By Black Enterprise

The Biden administration has “shut out” scores of Black-owned media firms from engaging in one of the nation’s biggest public health advertising campaigns: Encouraging Black Americans, the population hardest hit by COVID-19, to get vaccinated. As the pandemic has called attention to disparities in healthcare, a growing number of Black business owners say they have exposed inequities in such firms gaining access to federal advertising dollars for COVID-19 vaccination awareness efforts for Black communities.

Based on analysis BLACK ENTERPRISE conducted from data received from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which has been charged with oversight of COVID-19 vaccine outreach efforts, Black-owned media firms have only received a fraction of the overall committed media spend of $212 million to date, and roughly a third of the of paid media dollars on advertising targeted at Black Americans. Also, none of the nation’s largest Black-owned advertising agencies has been contracted by HHS, or its agents, to participate in media outreach to a population that these agencies have the expertise of effectively developing products and public service messaging for more than four decades. (As of Aug. 2, less than half of Black people have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose in the vast majority of states reporting data, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.)

These Black-owned media entities, including #RolandMartinUnfiltered, Allen Media Group, BLACK ENTERPRISE, and others, are now demanding equity in the distribution of advertising dollars from the Biden administration or they plan to take action, including calls for an investigation into a pattern of “systemic racism” in federal government advertising that dates back to the Clinton administration, which included in its Executive Order that all federal departments and agencies place advertising with Black-owned media outlets and these entities at “fair market rates.” In fact, several Black media owners have stressed that the Biden administration needs to be “held accountable in ensuring that their Black firms gain federal advertising commitments that match our influence and percentage of the population — some 13% — as well as the outsized role we played in getting Biden elected to the presidency in 2020.

Digital media and television journalist Roland Martin, who airs the daily podcast, “#RolandMartinUnfilitered,” maintains that Black-owned media companies have been “largely ignored” in their efforts to participate in such campaigns fully. In fact, he and other Black business leaders have spent months trying to gain answers from officials at HHS, the COVID-19 Task Force, and the White House, including Cedric Richmond, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. Richmond, who told BE during its Health and Wellness Summit in March that the administration would include Black-owned businesses in every aspect of boosting COVID-19 information and vaccine confidence, has disregarded BE’s direct interview requests and those made to the White House’s Office of African American Media.

“The Biden administration has continued the practice of marginalizing Black-owned media by denying our firms access to advertising dollars to speak directly to our audience during the height of a public health crisis,” says BLACK ENTERPRISE President and CEO Earl “Butch” Graves, Jr. “Despite the administration’s declaration of embracing racial equity, it has engaged in business as usual by using the same advertising agencies that dismiss the value of Black media and refuse to do business with us. In this case, they are engaging in systemic discrimination in a process that involves taxpayers’ dollars.”

The federal government represents one of the nation’s largest advertisers.

HHS Claims To Serve Black Community But Provides Paltry Dollars To Black-Owned Media

Officials from HHS’ Office of the Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs, or ASPA, claim that it has been fully engaged in its media outreach to Black communities to boost vaccination rates. “As this pandemic continues to exasperate existing health disparities, it is imperative that we meet people where they are with consistent, science-based public health messaging. That includes both earned and paid media opportunities with the Black press,” says a department spokesperson. “For that reason, HHS’s … more