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AARP seeks to mobilize communities of color

AARP is a nonprofit membership organization whose core concern is the quality of independent, dignified and purposeful life for persons 50 and older. On Nov. 21, "Preferred Access: Emerging Markets" Multicultural Marketing Summit, held at Mall of America, took a pointed look at AARP and its relevance to people of color. AARP is a nonprofit membership organization whose core concern is the quality of independent, dignified and purposeful life for persons 50 and older. On Nov. 21, "Preferred Access: Emerging Markets" Multicultural Marketing Summit, held at Mall of America, took a pointed look at AARP and its relevance to people of color. Featured guest of the forum, participating via videoconference from St. Petersburg, Florida, was Ron LeGrand, AARP director for the African American and Black membership recruitment initiative.

LeGrand is looking to increase African American and Black membership from 4.8 percent of its 34 million members to at least 5.8 percent over the next three years. He affirms that AARP readily acknowledges its membership among all people of color "is not what it should be, not what they want it to be. It’s one of the things that impressed me about the organization. Too often, we’ve seen instances in which organizations have been pushed into initiatives as a result of external pressure and publicity. Not the case here," he said.

LeGrand went on to say that he has shared with other AARP executives the importance of furthering his membership objective by building relationships with Black-owned media, including the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and Radio One "to demonstrate respect, appreciation and acknowledgment of these institutions. And it’s about support. That means supporting our media. One of the ways we most effectively do that is through the placement of ads. The Black Press is an excellent vehicle for reaching the community."

Moderator Al McFarlane, member of Minnesota’s AARP Leadership Council and president of Midwest Black Publishers Coalition. Inc. asked, "How do we create a relationship so that when the organization has to speak to the membership and to the public, it automatically speaks to our people in our media with the same purchase as it does in the mainstream media? It shouldn’t be a question of having to argue every milestone, but of working strategic institutional relationships."

LeGrand responded, "You’ve said it. We can determine what that vehicle is or how that happens such that when the press releases go out they include the minority press. I’m going to be open to suggestions and recommendations."
Attending in person, Hank Smith of the Chicago Crusader, who is a member of AARP, said, "I’ve seen AARP advertising in mainstream media, but if you’re reaching out to the African American public, it’s necessary that you not only send us press releases, but we also need to have the advertisements. We’re interested in knowing how you’re going to address that issue."

LeGrand answered, "There has to be an investment. And that means advertising. How do we talk to Black and other minority media about relationships and advertising when it’s clear that they haven’t been part of the multi-million dollar advertising pie? I’ve made that clear to AARP leadership and I’ve said to them, ‘If we’re going to represent ourselves as being sincere, I talk about what it is AARP needs to do. But, my warning to AARP has been that folks are going to look behind me and look at what is AARP’s investment. What are we giving to the community in terms of utilization of Black-owned businesses, advertising in Black-owned media? That’s going to be part of the evidence of our seriousness about this. They’ve acknowledged their willingness to do this.

McFarlane asked, "What can we do as publishers and individuals to make your job successful in serving our people and our country?"

"Add your voices to mine," LeGrand said. "You can send correspondences. Since I’ve been with AARP, I haven’t pulled any punches. I believe in having documentation, so that if I need to whip it out and

January 13, 2004
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CONVERSATiONS W/ AL MCFARLANE