Crossing the Color Line

African American advertising agencies fight to prevent mainstream firms from taking their most prized possession -- the urban market

and Pepsi ads feature rapper Ludacris and television’s Bernie Mack. “We have to meet the competition by leveraging our cultural influence on mainstream society and working with black sports, entertainment, and media icons who dominate this urban space, ” says chairman and CEO Byron Lewis who aligned with mega-agency WWP in 2000. In addition, the national television campaign for colorectal cancer that UniWorld produced for NBC-TV’s Today Show host, Katie Couric, has been well received. Last year also saw UniWorld President and COO Greg Walker depart to advertising giant J. Walter Thompson to consult on the Domino’s Pizza account after GlobalHue dropped it.

Other new business deals include Spike DDB’s acquisition of McDonald’s, New York Regional Business, the New York Knicks, and Remy Martin. There is talk that the agency is courting a potential Hispanic and Asian partner. Footsteps L.L.C. (No. 20 on the BE ADVERTISING AGENCY list with $14 million in billings) founders Verdia Johnson and Alvin Gay grew the agency with $3 million in sales revenues, up from $1.1 million in 2000, on $13 million in billings in 2001. Their client roster includes Radio Shack, Johnson Products, Wells Fargo, Continuum Health Partners, Alcon Labs, and Mercedes-Benz.

Going it Alone
In June the industry lost Caroline Jones, founder of Caroline Jones Inc., one of the advertising industry’s pioneering African American women, to cancer and the agency has since folded. The other independent agencies continue to thrive but for how long? Of the top five B
E advertising agencies, the independents left are Carol H. Williams Advertising (No. 6 on the BE ADVERTISING AGENCY list with $72 million in billings) and The Chisholm-Mingo Group Inc. (No. 4 on the BE ADVERTISING AGENCY list with $100 million in billings). “We continue to be optimistic about our future and will continue to provide targeted services for our clients and provide a place where African Americans can demon strate their talents,” says Chairman and CEO Samuel J. Chisholm of The Chisholm-Mingo Group Inc., the 2001 BE Advertising Agency of the Year.

It was also a good year for Chisholm-Mingo as the firm attracted Pfizer, and Starwood Hotels and Resorts. “These are exciting businesses that gave us entry into two new and powerful businesses,” says Chisholm. “With Amtrak and Royal Caribbean as existing clients, the ability to add a hotel was significant.” Other accomplishments include the acquisition of Renau Cie brandy and the opening of West Coast office, Sankofa Communications. This new creative media boutique will bring a new perspective to the agency’s offerings and allow it to offer services to West Coast clients.

Carol H. Williams Advertising Inc. resigned the Nissan account and picked up all of General Motors’ business. New to the list is Equals three Communications (No. 7 on the BE ADVERTISING AGENCY list with $68 million in billings). Washington Daniel Advertising (No. 13 on the BE ADVERTISING AGENCY list with $24 million in billings) saw a 20% growth in billings. President and Creative Director Bernard Washington attributed much of the agency’s success to providing advertising, promotions,

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