Ask the White Guy on Bad PR Pitches: Stereotyping Black & Latino Shopping

In a holiday edition of Ask the White Guy, DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti chastises a PR firm for pitching an insensitive survey that focuses on Blacks and Latinos shopping for fashion and music and cites their Internet usage without comparing it to that of white people.

Ask the White Guy Luke ViscontiI received a public relations pitch from a well-known “multicultural” agency. I’ve sanitized the pitch to avoid embarrassing the guilty, but there’s a good underlying lesson for all companies to be sensitive to. Here’s my response to the PR agency pitch person:

Dear (name withheld),

Because (company name withheld) does not offer its gay and lesbian employees medical partner benefits, there’s no point in even discussing a story about them with DiversityInc.

However, here’s something you should consider when pitching this story: Unless you compare Internet usage with household income across all groups, including white people, your pitch will make Black and Latino people appear to be behind the times.

I also got a little nauseous over the “as Hispanics and African Americans shop for the hottest fashion, music and other holiday gifts this season” comment—I guess Black and Latino people don’t shop for books? What about the Asian people mentioned in your pitch? I guess they’re not just stylishly dancing in the street like your pitch insinuates the Black and Latino people are. And you follow that line with “a great majority will be shopping online” when you just describe both groups as having significantly less than 50 percent online shopping.

The fact is that poverty and race are related in this country and this pitch not only ignores that fact, it flattens it, making the middle-class Black and Latino households appear less attractive to marketers. Many studies show that if you crosstab Internet usage with income level, the racial digital divide evaporates. If you then look at education achievement in Black and Latino families, you can build a very good case for marketers directing an increasing share of their budget to Black and Latino households—because education achievement for both groups (high school, college and post-graduate) is increasing at a dramatically higher rate than white households. The trend is there and it’s positive.

In essence, you have a REALLY bad pitch—something that I’d expect from a company that oppresses people by their orientation.

Thanks anyway,


—–Original Message—–

Subject: FW: Hispanic and African American Shopping Online – Busiest Delivery Week

Luke –

A Media Audit study (see below) showed that among African Americans, 40.6 percent now shop online, compared to 27.1 percent five years ago and more than 20 percent now make five or more purchases a year while 10.9 percent make more than 12 purchases a year. Also according to the report, 41.8 percent of Hispanics now shop online, compared to 27.7 percent five years ago. In addition, 23.5 percent of Hispanics make five or more purchases in a year and 12.3 percent make 12 or more purchases. The total adult Hispanic population in the 88 markets surveyed is approximately 23.3 million.

As Hispanics and African Americans shop for the hottest fashion, music and other holiday gifts this season, a great majority will be doing their shopping online. (company name withheld) is one of the largest fleet aircraft carriers – only second to American Airlines – with its 660 sleighs (aircrafts) and its 275,000 elves (employees) this holiday, it will deliver more than 50 million packages this week alone. The week of December 14th will be the busiest shipping week of 2009. Hub visits as well as b-roll and satellite feeds are available to demonstrate the hustle and bustle in the (company name withheld) workshop and package deliveries (see attachment for details).

Luke, we thought this might be a great tie-in as it relates to Hispanics and African Americans online shopping habits along with a few (company name withheld) fun facts, which are attached.

I will follow up with you tomorrow to discuss further.

Thank you for your consideration

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  • Aside from the stereotyping this pitch does, I feel compelled to point out that even if there were none, this pitch still sucks. What exactly is the correlation between “Black and Latino customers buy more stuff on the web now” and “this company ships things”? I get that presumably the company will be delivering a lot of that merchandise, but I think the link is pretty tenuous. Factor in your observation that “if you crosstab Internet usage with income level, the racial digital divide evaporates” and this pitch holds no water. It reeks of somebody googling a few facts in one study and trying to work it in to their pre-established pitch.

    Add a dash of racism and the whole thing really comes together. (Into a blog post for you and embarassment for them!)

  • Dear ( Co Name Withheld),

    As long as my skin is brown, my eyes brown and my Puerto Rican Flag flies in the wind. You will never get this Ricans Money.


    NY Rican Law Grl

  • The pitch actually does say “and other holiday gifts”. As usual a ridiculous interpretation by “the white guy”.

  • As a PR professional for some 30 years, let me state unequivocally that that is one piss poor pitch. (Some of us PR folks are hooked on alliteration). The only connection to the survey that shows an uptick in e-commerce activity over the last five years by Black and Hispanic consumers to a certain package delivery service, is that they in fact deliver to “those neighborhoods.”

