In Letter to P&G, Mehri and NAACP Say Talk of Minority Agencies Is "Counter-Productive"

Last Updated Mar 25, 2009 12:04 PM EDT

Cyrus Mehri and the NAACP have sent a strongly worded four-page letter to Procter & Gamble and a couple dozen other major marketers insisting that they force their advertising agencies to use non-white staffers in creative and account management positions.

The letter is part of Mehri's plan to find a way of suing Omnicom, WPP, Interpublic and Publicis in a class-action race discrimination lawsuit.

The letter uses language that is by turns collaborative and threatening. Like the Mafia, it makes P&G an offer it can't refuse. Specifically, the letter says that using minority agencies is no longer an acceptable strategy for hiring minority talent. This will cause some consternation inside minority agencies, who may previously have assumed that the NAACP was on their side. The letter:

We are also aware that the large advertising agenciies funnel some business to minority owned or minority targeted agencies. But for reasons discussed at length in the report, such initiatives do not effectively address the issues raised in the report, and we do not want to hear back from either the advertising agencies or Procter & Gamble about such initiatives. To address the issues raised in the report, it is important that Procter & Gamble understands that such responses are inadequate and, in some cases, counter-productive.
(The report referred to is Mehri's own study of racism in the business.) Note that NAACP and Mehri (pictured) do not regard this as a discussion or a debate. They already have the answers, and only one option is open to P&G: "Do as we say." NAACP and Mehri's bottom line is this:
We would like for you to instruct your advertising agencies to use diverse teams in creative and account management positions.
That's a laudable goal, but where are these execs to come from? The letter says that the industry already has plenty of "already available Black talent." One possible answer: Big agencies could hire these execs from existing minority agencies -- thus decimating the minority agency business, but getting clients and agency holding companies off the hook with Mehri and the NAACP.

Mehri and the NAACP also set themselves up as the ad business's police force:

The behavior documented in the report is illegal, and we are sure that Procter & Gamble would not wish to be associated in any way with illegal behavior.
If these companies are breaking the law, Mehri should sue. Why doesn't he? He's done a huge amount of research already in his report on race in agencies, some of it going back to 1947. What's interesting is that instead of filing suit and gearing up for a multi-million damages claim, Mehri is still at the letter-writing stage:
As a first step in working together, we request that you identify a senior executive of your firm to serve as the point of contact with us. As a second step, we propose to meet promptly with that individual and other members of your staff concerning appropriate ways to raise this issue with your advertising agencies ... please contact us within 10 business days ...
The implication is that P&G is condoning racist acts if it doesn't do exactly as Mehri says, within 10 business days.

Here's what is likely to happen next: Not wanting to appear racist or get sued, these companies will tap executives to work with Mehri. There will be lots of meetings. The meetings will set hiring goals in each clients' agencies, and dates for those goals to be met. The deadlines will be different for each company and each agency, making the process as confusing as possible. Time will pass. The deadlines will expire. Some companies and agencies will meet some or all of their goals. The ones that fail will have a range of excuses, from the legitimate to the fraudulent.

Mehri will then be left with a jumble of partial success and differing responses -- which may make bringing his suit even more difficult than it is right now.

The other companies receiving the letter, per Ad Age: AT&T, Verizon Communications, General Motors Corp., Time Warner, Ford Motor Co., GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Walt Disney Co., Unilever, Sprint Nextel Corp., General Electric Co., Toyota Motor Corp., Chrysler, Sony Corp., L'Oreal, Sears Holdings Corp., Kraft Foods, Bank of America, Nissan Motor Co., Macy's, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Honda Motor Co., Viacom and Berkshire.