Millions of official 2010 Census forms arrived in mailboxes this week, and the U.S. Census Bureau, with help from media like the newspaper you are reading, is anxious to complete an accurate count of everyone living in the United States, and avoid a repeat of the undercount fiasco of 2000.
“The Bureau is ‘relying on trusted voices of the community’ to get the word out’ on the importance of completing the form,” said New America Media (NAM) Associate Editor Jacob Simas.
“If you talk to any Census Bureau representative, they say that line,” Simas added. But it might be a lot less than the reality. “We’ve called them to task. It’s incumbent upon the Bureau to follow through.”
According to Simas, NAM organized more than a dozen briefings in 2009 between the U.S. Census Bureau and representatives from 600 ethnic media representatives in key markets, specifically to ensure that the ethnic media–the fastest growing sector of American journalism–would be included in the Bureau’s advertising efforts.
“But more than 45% of the ethnic media who attended our roundtables have not received advertising dollars,” said Simas.
The U.S. Census has been described as the pre-eminent civil rights issue of 2010, with its results being used to decide how many members of Congress will represent each state and how much government funding will be received in local communities for schools, hospitals and senior centers.
“Communities of color are the ones who stand to benefit the most from the Census, but historically we have been undercounted,” wrote NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous in a recent e-mail to members.
NAM Executive Editor and Director Sandy Close, representing the country’s largest national collaboration of 2,000 ethnic news organizations, flew to Washington D.C. last month to participate in a congressional hearing chaired by Congressman Lacy Clay, (D-MO): “The 2010 Census Communication Contract: The Media Plan in Hard to Count Areas.”
“A small investment in those micro-media outlets that serve the hardest to count communities; an investment that lets these media shape the messages to their own audiences – would have a tremendous impact,” she told the Congressional Committee on Information Policy, Census and National Archives.
“Their hunger to participate in the 2010 campaign is intense,” Close said of the minority media: “From giants like Univision, Asian language dailies, BET and Clear Channel stations to veteran Black and Spanish-language weeklies, upstart radio and TV Stations, to niche of the niche print and online outlets serving Burmese, Ethiopian, Arab, Russian, Mixtec, Punjabi and Samoan populations.”
Close told the committee that the 2010 Census advertising buy is an unprecedented investment in ethnic media, which reaches more than 60 million ethnic adults in the U.S.
These media have seen a 16% growth in audience over five years in contrast to the meltdown of audiences for mainstream media.
“Those media embedded in local communities are essential for inclusive messaging,” she said. “They get the Census, they get their community’s stake in a complete count, and they get their own.”
During one of the NAM briefings last year, a representative from El Tiempo in New Orleans said that because of the 2000 undercount of the local Hispanic community, Coca Cola dropped his paper from their national ad campaign.
Advertising comes full circle, as more of the community sees the Census advertising in their local paper, it is hoped more residents will responds. That census will tell other advertisers that the community is viable and that advertising in that paper is worthwhile. (Note: The Census recently completed a full-page insertion order for two months with El Tiempo).
The majority of the Census 2010 total $145 million paid-media budget is going toward multicultural audiences. About $28 million is allocated toward Hispanic media; $18 million to Asian/Pacific media; and $12 to other multicultural groups, from American Indian media to those catering to Arabic speakers.
The total African American media buy is $23 million, an increase of 35% over the 2000 Census budget amount. Black newspapers will receive $2.5 million of that total, according to an article by the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a federation of Black community newspapers from across the U.S. which is assisting the GlobalHue ad agency with implementing the Census campaign targeting African Americans.
“Special consideration was made to skew strategies and media efforts to those audiences which are typically unlikely to respond,” said GlobalHue’s Robbyn Ennis during her testimony to the Congressional Committee.
“Utilizing local radio and its home DJ’s is a key strategy to reach our HTC (hard to count) audiences,” she said, explaining that the total focused efforts in 443 targeted Black media outlets included 16 markets for television ($10.2 million allocated), 31 markets for radio ($6.7 allocated), 31 markets for billboards ($1.2 million), and 60 markets for newspapers ($2.5 million). Additionally, Black magazines were allocated $0.8 million, while digital advertising outlets were allocated $1.6 million.
Selection criteria included a media vehicle’s effectiveness in reaching the target audience, content environments that were conducive to the Census message, cost efficiency, minority ownership and added-value programs that would enhance the campaign message.
A total of 936 ads will run across 156 local Black (includes Caribbean, Haitian, African American and African) community newspapers in 60 markets. But leaders of the NNPA insist that Black newspapers need much more than $2.5 million to adequately advertise the 2010 Census.
“I would agree,” said Dr. Clint C. Wilson, graduate professor of Communication at Howard University. “But that’s par for the course.”
Professor Wilson, author of “Racism, Sexism and the Media: The Rise of Class Communication in Multicultural America,” holds an Associates of Arts degree in Journalism from Los Angles City College, a Bachelors of Arts from California State University, Los Angeles, along with master’s and doctorate degrees from USC.
He says that even though the Census is preeminent now, the under-utilization of minority media advertising is an ongoing problem.
“The argument must be that this is a vital market with real spending dollars,” said Wilson, explaining that ironically, it is the Census itself that will determine how newspapers can pitch their audience, especially taking into account the population shifts of African Americans out of the inner city and into the suburbs.
“Certainly we need to have a handle on where we are, the demographics, the profiles, the buying habits,” Wilson said. “The press can then make a better pitch to advertisers. “Not to say they’ve always given our media a fair share, but with Census results, the press can base their arguments on the economic viability of the community.”
Advertising pioneer Tom Burrell, who founded an agency that is credited with revolutionizing the image of African Americans in advertising, believes there is a much deeper issue at play in the lack of advertising dollars given to Black media.
“Why are you (the Black press) not getting advertising? . . . Because you’re not getting the readers. Why are you not getting the readers? Why is a local general market daily getting more circulation? It’s because of disunity,” contends Burrell, who founded Burrell Communications and has spent 45 years in the advertising industry.
He has also just authored a book called “BRAINWASHED: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority.”
“If you (Black media) could get the Black people in your community to say ‘hey this is what we’re going to read, and we’re going to let the advertiser know,’ you won’t have any issues. The problem is (advertisers) cant’ show the circulation to justify the advertising dollars, because all they’re doing is buying eyeballs.
“It’s not prejudice and biases against you, because you’re Black,” pointed out Burrell pragmatically. “They’re looking for bottom line; they looking at where am I going to get the return.”
Burrell also pointed out that there also needs to be a mutual respect between Black publishers and their Black readers that does not allow canned news and sloppy editorial worked to be passed off as a good read.
The Census could boost ad spending toward minority groups, as awareness of their numbers grow. But multicultural experts know there is a general mistrust of the government by their readers.
“There is a knowledge of the Census, they just haven’t seen evidence it makes a difference,” said GlobalHue Vice President Account Director Damien Reid.
“As an academic researcher, I know how important it is to get an accurate handle on the respondents,” Wilson said, adding about the census: “If in fact, Black people answer these questions thoroughly and honestly, it will give the government a better sense of our needs. The question is, whether the community will trust the government to address those needs.”
“How will the government respond to the information they receive?” asked Wilson, citing question number 10, which asks about an incarcerated household member. “Will they build more prisons (with this information) or provide more social services?”
Wilson said that it is the media’s responsibility to not only seek the advertising dollars, but to also advocate on the part of the community at the same time.
“If I owned a Black television or radio station or newspaper, I’d have to make sure to address the powers that be and let them know that the community is looking for results to address their needs.”