Close-Up: Live Issue - Does COI require an ethnic ad roster?

Is there still a requirement for dedicated ethnic advertising agencies, Noel Bussey asks.

In September this year, COI communications will call a statutory review of its Black and Ethnic Minorities (BME) advertising roster, which it created in 2004.

At the moment, the roster comprises seven specialist agencies, which offer PR, sponsorship and partnership marketing, in addition to traditional advertising and DM. It was compiled by COI to increase its use of mainstream media when targeting the UK's hard-to-reach minority communities.

COI took the decision to form the register following the publication of its Common Good Research Report, which revealed that specialist media was needed when targeting many ethnic groups.

Patricia Macauley, the head of the BME, says: "The Government had put in place stringent targets about public sector services being accessible to ethnic minorities. Prior to the roster, we had to go through a time-intensive Official Journal of the European Union process for every tender."

Recent campaigns aimed at ethnic minorities include education on healthy eating at breakfast and donor transplant information.

COI takes the roster extremely seriously, and agencies vying for a place on the BME face a very competitive pitch process, in which they will be forced to exhibit numerous case studies.

Not only do they need to display a deep knowledge and understanding of how to reach all of the different minorities in the UK, but they must also be sensitive to the way these minority communities are then sub-divided.

Macauley points to the rapid growth of the Polish community, as well as more niche nationalities such as Angolan and Zimbabwean communities. This means taking into account different languages, religions and generations.

"To handle many of our briefs, an agency has to have in-depth knowledge of these areas," she says.

Anjna Raheja, the managing director of Media Moguls, a full- service specialist ethnic marketing agency, and one of COI's roster shops, says: "Using a viral campaign may work with the younger generation, but it won't be effective with a 60-year-old Asian man. Our core business is to know the best way of reaching the audience effectively."

These challenges, and the nature of public service campaigns such as Media Moguls' Learndirect work, mean roster agencies need to find intelligent and innovative ways of targeting diverse groups in such a way that the information will be passed back around the community, but will not lead to a backlash.

Raheja continues: "We recently had a campaign for the Home Office about forced marriages, which was sensitive. We had to educate people about the differences between 'forced' and 'arranged'.

"We eventually used Meera Syal as a spokesperson, and put together a presentation we took to communities and schools to disseminate the information."

Unfortunately, there aren't many agencies with such specialist skills as their core business model.

"Since we put together the roster, we have only met with a handful of new agencies," Macauley says. "The market is growing, but it is slow and fragmented. Agencies need to have greater understanding of, and resonance in, these markets."

But one agency head says: "Our inability to handle the minutiae of the issues shows we don't have the time or resources to get the finite research needed to target the audience effectively. That's why specialist agencies are needed."

- Got a view? E-mail us at

AGENCY HEAD - Neil Christie, managing director, Wieden & Kennedy

"We've done a lot of global work for clients such as Nike that targets ethnic markets around the globe -for example, if we're looking for a particular section of urban culture, such as basketball.

"And we could target a specific ethnic group in the UK if a client wanted it, but COI needs specialist agencies that have the ability to continually and effectively hit a massive number of tiny markets."

BME HEAD - Patricia Macauley, head of COI Black and Ethnic Minorities roster

"The UK is split into so many different ethnic and minority groups that specialist agencies are the only ones that have the ability to really get inside them and effectively target them with constantly evolving methods of communication.

"There are obviously tried and tested ways of marketing to minority communities, but we have to keep finding new ways to get these important messages across effectively. That is what we are looking for on the roster.

"But there are not just questions of ethnicity, it's more about community and diversity, which also means different religions, languages and generations."

ETHNIC AGENCY HEAD - Anjna Raheja, managing director, Media Moguls

"We can provide effective insight and knowledge on reaching any ethnic group through a multitude of channels, from advertising to media or outdoor and face-to-face.

"Many COI projects deal with very combustible issues that need an extremely knowledgeable touch which doesn't lead to the situation exploding.

"We can do this because our main core business is building contact with the communities we are trying to reach.

"UK ethnic communities are so diverse, it's impossible to know them without devoting 100 per cent of your time to that purpose.

"This sort of expertise is critical in finding the most effective ways of reaching these communities."

ADVISORY BODY - Ray Barrett, founder, IPA Ethnic Diversity Council

"Britain is an extraordinarily ethnically diverse society and it is very difficult to talk to one group in isolation because they all feel part of this multicultural society.

"Ethnic agencies can deliver a shortcut through language barriers, but any agency can create work to target a certain minority group if they have the right people, have planning teams who have done their research, don't talk down to their audience and, above all, have a great idea. That's what it comes down to."