Ready for Takeoff

Sound strategies and high risks boost entrepreneurs to the other side of sacrificebetter known as success

and eight foreign countries.

The younger Johnson has also laid out a sound strategy for obtaining the company’s goals. “If we can take care of two objectives, which are quality service to your customer and taking care of people, then we feel that $200 million is within our grasp by 2007.” As a team, Eagle Group employees can manage large, complicated contracts, and the company is currently diversifying its customer base beyond the military to include civilian agencies such as the Department of Labor and the Centers for Disease Control. As a first step in this initiative, Eagle Group recently won a $70 million contract to operate a Job Corps Center, which will allow Johnson to build his business and give back to the community by serving at-risk youth. The company hopes to attract more work with Job Corps Centers, which help young people between 17 and 24 obtain GEDs, training skills, and job placement.

Like the astronaut strapped to a hunk of metal traveling many times the speed of sound, it takes some audacity to burst on the scene with the intention of changing an industry.

Which was exactly what the founders of Fuse Inc. (No. 7 on the BE ADVERTISING AGENCIES list with $53.4 million in billings) planned to do, and achieved, when they took on the advertising industry. When CEO Clifford Franklin started the full-service advertising agency in 1997 with his wife, Sharilyn, and his brother Mike, the plan was to change the face of advertising.

“We never got into this to be just an ad agency,” states Clifford Franklin. “We felt like the whole premise of general-market advertising was waning and that this is truly a multicultural society. It was our hope and our focus to be that one agency that consistently produced work that transcended race.”

The mission of merging general-market advertising and African American advertising led to the company’s name, Fuse Inc. The St. Louis-based agency, with only a handful of employees in the first year, boldly took the industry by surprise when it introduced its “Fuse Manifesto” campaign, which detailed the company’s view of the current state of the industry and the direction in which Fuse wanted it to go.

“We sent that out to 45 of what we deemed the top creative shops in the country,” explains Franklin, 40. “We received 23 calls from 25 different agencies basically saying, ‘Wow, who is Fuse? Is this a black-owned agency? I’ve never seen anybody execute like this before.’ So for us it was very important to come out of the gate showing that we could produce work that was comparable or better than the so-called great general-market agencies.”

At that particular time, no black-owned agency had ever been recognized for winning national creative awards. Fuse resolved to win one. In 1999, employing a very methodical approach and creative vision, Fuse created a groundbreaking campaign for the St. Louis Cardinals that garnered it “Best of Show”—the equivalent of a Grammy in the ad business. “That was a coup because

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