LOS ANGELES: Burson-Marsteller has been tapped as part of a communications team for the opponents of a highly controversial California ballot measure that would bar the state from collecting and using racial and ethnic data for public education, contracting, or employment decisions.
The "Racial Privacy Initiative," presented by University of California regent Ward Connerly, will appear on the March 2004 ballot.
Connerly has already begun speaking on behalf of the measure, which would eliminate race-identity boxes on state forms, among other provisions.
A group of business, nonprofit, and civic leaders have formed a group called The Coalition for an Informed California to oppose the measure.
The group is citing concerns that the initiative could be detrimental to minorities by limiting the state's ability to track such problems as admissions to educational institutions or patterns of disease in ethnic groups.
The Coalition has chosen Burson after an RFP process to wage a statewide campaign to defeat the measure.
Included on the communications team is Jay Ziegler, director of Burson California, as committee codirector; Elena Stern of Burson's LA office as communications director; Larry Grisolano of Pasadena-based Strategy Group as a general consultant; and David Axelrod of Chicago-based Axelrod & Associates as a media consultant. The communications team was formed to compete for the RFP.
Burson is specifically charged with building the coalition and handling media outreach.
"The goals are to get as diverse and widespread a coalition as possible," explained Stern. "The implications and consequences of this initiative are very far-reaching, and so everyone will be impacted by this - from public education to public health. The fundamental message is that this initiative will give license to those prone to discriminate without facing any consequences."
Currently, the Coalition includes companies and organizations such as Kaiser Permanente, the California Teachers Association, and the NAACP.
Stern added that the communications team is planning a grassroots campaign to coincide with an advertising effort.
"This battle is going to be fought in the trenches, as well as on television," she predicted. "We think we can beat this back once we start communicating with people about the drastic and harmful impacts of this. We'll have to raise a lot of money, but I think this is something that is defeatable."