FEATURE6 February 2009

‘Not enough black faces in US market research’

Features North America

Pepper Miller says industry needs to better include and understand minorities

US— The research industry is losing out by failing to encourage more people from ethnic minorities to join its ranks, according to the president of a US agency specialising in researching black consumers.

Pepper Miller, president of the Hunter-Miller Group, told Research: “Walk through the halls of any major general market ad agency or research company and you might see just a few brown faces if any. We're only sprinkled around.”

“Market research is a very white industry and many agencies are way behind in developing relevant techniques for the multicultural segments,” she said. “It’s amazing, because as the country changes to brown, it is imperative that we have relevant research practices and people to serve these communities, and we just don't have enough.”

Miller does not believe the problem is a lack of suitable black applicants. “The good ol’ boys network has been powerful at keeping blacks out,” she said. “Black agencies need to come together more to form scholarships to expose and encourage students to join this industry.”

Her comments comes as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) publishes findings from a study on racism in the advertising industry, which found discrimination against African-Americans in pay, hiring, promotions and assignments, among other areas, and said the situation in the industry was not only worse than in the overall labour market but had worsened over the last 30 years.

Miller believes similar problems are causing researchers and marketers to overlook the cultural differences that make African-Americans and other ethnic groups distinct.

She sees hope in projects such as Radio One’s Black America Today study in 2007 (which she consulted on), and her own firm set up a scholarship three years ago for black students looking to get into market research.

“The black marketing industry needs to come together to promote the value and influence of the black consumer segment,” she said. “Corporate America does not think about black folks until we do something. Change is tough for most industries, and particularly for this one, which controls a big chunk of the messages and images of American culture.”

Author: Robert Bain