Posted by: Burth Helm on January 9, 2009
D.C. lawyer Cyrus Mehri is coming. “Take cover, people. Take cover,” is how Steve Hall over at Adrants sums up the feeling on Madison Avenue. Mehri, founder of Mehri & Skalet and the man who cost Coca-Cola and Texaco hundreds of millions in class-action lawsuit settlements, is going after Madison Avenue (see my story here). Agencies will likely become more inclusive as a result, a good thing. But right now I’m geeking out about how Mehri’s making his case.
We’re already seeing the Mehri strategy emerge: He released a study, available here from researchers Bendick and Egan, which he says demonstrates quantitatively widespread racial discrimination in the ad industry. Not a bad start. Next, he’s undercutting the work Advertising Agencies have already done on diversity issues. Scholarships and internship programs, he argues, wrongly blame Madison Avenue’s whiteness on African Americans themselves, as if they were somehow unqualified, when the real problem lies with how agencies are structured and run. This boxes agencies out of easy, comparatively economical responses like handing out more internships. Meanwhile structural changes aren’t just costly, but can (I’m sure Mehri knows) implicitly acknowledge guilt.
In coming months, he’ll be turning up the temperature on the agencies, enlisting the NAACP to ask agencies’ advertiser clients to help apply pressure on them make changes. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next, and how the agencies respond.