The National Newspaper Publishers Association, representing more than 200 Black newspaper publishers around the nation, recently gave new meaning to the so-called "Microsoft Media Skins Challenge."
Amidst a passionate — sometimes heated — exchange, Microsoft Corporation officials who represent Black and other minority business and organizational interests for the multi-billion dollar corporation conceded that Microsoft is among major companies that often think advertising in White-owned newspapers is a catchall — even in the Black community.
"To be very frank it's a challenge," said Jose Piñero, Microsoft's director of diversity and multicultural marketing. "Part of the issue is ignorance and part of the issue is they think that, 'Hey if we just put out advertising in USA Today, it reaches everybody,' " he said.
But several of the approximately 150 Black Press members, who participated in the three-hour conversation on the Microsoft campus late last month, were not in the mood for excuses.
The publishers and advertising managers, in Seattle for NNPA's summer conference, challenged the corporation, arguing that the multi-billion-dollar technology company is advertising solely in general market newspapers while neglecting the Black Press.
While Seattle Medium publisher Chris H. Bennett, the co-host publisher for the event, says his relationship with Microsoft has improved over the years, Theodore "Ted" Banks, advertising manager of The Skanner newspaper, says he has been trying to get Microsoft to advertise in his papers for 10 years to no avail.
Speaking heatedly in the large auditorium, Banks said that the Black Press gets the "crumbs" when it comes to advertising dollars compared to White newspapers and that the chances of other Black-owned newspapers getting the company's advertising are slim.
"I'm in Seattle, I'm right in your market and I can't even get the time of day. So God knows how these other publishers who are outside your market are going to reach Microsoft," Banks said.
NNPA Chairman John Smith, citing a demonstration of Microsoft's new Windows Vista, questioned the company's corporate philosophy about marketing in the Black community.
"Windows Vista is an operating system that we all will have to use at some point. So how in the world can we all use this system, and these guys can't hear?" Smith mused.
It's a long held challenge for the Black Press, the often futile attempt to convince large corporations that its unique perspective and large, faithful readership gives businesses rare opportunities to market directly to the Black community. They are often told they must prove their advertising impact. This discussion was no different.
Piñero encouraged the publishers to put their advertising value in measurable data that will display circulation numbers in order for the papers to prove that they are a profitable business opportunity for the corporation. Although Piñero started his presentation talking about prospective advertising opportunities at Microsoft, the discussion quickly became heated when publishers challenged the company's monetary contributions, which they said were not translating to advertising dollars. Piñero consults and educates managers on the value of the multicultural market and admitted that Microsoft is slow to receive his message.
Along with diversity outreach programs, Microsoft also sponsors an annual "Microsoft Media Skins Challenge" at Howard University. It is a collegiate competition to create original Windows Media Player skins or user interfaces. The theme is "Culture Through Innovation."
Challenging the Microsoft Corporation to focus more on inclusion by doing bigger business with people with non-White skin, the NNPA gave new meaning to the culture theme.
Piñero's solution of providing more data seemed to raise the eyebrows of some publishers, who said that process would create more difficult work and expense, especially for smaller papers.
Mary Thatch, publisher of the North Carolina-based Wilmington Journal, said she believes the lack of advertising from large companies has more to do with the controversial editorial content from Black-owned newspaper than circulation figures.
"Essentially they are saying, 'We don't like what you're saying so we're pulling our funds," she said pointing to the Black Press' crusade against workplace discrimination and racial injustice. "They (corporations) know our numbers. They know more about the readership then we do. So what's really the problem?"
—The Black Press