By Allison J. Waldman
Special to TelevisionWeek
“The road to success in the telecommunications marketplace requires a multi-tiered approach to satisfy the growing multi-ethnic consumer demands for culturally relevant media content, digital technology and personalized services.” That is the mission statement of NAMIC, the National Association for Multi-ethnicity in Communications.
The organization celebrates a milestone this week as it meets at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria for its annual conference-20 years after it first convened in 1986, also at the Waldorf, as the Urban Markets Seminar. At this year’s conference, running through Tuesday, the focus is on issues as complex as diversity in the workplace and technological changes in the cable and telecommunications industry, with sessions scheduled that put an emphasis on education and advancement.
“This year we’re revving into high gear for the industry’s most compelling look into the synergies between multimedia platforms, multiethnic consumers, customer loyalty and profitability,” said Kathy Johnson, president of NAMIC.
The conference is part of cable’s annual Diversity Week, which brings a cross-section of the industry to New York for events hosted by the Walter Kaitz Foundation, Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing and a variety of other industry groups.
The NAMIC organization was founded in 1980 as the National Association for Minorities in Cable to raise awareness, expand opportunity and shape the future. Today it has more than 1,500 professional members in 17 chapters throughout the country. Since that first conference in 1986, the annual gathering has grown dramatically. “The opportunity was there for these executives to meet minority talent and focus on important issues. So we exposed a lot of executives, too, to how the cable industry was changing,” said Joseph P. Lawson, president of Lawson Consulting and a former president of NAMIC.
The organization had established itself as an industry leader by 1999, Mr. Lawson said. “We had Jesse Jackson come to the conference that year, when Jesse was still a power broker in the cable industry,” he said. “Also Bill Kennard of the FCC. Both of them vigorously supported the importance of NAMIC to the cable industry, so that was a significant turning point. To give you an example of how far NAMIC has come, in the 1992 tax year we had a total budget of about $90,000. We now have a budget of several million dollars. I think when the industry saw a very respected FCC commissioner as well as one of the famous people in the black community strongly supporting NAMIC, and thinking that NAMIC was valuable, it wasn’t just inside the cable industry, it was everywhere. NAMIC was perceived to be a strong and valuable organization.”
Since then many well-known figures have participated in NAMIC, including former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, famed attorney Johnnie Cochran and BET founder Robert L. Johnson. “One of my proudest memories was honoring Bob Johnson,” Mr. Lawson said. “We gave him a special award. Bob’s company had hired a lot of the cable industry and he was responsible for a lot of careers. It was extremely important that he be recognized.”
One of the most anticipated events at this year’s NAMIC Conference is a workshop on supplier diversity that will be presented by the Walter Kaitz Foundation.
The speaker lineup includes a number of familiar faces, such as Mickey Leland Humanitarian Award winner Soledad O’Brien, anchor on CNN’s “American Morning.” In a town hall meeting, Roland D. West, president and CEO of Roland D. West Associates, will moderate a seminar on multiple views on diversity that will be completely interactive with live polling of the audience to take the temperature of the membership.
On Sept. 11 the NAMIC Conference will commemorate the fifth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with a special luncheon and meeting called “9/11-A New Perspective/A New Attitude: How Has Media Changed?” Court TV anchor Jami Floyd will host the meeting, which is being sponsored by Univision. The event will address such questions as: What did we learn? Have we found the right balance between patriotism and journalism? Are terrorists using the media to get messages to their followers and to world leaders? And is media being censored?
The tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, have a particular significance to the NAMIC organization. The NAMIC Conference had commenced when the Twin Towers were struck, bringing all the events to a standstill. “Talk about searing memories. That NAMIC Conference lasted all of one hour,” Mr. Lawson said. The weeklong agenda was tabled and NAMIC members turned their attention to helping one another get through the experience.
The group was meeting at the Millennium Broadway, uptown from Ground Zero. “A lot of us were worried that Times Square might be a target of the terrorists. A lot of us started to think we ought to get gas masks. Many of us couldn’t get home so we stayed together all week,” said Mr. Lawson.
An important element in this week’s conference is the Career Expo. Free to all members, the daylong event has more than a dozen top cable providers and corporations committed to participating, including Bright House Networks, Cox Communications, Fox Cable Network, Lifetime Networks, Time Warner Cable and Turner Broadcasting System.