    The issue as I see it is two-fold:

    First– it assumes that based on an ethnic or racial construct one can generalize about any group’s spending habits ,tendencies or trends. In fact, since there is no ethic group that is Hispanic per se, the generalization is meaningless at its core. Hispanic is a short hand developed by government bureaucrats to lump people who sound the same to those government bureaucrats into one group, regardless of their personal, cultural or historic lineage.

    Think I’m overstating it?

    Check with the vast array of groups who are given no other choice but to check the Hispanic box on a form. Interestingly, people from Spain or whose heritage and lineage hark back to Spain are not considered Hispanic. I learned this distinction when US Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor (of Puerto Rican heritage) was tagged the first Hispanic US Supreme Court Justice, as opposed to Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo who served back in the 1930s and whose family background harks back to Portugal and possibly Spain as well. The point here is not who is first, but why we need an artificial ethnic construct in a society where all are equal,

    The second issue is the lack of professional development, training, oversight and most importantly, a demand for excellence in my business…the Public Relations business. Writing skills? Too rare. Strategic thinking? Too hard. Supervision and training? Too time consuming. Abysmal press releases and story pitches. Sadly, all too common.

    My take on this particular pitch is that it was created by one or more PR people who are professionally ignorant, passed by an equally ignorant or lazy supervisor and approved by a clueless client.

  • This pitch is just a summary of why American Corporations are going out of business during this economic collapse. For so long, Black and Latino people have been considered to be uneducated consumers which is actually the total opposite. Impartial customer service, lack of cuturally diversed product lines, and under representation in Corporate America has led both groups to seek out markets that cater to thier needs. The internet has become the perfect option due to the ability of reaching global markets. The narrow view illustrated by this firm shows just how much this country is out of touch with its consumers.

  • I guess it is “what can brown do for you” this year. Adios to “when it positively has to be there overnight.”

  • Yes, the NYT plays into stereotyping by creating a separate guide targeted to people of color.
    From my life experiences as a woman of color, people of color buy books, stylish gifts, tech items, pop up market items, tickets to theater, exercise videos, enjoy great food and purchase expensive gifts like everyone else–it’s a matter of taste and choice, which Ms. Oliver (who is Black) should have known.
    Maybe Ms. Oliver’s intent was to be informative but she missed the mark by “labeling” the guide “Of Color/Stylish Gifts”. So, I would suggest that she list the links along with the product logos and title the guide, “Style”– which would spark peoples’ interest.
    Here is something else that caught my attention, when you select the link and go back to “all gift guides” there is no reference to color–why—this is how it should be for ALL GUIDES!
    Sadly, I’ve lived long enough to know that our society will never be race neutral– why—because race matters!

  • Interesting comments……I am a black female that does most of her shopping online. I haven’t really thought about how much I shop online until now, however there is a reason I purchase online. It is because I do not have to deal with young [deleted] sales persons that don’t care what you buy If this is the attitude of todays’ sales person then I will shop where I do NOT have to be disrepected. Sales individuals today, in my opinion, do not care about the consumers/customers. They do not ask to assist, they run from you when they see you coming, and they, simply put, do not care. This tells me the company do no care if you purchase something or not. So I purchase from no name competitors, no matter the price (almost no matter the price) I’m not a fashion buff, but I love electronics. The majority of my purchases are books, because I am always trying to better myself and I like to be in the vincinity of things. I’ve NEVER been a musical buff, but I do prefer jazz. And last, my email address is based on sentimental reasons. From tijunana99.

  • What are they thinking? There is no correlation here, and most importantly no story. I’d like to see if the Media Audit study references “shopping for the hottest fashion and music”. I really think this was poorly thought out, if thought out at all. If they are looking for African Americans and Hispanics to patronize their services, this is a bad way to do it. Some people are still lost in their world of privilege, and they just don’t get it.

  • The client in question (whose identity is quite obvious given the details left in) needs to seriously reconsider its choice of PR agencies! In addition to this poor excuse of a media pitch, the VP of the client’s main PR agency dissed the client’s headquarters city on a major social networking site—and the client’s employees all saw it.

    P.S. The client DOES make health care benefits available to domestic partners. However, that’s ONLY in California, and ONLY because the law demands it. As always, mere compliance is woefully insufficient for an organization to merit being called “inclusive” (which should be the minimum standard today for consideration as a diversity champion).

  • Egads! I see an entire genre of pitches on the way!

    “Dear Luke:

    As you know, poor African-Americans dream of one day ascending the economic ladder through the great equalizer that is professional sports. Many dream of becoming basketball players, running backs and wide receivers. Some, displaying the dogged determination of a Michael Vick, have even broken the color barrier at quarterback!

