NYC to Subpoena Ad Agency Execs in Diversity Probe

Lisa Sanders, AdAge.com, March 06, 2006

NEW YORK—Madison Avenue’s white management ranks are about to be exposed in public hearings on ad agencies’ minority-hiring practices that could drag industry stars such as Andrew Robertson, Kevin Roberts and Shelly Lazarus—and their clients—into an unflattering spotlight.

‘An embarrassment’

Blasting the New York industry’s hiring practices as “an embarrassment for a diverse city,” City Councilman Larry Seabrook said he will call hearings within the next three months and likely subpoena industry executives for a grilling on the subject.

Agencies won’t be the only ones called to testify. “We can ask [clients] for their positions on diversity and how they feel about working with agencies that aren’t diverse,” added Mr. Seabrook.

Shockingly little change

The last investigation of advertising’s minority-hiring practices was undertaken in the early 1970s, when three agencies agreed to implement approved procedures in hiring. But shockingly little has changed since those days, when Gerald Ford was in office and the Watergate perpetrators were being sentenced, according to Mr. Seabrook. In fact, “conditions within the industry have gotten worse,” he said.

Year-and-a-half investigation

The hearings are the latest twist in a year-and-a-half-long investigation by New York City’s Commission on Human Rights, spearheaded by Human Rights Commissioner Patricia Gatling, that has put under the microscope 17 of the city’s agencies, including BBDO, Saatchi & Saatchi and Ogilvy & Mather. On Feb. 14, Ms. Gatling welcomed help from the City Council civil-rights committee that Mr. Seabrook chairs to further the probe.

The city’s Human Rights Commission’s jurisdiction includes the ability to prosecute discrimination based on race, creed, color and national origin in employment and various other areas. Those found to have violated the law face fines as well as other penalties.

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