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.

I 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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