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Black newspapers push Kohl’s boycott over lack of advertising

April 13, 2007 by  
Filed under Money/Business

(Akiit.com) After getting Home Depot to advertise in African-American newspapers, and pressuring Office Depot and T-Mobile Wireless to do likewise, black newspapers have a new target: Kohl’s Department Stores.

Kohl’s is the target of a boycott orchestrated by Kimber, Kimber & Associates, a Fresno, Calif., advocacy advertising agency that represents 250 black-owned newspapers across the country.

The purported offense: Kohl’s practice of excluding black newspapers from its print media buys. The Menomonee Falls-based retail chain channels its print advertising buys mostly to mainstream media that enable it to reach the largest audiences.

A group of black publishers now calls this practice discriminatory and demands that Kohl’s do like other companies that have been targeted and cough up millions of dollars in print ad buys.

Since late November, the Milwaukee Courier, The Milwaukee Times and The Milwaukee Community Journal, Milwaukee’s three black-owned weekly newspapers, have been running full-page ads urging black consumers not to shop at Kohl’s as part of a nationwide effort organized by Kimber.

“Our (black) publishers see this as a civil rights movement for ad dollars and their survival,” says Mark Kimber, chief executive officer of Kimber.

This strong-arm tactic succeeded with Home Depot and Office Depot. Home Depot has launched a $4.7 million advertising campaign with African-American newspapers, said Kimber. According to Ethnic Newswatch, it’s the largest such campaign that anybody has done. After it was charged with discrimination by Kimber, Office Depot now spends more than $1 million annually on print advertising with black papers.

Crying racism can make Corporate America pay out the guilt money.

While Kimber claims he doesn’t get paid for helping black newspapers gain more advertising revenue from corporations like Kohl’s, his self-interest is evident.

Kimber organized the boycott after his agency’s member newspapers complained that they were not getting any advertising dollars from Kohl’s and that company executives have been unresponsive to their requests for a face-to-face meeting.

In 2003, Kohl’s spent $86.4 million on newspaper advertising, not a penny of it with black-owned papers.

Vicki Shamion, a Kohl’s spokeswoman, said the company recently sent a letter to Kimber encouraging his agency’s member newspapers to contact the company directly for an advertising eligibility assessment. “Kimber chose to take the boycott route,” Shamion said.

“Kohl’s advertises with newspapers that reach the largest number of shoppers in our primary trade areas surrounding our stores,” Shamion explained. “It’s a very consistent approach.”

Kimber said black publishers have not responded to Kohl’s request for information because they have sent their media kits with circulation numbers to its corporate executives repeatedly over the years, to no avail.

While the boycott officially ended in February, Kimber says it will be reinstated.

Did it work?

Organizers think so, claiming that Kohl’s sales were down slightly during the first boycott – which lasted from late November to the end of February.

Though it’s nearly impossible to prove a direct relationship between the boycott and sales for a company as big as Kohl’s, Kimber is claiming victory.

“We’re willing to go as long as it takes for Kohl’s to begin utilizing African-American newspapers in markets where its stores are located,” says Kimber. “We’re willing to make Kohl’s an example.”

Kimber may be able to scare other corporations into doing business with black newspapers, but the bottom line is that Kohl’s may believe its strategy is best suited to reach its base of shoppers, primarily cost-conscious mothers, says Britt Beemer, chairman and founder of America’s Research Group, a consumer behavior strategic marketing firm based in Charleston, S.C.

If any change is needed, Kohl’s would do better to advertise with black radio because research has found that black consumers are much more radio-driven than their white counterparts, Beemer said.

Nevertheless, Beemer acknowledged that, “It’s always bad to be singled out and have someone make you an example.”

It’s not so much the boycott that should worry Kohl’s as its image in the community, says Dennis Garrett, associate professor of marketing at Marquette University.

“In most situations, companies really fear the negative publicity. That’s where the leverage really comes from,” Garrett says. “Kohl’s is in a tough competitive situation right now. The Wal-Marts and Targets of the world are saying to black consumers, ‘we sell the same products as Kohl’s, come on over and shop with us.’ ”

Clearly, there is a need for greater communication between Kohl’s and African-American newspapers and the African-American community. That may be a difficult assignment. In this situation, obviously, it’s one that will take time and humility.

By Tannette Johnson-Elie

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