“How do you take your advertising?” READS THE caption under a picture of a cup of coffee in the ad for Don Coleman Advertising Inc. (DCA). Like the agency’s signature style, the ad is clean and elegant, yet with just the right amount of punch: “Well, if you want it to be successful, you take it rich and full-bodied. And if you want it to be strong, you take it Black.”
For the past 10 years, black is exactly how CEO and President Don Coleman has served up the intelligent and delightfully entertaining creative product brewed in his shop. Whether it’s Parliament’s song “Flashlight” thumping behind the Dodge Neon commercial or the warm weekend family settings for General Mills’ Bisquick and Betty Crocker’s Super Moist cake mix, DCA ads capture the lifestyles of today’s African American consumer.
“They have the ability to blend sophistication and hipness in their creative approach,” says Ken Smikle, president of Target Market News, a Chicago-based marketing research firm that tracks black consumers. “What really accounts for the agency’s success is the excellence they bring not only to the creative side, but also to their strategic planning.”
Chock-full of young blood and creative zest, the Southfield, Michigan, agency bases its future growth on hub-and-spoke-style deals with clients. Besides its trademark advertising, research and strategic planning, DCA also offers public and press relations, promotions, media buying and special events. The courtly Coleman and firebrand Executive Vice President and partner Charles “Chuck” Morrison together present more than 45 years of advertising and marketing experience.
For its other clients–Domino’s Pizza, Kmart, Shell Oil, Ameritech, Western Union, the Michigan State Lottery and Carson Products of Dark & Lovely fame–DCA provides the conduit to an African American market with more than $400 billion to spend. “More companies are realizing that this market leads product categories and drives many others,” says the 46-year-old Coleman. “If a company is going to grow, it must be strategic and address the urban market. If it is going to put its product in the urban centers, it must speak to the African American audience.”
Having raked in $111 million in billings last year, the full-service advertising firm is the third largest black-owned shop in the nation, behind Chicago’s Burrell Communications and UniWorld Group in New York. The agency’s ability to meld innovative creative product with clever business strategy serves as a lead for the next generation of black advertising firms. For these reasons, Don Coleman Advertising has the distinction of being named the BE Advertising Agency of the Year.
BUILDING A FORMIDABLE TEAM
If not for a football injury, Madison Avenue may never have seen the talents of Don Coleman. After knee injuries permanently sidelined him in 1977, the former linebacker for the University of Michigan, New Orleans Saints and New York Jets set his sights on advertising. With an M.B.A. in marketing from Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, Coleman joined Campbell-Ewald Advertising in Warren, Michigan. By 1982, Coleman, then a vice president and management supervisor, began to see a trend: