The policy and government relations divisions at telecom, media and technology companies reflect the same reality.

MCN: For example?

AH: It reminds me of an incident just last year. I attended an industry luncheon and was seated at the head table next to the keynote speaker, who is the president of a prominent TV-station group. We ate together, chatted at lunch and then he gave his speech, which was a good one. I even asked a question from the floor during Q&A.

At the end of the luncheon, I went out to the hotel entrance to stand to stand on the side to wait for the car, and the TV president came over to me. I smiled at him and he extended his hand with what I thought was his business card — except that it was his valet parking ticket. He thought I was the valet. I could not believe it. So I moved about six inches from his nose, looked him in the eye so he could really see me, and said, “Do you really want me to get your car?” Flustered and somewhat embarrassed, he said, “Oh, I thought you were the parking guy.”

Not ready to give him a pass, and wanting to have a little fun making the point, I said, “We just had lunch and conversation at the head table, and you come outside and ask me to go get your car. You know I won’t let you forget this.” So I guess the moral of the story is that even at high levels of achievement, the content of your character does not always make it past the color of your skin. I guess we have a ways to go when it comes to diversity.

Every company that is involved in a big transaction has the opportunity to multiply its diversity index by involving minority partners. So whether it is broadband, content, video, wireless, mobile or something else at the heart of the deal, companies can find a diverse entity to work with. It is good corporate policy and good public policy as well.

MCN: How about at the FCC?

AH: The FCC is like a huge family. It is typically voted one of the best places to work in Washington, and it is not uncommon to see anniversaries of 20, 30 and even 40-plus years of service. Like many federal agencies, there is also a healthy measure of diversity throughout the organization — just not at the senior levels. It is not uncommon to attend meetings at the FCC where there is no ethnic diversity among the attendees from outside or inside the building.

That said, in recent years, most chairmen of the FCC have had some kind of diversity push or initiative. The venerable Dick Wiley was responsible for the minority tax certificate program that spawned historic ownership of broadcast stations by African-Americans. Bill Kennard’s push for equity in advertising for minority media led to an historic executive order. Michael Powell mentored and met regularly with minority communications professionals. Mignon Clyburn advanced inclusion in the auction process for small and minority businesses. And Tom Wheeler has tripled the number of minority television station owners in a little over a year.

Closeup: Adonis Hoffman

Most Recent FCC Position:
Chief of Staff, Senior Legal Adviser (Media) to Commissioner Mignon Clyburn (2013-2015)

Trade Group Experience:
Former Senior VP, American Association of Advertising Agencies

Prior FCC Experience:
Deputy Chief, Cable (now Media) Bureau (1999-2000); International Policy Adviser to Chairman William Kennard (1998); Chairman, Interagency Task Force on Advertising Practices (1999-2000)

Capitol Hill Experience:
Counsel, House Committee on Foreign Affairs; House Subcommittee Staff Director, International Operations, Africa; Counsel, House Subcommittee on Judiciary & Education

Princeton University, A.B.; Georgetown University Law Center, J.D.