Winds of Change

Amid shifting dynamics, black ad agencies are adapting to stay alive

internally, and adopted new strategies to help anchor their agencies for the long haul. Los Angeles-based Muse Cordero Chen & Partners, for instance, changed the name on its door to Muse Communications (No. 6 on the list with $60 million in billings).

Billings for the top 15 agencies on our list rose 14.8%, from $1.55 billion in 2003 to $1.78 billion in 2004. New to the list is Fuse Inc. (No. 7 on the list with $53.4 million in billings), while Images USA (No. 12 on the list with $41.3 million in billings) rejoins the roster. Prime Access Inc. and The King Group Inc. dropped off the list.

THINKING OUTSIDE THE ‘BLACK’ BOX
The biggest hurdle in this industry is anticipating and delivering what potential clients envision. “The advertising business is no longer what it was 20, or even five, years ago,” says Jo Muse, who adopted the new moniker for his firm to better reflect its focus on multicultural marketing. “In fact, the biggest challenge we face is [expanding] from a traditional agency doing 30-second spots to becoming a marketing problem solver that looks at different media forms and marketing techniques to solve client problems.”

To compete, Muse says black ad agencies have to go beyond solely developing black ads and attract more general-market accounts. Otherwise, he says, they risk becoming redundant. Black advertising agencies have to offer more than the African American connection. “When we talk to consumers, their world is not just black. Their world is becoming more and more diverse, and the interactions that they have on a daily basis are more multicultural than ever before,” says Greg Head, president of HEADFIRST market research inc. in Atlanta. “Those African American ad agencies or other agencies that focus on the African American consumer are in a position to get incremental ad spending when they can speak about this consumer as a part of a larger market.”

The strategy of R.J. Dale Advertising & Public Relations (No. 15 with $35.5 million in billings) last year was to “focus on more than just segment business.” It paid off. The Chicago-based agency beat 13 other ad shops to win a $19 million-a-year general-market account with the Illinois state lottery, making it the first time in the state’s history that an African American-owned ad agency won such an account. Before it won the account, R.J. Dale had handled only the African American market for the state lottery. But when DDB Chicago, the lottery’s then general-market agency, resigned from its contract, president and CEO Robert J. Dale stepped in. His campaign, which included a series of television spots featuring comedian Bernie Mac, resulted in record lottery sales of more than $1.7 billion for fiscal 2004.

R.J. Dale also picked up three new clients, including Nielsen Media Research, for which it will serve as a public relations agency. Another agency, New York-based UniWorld (No. 3 on the list with $220.8 million in billings), which was named the African American ad agency of record for the John Kerry campaign,

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