Editorial: AAPRA won’t stop rivals competing

The formation of the African-American Public Relations Alliance (AAPRA) was well done. As the first rule of PR, the formation created a story: there have been a spate of diversity marketing practices involving major PR agencies and ad agencies, in PRWeek and in other media-based magazines. Rather than sit by and carp from the sides, AAPRA has put itself firmly back into the headlines and at the center of the argument. First by announcing its intent to form the alliance (PRWeek, February 8), and now by going through with it in a good old-fashioned media event that brought out some big guns - Rev. Al Sharpton and Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People - for third-party endorsement (PRWeek, July 19).

The formation of the African-American Public Relations Alliance (AAPRA) was well done. As the first rule of PR, the formation created a story: there have been a spate of diversity marketing practices involving major PR agencies and ad agencies, in PRWeek and in other media-based magazines. Rather than sit by and carp from the sides, AAPRA has put itself firmly back into the headlines and at the center of the argument. First by announcing its intent to form the alliance (PRWeek, February 8), and now by going through with it in a good old-fashioned media event that brought out some big guns - Rev. Al Sharpton and Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People - for third-party endorsement (PRWeek, July 19).

The formation of the African-American Public Relations Alliance

(AAPRA) was well done. As the first rule of PR, the formation created a

story: there have been a spate of diversity marketing practices

involving major PR agencies and ad agencies, in PRWeek and in other

media-based magazines. Rather than sit by and carp from the sides, AAPRA

has put itself firmly back into the headlines and at the center of the

argument. First by announcing its intent to form the alliance (PRWeek,

February 8), and now by going through with it in a good old-fashioned

media event that brought out some big guns - Rev. Al Sharpton and Kweisi

Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of

Colored People - for third-party endorsement (PRWeek, July 19).



The Alliance also makes a strong case for itself. This is partly because

the big PR agencies have been pitifully slow to embrace the importance

of this community in setting up their new diversified practices. The top

20 multicultural PR firms have billings of dollars 16 million, according

to statistics from the Council of PR Firms. This represents 1.2% of the

PR income of the top 20 firms nationwide.



With an estimated dollars 350 billion of spending power among black

consumers, according to one source, the AAPRA can not only top that

dollars 16 million, but it can do so while also offering coverage in

almost all the major PR hotspots - New York, Washington, LA, Chicago,

Atlanta - as well as Philadelphia, Memphis and Alexandria. If the

Alliance gets its strategy right, there will doubtless be more agencies

to add to the roster, and the proposition will become even more

attractive to businesses.



But therein also lies the potential weakness of the Alliance. Its

success will not be based on a moral right to serve the African-American

community at large, but on boring boilerplate details: doing good work;

communicating effectively among the partners within a sound structure;

and coordinating efforts across different businesses, personalities and

cultures. These concerns are not limited to the AAPRA - they determine

the success of all networks, both national and global - but they cannot

be ignored.



Nor should the AAPRA believe in its own hype. First, it addresses only

one minority, and a diversified marketing practice could potentially

embrace several other important markets - Latino, Asian, gay and

lesbian, for example.



Second, in some of the rhetoric that was uttered at the press conference

last week, there was a dangerous assumption that big PR agencies are

incapable of competing for African-American PR business.



’They set up a practice group and put someone in charge who looks like

us, then they say ’we’re doing this.’ But I say that if it acts like a

show and looks like a show, it probably is a show.’ These words by

Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement

of Colored People, underestimate the power of a capitalist economy. If

someone’s business is worth going after, sooner or later, people will

figure out a way to compete for it - whatever it takes.



- See analysis, p9.



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