Media Meltdown

With urban marketing hot, black agencies are the prime targets for aquisitions and mergers

to] extend the reach of their marketing dollars,” says Greg Head, president of HeadFirst Market Research in Stone Mountain, Georgia. General-market agencies were then challenged to market to this audience, partner with an African American agency or lose this business altogether.

Hence, in 1998, smaller, urban market-focused agencies such as New York’s Spike/DDB, headed by movie director Spike Lee, Vigilante and Chicago’s Stedman Graham & Partners were formed under the leadership of advertising giants DDB Needham, Leo Burnett and True North Communications, respectively. Not to be outdone, the old guard began making deals of their own.

“I find it interesting that many people in the industry attacked my integrity, calling me a setup guy and saying that the white conglomerate was exploiting me, and that now everyone is collaborating with them,” says Lee, president of Spike/DDB (No. 16 on the BE ADVERTISING AGENCIES list, with billings of $ 9.8 million). Spike/DDB lists the clothing maker Ecko, State Farm Insurance, ABC Television and Jaguar automobiles among its clients.

The first African American agency to bail was Chicago-based Burrell Communications Group (No. 3 on the BE ADVERTISING AGENCIES list with billings of $ 175.2 millions), whose clients include Coca-Cola, Kellogg, McDonald’s, Exxon Mobil, Procter & Gamble and Sears, Roebuck. Last June, Burrell sold a 49% share of its business to the giant French agency Publicis.

Following suit, Southfield, Michigan-based Don Coleman Advertising (DCA) (No. 2 on the BE ADVERTISING AGENCIES list, with $ 202 million in billings), joined forces with True North Communications Inc. in September. Under the deal, Don Coleman, president of DCA, became CEO and chairman of True North’s multicultural marketing division — New American Strategies Group — which also includes ethnic agency Stedman Graham & Partners.

If nothing else, these alliances certainly haven’t hurt business. In March, after an extensive, nationwide agency review, the nation’s No. 2 commercial air carrier, American Airlines, gave DCA its much-coveted African American business. This made DCA the first African American agency of record for a major airline. With Timerlin McClain — a True North entity — as the airline’s general-marketing agency, the alliance has the makings of every mainstream agency’s dream: nesting almost all of a client’s business under one roof.

Industry insiders say the merger, while good for Coleman, may have sparked the unexpected exit of former DCA partner, executive vice president and ethnic marketing guru Chuck Morrison, who left for UniWorld in January.

The access to resources was also the primary impetus behind the Burrell merger. “The partnership with Publicis offers us several advantages — access to human, financial and technology resources,” says CEO Thomas Burrell. “We are now able to offer clients a broader range of marketing communication services.

“Of the partnering choices we had, Publicis made the most sense. First, the personal chemistry was great. We shared a common vision for the future; with Publicis just starting to mount a major expansion into the U.S. market, we were able to play a more major role in that development than would be provided by the more ‘overcrowded’ alternatives.

“Lastly, we were conflict free. As a matter

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