Surviving the Game

With battles for ad budgets more competitive than ever, African American agency CEOs rely on solid leadership to win

opportunities with her new business strategic team. Every day this 10-member group is charged with conducting market analysis and pinpointing growth segments. Leading the charge, Williams then makes her pitch and waits for the score. “It’s like identifying that next hit artist,” Williams says. “Somebody knows how to do it or else it wouldn’t happen. And so we’re that team. We’re going out there and we’re identifying the hits before anybody knows about them.”

MOVING FULL SPEED AHEAD
For African American agency leaders who want to change their standing in the industry, it can’t be business as usual. To keep driving their enterprises, they must be forward thinking in meeting the expectations of an ever-changing marketplace, and they must devise innovative ways to keep pace.

Coleman suggests that black agencies consider acquisition and consolidation to keep their companies moving full speed ahead. He also believes that agency heads should prepare for the next reign of command. For the past five years, Coleman has followed his own advice, grooming his succession team and developing senior management to take over once he is ready to step down.

In valuing the black segment, Head says agency owners must consider the mind-set of the “new-millennium marketing manager,” and speak with a voice they can understand. “These managers see the world differently than, say, marketing managers of a generation ago. They aren’t born of the civil rights [era], so they don’t get that the African American consumer is different,” Head says. “We have to be smart about how we tap into their psyche and not tire of telling our
story over and over. Now more than ever we have to remind people that we aren’t dark-skinned white people, and that our differences are subtle, so if you don’t have experts speaking to this African American consumer, you’re not going to be successful.”

Advertising Agency Eligiblity
An advertising agency must be at least 51% black-owned and have been fully operational for the previous calendar year. To qualify as a full-service advertising agency, the company must provide creative services as well as make media placements: purchasing time and/or space for a client’s advertising. Companies that only provide consulting services, create or produce advertising, or do media placements do not qualify as full-service agencies. (We canvassed the Standard Directory of Advertising Agencies, combed industry publications, and made inquiries in the field to identify full-service agencies.)

An agency’s financial status is measured in terms of billings — monies allocated by an advertiser to its agency to buy time on television and/or radio or space in publications. These media outlets then pay a commission to the agency in the form of a discount, typically between 15% and 20%, which the agency counts as revenue. Other sources of revenue include production fees that the agency charges to its clients and fees for adjunct services such as public relations, consulting, and promotional work. Our ranking of the 15 top agencies is based on a combined total of actualized billings, in addition to capitalized billings (commissions that haven’t been paid but

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