Nonprofits Dump Ad Agency After Racist Comments

Volunteers of America (VoA) and The Salvation Army (SA) have cut ties with advertising firm The Richards Group after the founder and former chief executive Stan Richards made offensive comments during a staff meeting regarding the customers of one of its other clients.

Dallas, Texas-based The Richards Group, reported to be the nation’s largest independent agency, has been losing clients since during a meeting regarding Motel 6, he is alleged to have suggested that using Black themes would be “too Black” and would upset the hotel chain’s “white supremacist constituents.”

Motel 6 leaders blasted the comments via a written statement. “We are outraged by the statements made about Motel 6 and our customers by a member of The Richards Group during one of its internal meetings. … The comments were not only completely inaccurate, they are also in direct opposition of our values and beliefs as an organization.”

The 88-year-old Richards has stepped away from the firm, reportedly writing to staff that he had “fired” himself. Along with Motel 6 and the nonprofits, The Home Depot, H-E-B, and Keurig Dr Pepper also left the agency.

An apology was posted on the firm’s website stating: “We understand and regret the pain and concerns of all those who were deeply troubled by the words our founder spoke. He can’t take them back. We can only ask for forgiveness and promise to learn and be better. We ask our many friends for understanding and prayers as we move forward.” It was signed by Glenn Dady, principal/creative director.

It is not immediately known how many nonprofit clients the agency represented. Messages to the firm were not returned.

The “Doing the Most Good” national brand strategy for SA was developed by The Richards Group. It helped to develop the Moral Injury Ad Campaign for VoA.

Joseph Cohen, communications manager at the SA’s headquarters in Alexandria, Va., said the nonprofit had cut ties with the firm. A statement from the nonprofit includes: “Based upon further information and extensive consultations, The Salvation Army has determined that it will sever its relationship with The Richards Group. The statements made by Mr. Stan Richards are hurtful to everyone and in complete conflict with the fulfillment of our mission to meet human needs in Christ’s name without discrimination. The Salvation Army is and always will be committed to diversity, equity and inclusivity in every aspect of our work, and we remain focused on providing hope and help to millions of Americans in need.”

VoA’s President & CEO Mike King alerted staff to severing the relationship via email. It read: “On Oct. 14, Volunteers of America ended our relationship with The Richards Group, the advertising agency we have worked with on national branding campaigns since 2012. We decided to terminate our contract after learning of racially insensitive and inappropriate comments made by the agency’s founder. As an organization committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, we find these comments to be unacceptable and incompatible with our mission. VOA values the rich diversity of all people, and commits to promoting inclusive environments where all people feel accepted and valued.”  

Neither organization disclosed the financial arrangements with the agency. While both provide financial data to the public, they are not required to file a Form 900 with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) because they technically are religious organizations. Brian Gavin, senior vice president of communications and marketing at VoA, said Richards Groups would not have been among the organization’s top vendors that would have been listed on the Form 990 had the organization be required to file one.