Census Cash Sparks Rush for Minority Agencies, Media - and Complaints When It Doesn't Arrive

Last Updated Jan 15, 2010 3:33 PM EST

For most people, the $340 million campaign for the 2010 Census is about trying to accurately count all the Americans in the U.S. so that electoral boundaries and federal funding can be apportioned accurately.

But for minority advertising agencies and ethnic media, it's more like a lottery payday: The majority of the $145 million media budget is devoted to targeting minorities in the U.S. to encourage them to fill in a census form and be counted. The result is that there has been an undignified rush by minority ad agencies and ethnic media to demand their share of the money. And they are complaining loudly when they don't get it.

DraftFCB is the main agency on the census account. The minority agencies are:

  • GlobalHue: African American and Hispanic
  • IW Group: Asian and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander audiences
  • G&G: American Indian and Alaska Native audiences
  • Allied Media: other emerging audiences
Already, certain ethnic publications are complaining that the agencies haven't doled out the media cash fast enough. Raul E. Cisneros, chief of the 2010 Census Publicity Office, addressed Carib World News recently:
... amidst criticism and complaints from several Caribbean media entities that they have yet to receive advertising insertion orders from the U.S. Census' ad. agency.
... 40 Caribbean media signed on to a petition to question why they have yet to receive advertising dollars from the millions of dollars set aside.
(Cisneros gave no specifics.) Asian and Russian media in San Francisco had similar complaints:
"Many Russians are highly educated and they have high incomes," said [Olga Kazakova of the Russian World newspaper ]. "They come here to work for Microsoft and Google, and they bring their wives and their parents. They have influence. Census should get these elites interested and involved."

Assaye Abunie of Ethio Youth Media TV asked Census officials how to go about securing Census media buys.

"We've tried emailing Draft FCB and for a long time, we didn't get any response," said Abunie. "We were told to contact Global Hue and no response. We're really underfunded. How do we position ourselves so that we can be funded?"

As did the Hmong people of Minnesota and their counterparts in the Hispanic media community there:
"We did place one ad, a classified ad for hiring managers for the Census in the Hmong Times newspaper back at the end of July. It was the one time they did it. But other than that, there's been nothing," [Steve Wetzler, president of TCB Marketing] said. "We're hoping there will be advertising dollars coming through for these different papers for 2010. You'd think it would be set pretty soon if it is coming."

Latino Communications Network vice president Juan Carlos Alanis said the ad agency hired by the Census Bureau already told him he should not look for any ad revenue.

"Apparently we don't exist or we are not enough. Isn't that ironic? We're not enough because we haven't been counted right. At the same time, they don't put money to be counted right," he said.

It's not just about "being counted" or agencies getting a chunk of tax money simply for not being white. As Don Browne, president of NBC Universal-owned Telemundo Communications Group, pointed out, the results of census will filter into ratings figures as Nielsen adds audience meters to Hispanic communities, and that means more money for Spanish Language TV for years to come as advertisers reapportion their ethnic budgets:
"If you're in the Hispanic media business, this will dramatically affect ratings and growth in Spanish-language media," he said.
The gold rush leaves minority agencies in an odd position. If their efforts work and the census is successful, it will be another step toward current American minorities successfully assimilating into the mainstream -- rendering minority agencies less useful. But Don Coleman (pictured), CEO of Globalhue, doesn't see that happening. He recently told Adweek:
Minority cultures will not completely assimilate into a full American lifestyle.
That's depressing news, because it means that we'll have to live with debates such as the one in the comments section of the above Adweek story for generations to come.