The Madison Avenue Project was born from remarkable research commissioned about the lack of Black professionals and managers in the advertising industry. In 2009, we learned that racial discrimination was 38% worse in the advertising industry than in the overall U.S. labor market, and that the “discrimination divide” between advertising and other U.S. industries had doubled from 30 years prior. The study found that Black people were significantly underrepresented in industry jobs—with a shortfall of 7,200 jobs—and that Black professionals in the industry were paid 20% less on average than white workers with comparable experience and education. See Marc Bendick, Jr., and Mary Lou Egan, Research Perspectives on Race and Employment in the Advertising Industry (Washington, DC: Bendick and Egan Economic Consultants, Inc., for the NAACP and the Madison Avenue Project, 2009).
The study generated significant press coverage and buzz in the advertising industry. Our firm subsequently represented several Black advertising professionals in charges of race discrimination filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The Project shed light on the advertising industry’s most coveted media spots—Super Bowl commercials. We found that of the 52 professionally produced industry ads that aired during the 2010 Super Bowl, all of the creative directors were white, and only 6% were women. Clearly, the American advertising world has been dominated by an insider network of white men. The Madison Avenue Project exposed systemic racial injustice in the industry and aimed to dismantle it.
Ten years later, there is still significant need for racial and gender equity in the advertising industry. Data shows horizontal and vertical gender segregation, a glass ceiling for persons of color, ageism, and pay discrepancies for women and persons of color. New organizations such as 600 & Rising have taken up the charge to create lasting change on Madison Avenue.
Selected Media Coverage of the Call for Racial Justice in Advertising:
- PR Advocacy Group Hold the Press Merges with 600 & Rising. PR Newswire, July 27, 2020.
- Imogen Watson, Black Ad Professionals Call on Agency Leaders to Take Urgent Action on Racism. The Drum, June 10, 2020.
- Ann-Christine Diaz, More Than 600 Black Agency Professionals Call for End to Systemic Racism in Open Letter to Industry Professionals. AdAge, June 9, 2020.
- Seb Joseph, Advertising, Mired in Racism, Has a Long Road to Recovery. Digiday, June 5, 2020.
- Bonnie Chiu, Addressing the Ad Industry’s Sticky Problem with Race. Forbes, July 16, 2019.
- Ad Agencies Not Diverse. Hispanically Speaking News, July 21, 2011
- Ken Wheaton, Super Bowl Spots and Their Creatives Even Less Diverse Than Ad Industry. Ad Age Blogs, July 20, 2011
- Craig Davis, Super Bowl Advertising Fails to Reflect Diversity of Audience. Sun Sentinel, July 20, 2011
- Cyrus Mehri and Janelle M. Carter, Change on Madison Avenue. Diversity Executive, November 14, 2010
- Cyrus Mehri and Janelle Carter, View From the Front Lines. AdWeek, September 26, 2010
- Burt Helm, Cyrus Mehri’s Race Battle on Madison Avenue. BusinessWeek, February 25, 2010
- Kunur Patel, Cyrus Mehri Filing EEOC Charges Against Advertising Companies. Advertising Age, February 10, 2010
- Doug Melville, The Country Might Not Need a ‘Minority Czar’, But Advertising Does. Advertising Age, February 3, 2010
- Jim Edwards, Q&A: Cyrus Mehri and Race Discrimination on Madison Avenue. CBS Interactive Business Network, January 12, 2010
- Matt Van Hoven, The Latest Bullet in Advertising’s Already Blood Feet. Agency Spy, January 8, 2010
- Jill Marcellus, BMW Excludes “Urban” Ad Markets, Highlighting Ad Industry’s History of Discrimination Issues. Finding Dulcinea, August 24, 2009
- Andrew McMains, NAACP Writes Big Advertisers in Diversity Push. AdWeek, March 25, 2009
- Ken Wheaton, NAACP, MAP Target P&G, Other Marketers in Agency Diversity Fight. Advertising Age, March 25, 2009
- Stuart Elliott, NAACP to Advertisers: Diversity Begins at Home. The New York Times, March 25, 2009
- Burt Helm, Cyrus Mehri’s Madison Avenue Attack Plan. Bloomberg BusinessWeek, January 9, 2009
- Burt Helm, Madison Avenue Accused of Racial Bias. Bloomberg BusinessWeek, January 9, 2009
- Stuart Elliott, A Lawyer’s Call for a Greater Black Presence in Agencies. The New York Times, January 8, 2009
- Steve Hall, Wake Up Ad Agencies! Cyrus Mehri is on the Loose Again. Ad Rants, January 5, 2009