    As these young African-Americans stoke their dreams this winter, many will be doing so huddled by burning garbage cans in front of department store windows, staring at the high-definition televisions displaying their sports heroes in action.

    As the maker of fine HD tuning equipment, Jolson Electronics has a staff of merry elves working around the clock…”

  • One thing is to show trends in shopping habits. He could have done it, comparing growth on online shopping, but he didn’t have to separate Hispanic and African American for that. And to pitch a fleet carrier he definitely didn’t have to divide shoppers. After all, credit cards are all the same, aren’t they?

  • It is obvious this pitch was disconnected, but it made you nauseous? Give me a break. Your suggestion that it is racially stereotyping is equally disconnected.

  • This is clearly a poor pitch. As stated by others here, there is zero corelation between the data and the service. However, it is just as clear that the author of this article had his own agenda and equally stretched to draw a link to stereotyping and racial insensitivity. While these issues certainly do exist, they’re just not evident in the pitch letter. Regarding holiday gifts, they sell a hell of a lot more sweaters thans books. Besides, the letter did say “and other gifts.” I found this particular stretch to be every bit inane as the premise of the pitch itself.

    The verdict: Junior PR doobs guilty a hack pitch. Reporter guilty using it as a springboard for his own feelings and glorification.

  • Am I the only one here who actually feels sorry for the person who wrote this pitch? Not in a “Oh my, do they know what a terrible PR person they are” kinda way, but in the “we have all been there whether you want to admit it or not” kinda way. As an AE/SAE you are told to PITCH – make the angle work, get the placement. Do you really think that this person thought they had a brilliant correlation that made sense 100%? I doubt it. As for being racist, they’re stating facts as found in a study and trying to get your publication interested. Stop being so sinister. There was no malice intended.

  • To the “Guest”poster who feels sorry for the poor, pitiful PR person (there’s that alliteration thing again) who sent this pitch…sorry, no sale. If as you say the AE/SAE was given a lame pitch and told to make it work, then figure out a way to make it work or find an alternative way to get into the targeted publication. It’s called “strategic thinking,” and as I stated in my earlier post, it is clearly too difficult for this PR person to navigate and not important enough for their agency to demand. I guess if supervision is lax, teaching and mentoring are out of the question. After all, there are billable hours to consider.

    Also, before you pitch a story that is so subject specific, do a little research about the publication/media outlet your pitching. In the case of Diversity, the “mystery” company’s health care policy for Gay partners immediately removed them from consideration for a positive piece in this publication. While I might not agree with the editorial policy, all publications /media outlets have their own editorial policies and restrictions whether we like them or not. Learn them and tailor your pitch accordingly or not at all.

    Finally, in the interest of giving a stranger the benefit of the doubt, I will concede that there was no malice intended…but the ignorance, laziness and lack of oversight on the part of all concerned is a sad commentary on their agency and sadder still, for my industry because it is not uncommon.

  • This is the end of 2009 and we in America still have race issues. Enjoy life people, move beyond race!

  • So many companies send out press releases (or in this case) a PR pitch to media outlets and expect the releases to be echoed verbetum. I have seen newspaper articles that are just that. Woe to the poor PR person who thinks that he/she can send a story to Diversity Inc and get it run without being vetted. LOL
    More publications should read their mail more critically as Luke did in this case.

  • I too agree that this was a very poor pitch — but for a moment, let’s look at this pitch form another direction. We all may assume that it’s a PR Representative that wrote this, but I know that in MANY cases these days, the MARKETING DIRECTOR who SUPERVISES (or hires an Agency) this person is standing over the PR Representative ( or Agency) not allowing them to pitch PR but pitch company SALES. This bad pitch seems like a very good example of that. It’s a bad market and PR people are the first to go, as many do not understand our value. Which is why almost any one who claims they “know PR” is being hired for PR. And those that know it, are being fired left and right because they do not fit into the sales mode.

  • I’ve taken the time to read through all these posts and I now find it appropriate to say that we still do not understand each other. Ignorance still prevails on so many levels. And, that ignorance will hold so many many people back. WHITE, BLACK, BROWN, YELLOW, ANGLO, AFRICAN, HISPANIC, MEXICAN, and, any other name that you can come up with to describe a person. We are all the beautiful people we were created as.

  • The EEO/Civil Rights profession is my primary passion. My secondary passion is education. The PR pitch and the associated postings reinforce for me that I and others in my field may well remain gainfully employed for MANY YEARS TO COME.

  • It is important to understand that racist attitudes did not begin with legislation, but the core has always been in the hearts of those that set themselves as priviledged. This is a human social trait that will never go away. This goes beyond blacks, whites and “Hispanics” in America. It is good to keep this issue at forefront so that we can better all of our societies.

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