Growth from Within

E. Morris Communications Inc. gained market share in a less than stellar environment by turning to existing clients

and recently settled charges concerning contracting illegal alien workers. The company also continues to face opposition from community groups when it tries to open stores in cities and towns.

Morris feels his firm is up to the challenge of revamping Wal-Mart’s image in minority communities. One of EMC’s first moves was to develop the documentary, The Invisible Men of Honor: The Story of the Buffalo Soldiers, which retells the story of the first African Americans recruited into a peacetime army. The documentary was promoted in all 3,000 Wal-Mart stores.

EMC also gave Wal-Mart a human face with ad campaigns that show employees as regular folks with positive experiences working at Wal-Mart. One advertisement featured a Wal-Mart jewelry department clerk who also volunteered as a Big Sister. “The ad resonated that the reason why Wal-Mart people are so good is, not only do they take care of you when you are there, but they take care of the community too,” says Morris. “We have always tried to demonstrate that [Wal-Mart employees] are real people just like you and me. It’s not just this company with 1 million workers, but is made up of people one by one.”

Now that he’s turned his company around and positioned it for the long haul, Morris can breathe a sigh of relief. The friendly, yet firm and detailed CEO is talkative as he sits back on his green leather executive chair to discuss the business he has loved for the past 37 years. “We always said that in order to have an effective message it has to be the kind that has relevance, that doesn’t just operate on the surface. It’s really got to penetrate your mind, your soul,” says Morris.

Conversation is often cut short by constant telephone calls, or EMC staff flitting around the office creating new imagery for its clients. Morris has built a black advertising agency that speaks to the black audience and he’s unapologetic about that. “Other people used to define our images. Now I’m in a business to have a say in the images that are developed for our people, so I want to make sure those images are relevant and presented in a positive way,” he says.

Morris’ work is far from finished. EMC is gearing up for growth — albeit selectively. Although he doesn’t mention which new businesses the company is going after, one thing is certain: “I’m not interested in being the biggest, I’m interested in being among the best. And it’s not what you bring in on the top, it’s how much you’ve got on the bottom that really counts.”

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