Does your racial origin determine what you buy? That, according to
Tetteh Kofi, publisher of the newest black newspaper New Nation, is ’a
dollars 64 million question’.
’If one accepts that people’s attitudes and beliefs deriving from their
culture influence their buying patterns, and that this is a good thing
because it adds colour to our society, then one can look at the best way
to market to that particular niche,’ says Kofi.
Last week PR Week reported that Abi Adeniran, former PR and marketing
manager on New Nation’s established rival the Voice, had set up his own
agency Hothouse. And although he stresses that less than half his work
will concentrate on specific ethnic audiences, he admits this area gives
the agency its USP. Clients include British Airways and Islington
restaurant DCO - which is due to open in March.
With the UK’s ethnic community set to double over the next 30 years,
does Adeniran’s move highlight a burgeoning area of service excluded by
’Unlike many big agencies, we have employees who have worked within this
market and have contacts on its media. Because of my ethnicity, I also
have a natural empathy for the black market, although I’m not saying
this is the case with all people of this ethnicity,’ says Adeniran.
Rather than focusing on products developed specifically for the black
community, he wants to build business among blue chip or public sector
clients targeting this audience.
Other than the obvious black media, Adeniran says one can target ’this
segment’ through the sponsorship of events including Afro-Caribbean
exhibitions or the Notting Hill Carnival. He adds: ’There are also
mainstream media which have a relatively high ethnic audience: the
Guardian for example, or GLR’s Upfront show on Wednesdays.’
But media channels aside, does the style of approach actually vary?
Adeniran believes it does: ’For example you would give a training shoe a
more risque edge and present it in a different environment. Make it
He argues that for cultural, musical or sporting reasons, black youths
set trends or act as opinion leaders for certain products. Having gained
that credibility, this endorsement can sustain the product’s life.
Marketers for global brands have recognised that the ’mass market’ has
been replaced by a more segmented one in which it is difficult to use
the same message to hit all audiences at once. For a long time US
corporates including Sears, AT&T and Coca-Cola have run dedicated
marketing programmes that target up to ten ethnic minority groups.
Other companies appear reluctant to take this path - perhaps,
justifiably, afraid of making crass assumptions about behaviour leading
to accusations of racism.
Boot and clothing manufacturer Caterpillar is a large company that wants
to retain its street level image, but creative director Shubhankar Ray
believes the idea of ’ethnic targeting’ can be very patronising.
’Targeting is bullshit. It just helps marketing people put things in a
box. The attitude that ’black is cool’ tends to come from people who
don’t understand the culture,’ argues Ray.
He says that Caterpillar’s whole advertising and marketing strategy is
multicultural: ’The advertising features real people, including a
mixture of races in street settings. We want to reflect a young person’s
urban reality rather than an ad person’s hallucination of what their
lives are about.’
Ray says the same policy is applied to its PR, which is handled by
Watch-men, an agency, interestingly, run by three black partners
Watch-men has considerable experience in music PR and is closely linked
to the underground music culture from which Caterpillar derived its
Tim Sutton, chief executive of top ten agency Charles Barker, says he
takes a pragmatic view: ’One could argue that if there are media serving
the particular community you are targeting, there’s a reason for a
specialist team to work on the account. This is not a politically
correct issue but a decision about whether it is commercially
’If we were targeting the Asian trading community, it would be, at the
very least, a courtesy to target their media. It would also be a good
idea to pick someone from a British Asian background to work on it,’
However he admits that most PR agencies don’t understand the ethnic
sector as well as they might.
Another question is whether the black community is even represented
within the industry’s personnel.
It’s very difficult for generalist agencies to approach this market says
New Nation’s Kofi: ’There are more black doctors than there are black
marketing directors and therefore clients are unlikely to lead agencies
in this direction.
’There’s a real need for ethnic PR agencies. It’s too early to see the
marketplace as homogenised.’
So, is the answer to be found in generalists setting up ethnic
’I wouldn’t rule out having any specialist group,’ says Hill and
Knowlton director Giles Fraser. ’At the moment our expertise in this
area fits within the main agency but increasingly we have to be
Adeniran says: ’A few agencies have enquired about buying into our
But it’s important to become established on our own merits for reasons
of respect and credibility.’