By Jamie L. LaReau
After winning commitments from General Motors to do more business, leaders of some Black-owned media organizations now are driving their campaign toward Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis.
Media-mogul Byron Allen, who owns The Weather Channel, among dozens of other TV properties, has asked the two other members of the Detroit Three automakers to discuss increasing their advertising spending with Black-owned media companies.
Separately, Ben Chavis, CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents 230 Black-owned newspapers, said he is seeking meetings with automakers, including Ford, about spending more with the media the NNPA represents. Chavis is a longtime civil rights activist who in 1993 became the youngest person to serve as executive director and CEO of the NAACP. Chavis was appointed national director of the Million Man March and helped organize the march in the nation’s capital in 2000.
Both Ford and Stellantis say they’re open to working with the diverse owners of media companies. A Ford spokesman told the Free Press it “looks forward” to meeting with both men. No meeting has been set yet.
While Chavis is flexible in his wants, Allen has his own demands.
“I want to know from other automakers, ‘Will you allocate a minimum of 8% of your marketing budget — and match GM — to Black-owned media?’ ” Allen told the Free Press. “That’s what I say to the rest of the auto industry.”
Allen and Chavis share a cause, but go about getting to the table using different tactics.
Some see Allen’s tactics as him wanting to line his own pockets. But he says he wants to carry on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s push for economic justice. That includes a redistribution of wealth in America to allow African Americans a better shot at financial equality.
Since neither Ford nor Stellantis has responded directly to him, he said, “If we don’t speak soon, I am happy to write them a letter and you’ll read it in the Detroit Free Press.”
Allen, 60, who was born in Detroit and lived there until age 7, was referring to a full-page ad that he and six other Black owners of media companies published in the Free Press on March 28. Chavis was not one of the signatories on it.
In the ad, the group with Allen accused GM and CEO Mary Barra of systemic racism for years of refusing to meet with them and not spending enough, in their view, of GM’s ad budget with Black-owned media in relation to Black consumers. GM’s marketing executives had offered to meet with the group in the past, but the group wanted to meet with Barra.
Since the ad, GM has vowed to raise its spending with Black-owned media from 2% to 4% in 2022 to 8% by 2025. On Friday, GM held its first summit for 200 diverse owners of media companies, promising those owners longer-term contracts and faster payments.
Chavis said the summit was “very constructive” and, while he supports Allen’s message of economic inclusion for Black-owned media, Chavis said the NNPA is, “maintaining discussions with all the automakers in the auto industry to further sustain equitable relationships with the companies, particularly when it comes to advertising, but we’re doing it independent of Byron.”
GM was spending about $1.2 million a year in advertising across the 230 newspapers the NNPA represents, Chavis said in a previous interview. He declined to discuss how much Ford or Stellantis spends with the NNPA.
“We’re having discussions with all the major automakers on how to improve equity between automotive giants, such as Ford, and the NNPA,” Chavis said. “We’re making progress.”
‘Lay the money down’
Allen’s company, Allen Media Group, owns 23 television stations, 67 TV shows and 12 networks. It is valued at about $3 billion.
On May 6, Allen and Barra had a 30-minute Zoom meeting, which he said was “pleasant and extremely professional.”
He told Barra that he expects her to keep GM’s vow to increase its current advertising spending with Black-owned media. By Allen’s calculations, 8% should be $160 million to $240 million, he said.
GM spokesman Pat Morrissey declined to comment on Allen’s meeting with Barra, beyond saying, “GM remains committed to continuing the dialogue with diverse-owned media.”
GM does not disclose its advertising budget. It’s partly for that reason that the practicality of Allen’s request is hard to assess, said Marcus Collins, a business professor and marketing expert at the University of Michigan.
“It’s hard to say if it sounds fair because we don’t know the baseline,” Collins said. “You can only evaluate something against something else. At a glance, it’s a handsome commitment if GM is willing to make that commitment.”
By the end of May, the major TV networks will have made their presentations to advertisers, then advertisers will “lay their money down. So we’ll know in the next 30 days, by mid-June,” how much money GM will spend with Black-owned media, Allen said.
Do business or be accountable
About two weeks ago, right after his meeting with Barra, Allen said his team reached out to Ford and Stellantis asking the carmakers to match GM’s pledge.
Stellantis was formed this year from the merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Peugeot-maker PSA Group.
Allen said he didn’t have to initiate any “ask” with most of the foreign automakers. They reached out to him over the past few weeks, he said.
“Honda came to us two weeks ago and said, ‘We’re there, we want to lean in,’ ” Allen said. He declined to disclose Honda’s financial commitment because it is still being discussed.
Honda spokesman Chris Abbruzzese confirmed that Honda had a “positive meeting” with Allen.
“I applaud Honda,” Allen said. “As a Detroiter, I’m disappointed that the American automakers didn’t lead the charge. But every automaker is going to do business with Black-owned media in a significant way, or they will be held accountable.”
The drive to improve
Ford has a “long, successful track record of working with and supporting minority-owned businesses,” said T.R. Reid, a spokesman, in a statement.
“We’re continuing to make meaningful progress in better reflecting, representing and reaching out to the diverse customers we serve,” Reid said. “Doing that means being transparent and honest about where we can improve. We are happy to sit down with Mr. Allen and discuss his businesses and potential opportunities to grow together.”
On Sunday, Ford launched a campaign for the new Bronco Sport SUV that runs through August. It targets African American women, airing on BET Her TV, OWN, and TV One and Cleo TV, both owned by Urban One. It will also run on NBA TV.
The Black-owned media world does not consider those companies to be Black-owned, Allen said. But the ad creator, UniWorld Group (UWG), is Black-owned.
Additionally, Ford’s campaign was created in partnership with three Black-run national organizations that focus on Black outdoor health.
Often, Allen said, companies conflate the idea of targeting ads to Black consumers and airing them on Black-targeted networks as the same as spending with Black-owned media. He has previously criticized GM over this issue.
“It comes down to: Are you spending money with Black-owned media companies or not?” Allen said.
For competitive reasons, Reid said, Ford does not disclose how much it spends with Black-owned media.
Stellantis spokeswoman Shawn Morgan also declined to disclose the company’s current spending.
Companies typically don’t disclose such details.
But Stellantis has “a long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion with one of the most progressive programs to promote economic growth and development of minority suppliers,” Morgan wrote in a statement.