This year’s special election will be the most expensive in California history, with spending topping $220 million. But as of mid-August, none of the multi-million dollar campaigns had committed a single dollar to advertising in the African American print media.
Frustrated that the black press was losing out in a year of unprecedented political advertising, two-dozen black publishers gathered in Sacramento in mid-August to urge the campaigns to provide what they described as their “fair share” of advertising dollars.
The meeting, titled “Black Media Forum: Securing Special Interest Ads,” was called by the California Black Media Association and Assemblyman Jerome Horton of Inglewood. Representatives from labor, the governor, and insurance, banking and pharmaceutical industries were all invited; some attended.
“When we went up there, we were looking at zero dollars [in committed advertising],” Hardy Brown, publisher of Riverside’s Black Voice News and president of the California Black Media Association (CBMA), told Capitol Weekly.
“And now the preliminary reports are over $700,000 spent on black media throughout the state.” The CBMA represents 47 newspapers, most of them weeklies, five magazine and three radio stations.
The meeting, according to its sponsors, had two goals. The first was to open the lines of communications between the black media and the big-money players in Sacramento. The second was to begin to tap those players for advertising.
On both counts, it seems to have been successful.
“In all the years I have been publishing, this has been the largest [in terms of political ads],” said Brown, who has published the Black Voice News for two and a half decades.
Les Kimber, who attended the meeting and is the publisher of Fresno’s California Advocate, says that this is the first time in history that he has had ads on both sides of an issue. That is, he says, “as it should be.”
“They advertise in the Fresno Bee, the Sacramento Bee–the white media. They ought to do the same in the black media,” adds Kimber.
Media buyers, however, note that the majority of campaign money is spent on broadcast media–which reaches across racial lines.
The California Black Media Association was organized in December 2001 to collectively pressure the political class of Sacramento for California advertising dollars. The group, according to director Paulette Brown-Hinds, is “a political and promotional organization trying to lobby for the black press.”
CBMA president Brown and meeting co-sponsor Horton agree that, as Horton put it, “there has been a failure to engage the African American community” through advertising. But the two disagreed on where the advertising money should come from.
Brown simply hopes to generate more new political ad revenue–from both sides of the aisle. While in Sacramento, Brown met with both Republican and Democratic legislative leadership in the Capitol as well as with the banking and insurance industry.
Horton, a Democrat, hoped to use the “Securing Special Interest Ads” effort to specifically drum up Democratic advertising dollars, helping solidify support among blacks who have historically been Democratic constituents.
“Over the last two or three campaigns, Democrats have not engaged the African American community in a significant way,” says Horton. “The Republican Party is actively and aggressively developing an agenda and presenting it.”
Horton says he already sees the allegiance of blacks to the Democratic Party eroding. He points to last year’s election where President Bush made major inroads in the African American community, compared to four years earlier.
“[Democrats] need to communicate through the black media,” implores Horton. “We need to advertise through the black media to communicate to the community.”
For Horton, the most significant guest of the forum was Larry Grisolano, the representative for the Alliance for a Better California, the labor coalition opposing the governor’s agenda. (No representative of the governor’s campaign attended).
Grisolano, who is the chief consultant for the No on 75 campaign, the best-funded of the Alliance’s efforts, said, “They made a strong pitch as for why we should advertise there.”
Before the meeting the Alliance had “a plan in place” for black print media–though no advertising dollars had been committed, according to Grisolano.
Afterward, the Alliance contributed $311,978 to New California Media, an ad placement agency that reserves space in various ethnic media outlets. Multiple phone calls to New California Media to determine the exact amounts that went to black publications were not returned.
“We made decisions on how to advertise on the merits,” said Grisolano.
When asked whether the black press got its “fair share” this year, Hardy quickly retorts, “Oh heck no. Not when you look at how much has been spent on statewide advertising campaigns and you look at the number of blacks in the state.”
Overall, the print media–black, ethnic, or otherwise–receives only a fraction of every statewide campaign’s spending on political ads.
La Opinion, the largest circulation Spanish-language newspaper in the state, reports receiving only $17,000 in advertising from the labor groups lined up against Gov. Schwarzenegger’s agenda. And even those ads only began running only two weeks ago, in contrast to the television spots that have been inundating the airwaves for most of the year.
“There is always lip service to our market on both sides,” said Paulette Brown-Hinds, director of the California Black Media Association. “Everyone says they need us, they want to work with us but when it comes down to it we get very little.”
But with a new, more direct, more in-your-face approach, the publishers of the black press hopes to generate more revenue–and more respect.
“This is just the beginning of marketing ourselves,” said Brown.