Association of Black-Owned Advertising Agencies Formed, 4A's Seeks To Assist

As issues of diversity become more acute for marketers and creative shops, a group of multicultural firms have grouped together to form the Association of Black-Owned Advertising Agencies.

The ABAA is based in Chicago, and its interim chairman is Eugene Morris, chairman and CEO of Chicago-based E. Morris Communications, Inc.

"The formation of the ABAA was long overdue," Morris said. "For more than 40 years, the African-American market has been the number one ethnic market in America. With the growing importance of these consumers, we need to find ways to collectively use our expertise and address critical issues facing both the market and our agencies."

Morris is--along with fellow ABAA officers Eugene Faison, chairman and CEO of Equals Three Communications, and J. Melvin Muse, chairman and executive creative director of Muse Communications--on the American Association of Advertising Agencies and its diversity committee.

"I'm still actively involved with the 4A's, and this is not meant to be any substitute for the issues they're tackling," Morris said.

For its part, the 4A's applauded Morris and the goals of the ABAA and hopes to assist the new organization any way it can, said Adonis Hoffman, the 4A's senior vice president and legal counsel.

"I think it's a very positive development that the African-American-owned ad agencies decided to formalize their association," Adonis said. "Black ad agencies face unique challenges in the marketplace and they also offer unique skills. Gene Morris is one of the real leaders in the industry. We look forward to working with the association on areas of mutual interest."

In particular, Adonis said, the 4A's has been concentrating on a diversity initiative to help ad agencies address the issues of recruitment, retention, and developing relationships with various minority business suppliers that do business with agencies.

One of the areas where the interests of the 4A's and the ABAA might run counter is the problem that, in the grand scheme of things, is a good problem. As Morris noted, with all the efforts from general market agencies to try to embrace multicultural advertising and attract senior African-American executives, some traditionally black companies could find themselves in a tug of war over rising stars.

"There are some issues that the 4A's can't address because there might be certain concerns on the part of African-American agencies that run counter to interests of some of its own members," Morris said. "They have to take a more global or more macro view than we will. For example, the diversity initiative that the 4A's is championing is something that African-American agencies really need to look at. In the long run, it could affect our businesses, since the general market agencies would like to increase the levels of African-Americans. But where are they going to get these people from? They can't get them from each other because they don't have any. And they can't really raid their own clients. So African-American agencies are the likely source of that talent. And we have to be mindful of that, and as African-American agencies, we need to have a position on that and discuss how to handle it."

As for the ABAA's other areas of interest, Morris said the organization initially will be devoted to advocate for the interests of African-American-owned ad agencies, and look to forge relationships with governmental, industry, consumer, and other groups on matters affecting the industry. The ABAA also hopes to establish opportunities for African-American students entering the advertising profession through scholarships, internships, and mentoring programs.

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