New Beginnings: Put People On Your Staff

Endeavoring in any enterprise often shouldn’t be a solo venture. That’s a mistake most entrepreneurs and small business people make. The reasoning is sound. The rationale goes like this: “We’re a start up — there isn’t much money — I can’t afford to hire anyone to help me.” I felt that until there was a possibility of signing three accounts in one week. That current staff was inadequate to get the job done, so I decided to hire people to work on the accounts. 

As decisions go, it was a sensible. The drawback was I didn’t hire people — just ‘occupants’ to sit at the desks.  Relationships are developed with people. An ‘occupant’ knows that their tenure will be short lived, either because they are going to quit, or will be terminated. A relationship with ‘people’ is an investment in the future. If one can’t see employees as anything more than occupants, that revelation will never occur. Small wonder people walk away. 

There are always good and bad warning signs where employees headed. A good sign is when, in speaking about the business, the employee uses the phrase “we are,” or “our company plans to,” That’s not a Freudian slip. It’s an indication that they want to belong. A bad sign is when the work is never done, or excuses are made justifying the delay. That particular individual feels justified walking off the job, or not even showing up. 

We’re getting to that point where we need to fill a staff different position or two. I want colleagues, fellow laborers toward success. My former business partner suggested freelancers. That didn’t seem adequate. A freelancer may have other jobs lined up. They can be hardly expected to disclose their future ambitions. Will they truly answer that question: “Where you see yourself five years now?” Will they assume I’m trying to get into their personal business or concerned about where they fit into the fabric of company’s future? 

Asking the question may aid me in establishing trust. Business relationships with colleagues, not ‘occupants,’ is healthy for the company. If you want to elevate the working relationship where the ‘employee’ is a colleague, there are at least six things that can may aid this more fulfilling working relationship.

  1. If it isn’t viewed as intrusive, ask the co-worker’s interests to discover a mutually beneficial way of matching your business needs with their interests. If they are unsure of where they want to end up in their career, opportunities that may be consistent with their experiences. The end design is to motivate the co-worker into going the extra-mile. Like it or not, you are a mentor.
  2. Assuming you have such a person on staff, partner that individual with the employee. That will assure that there is support within the organization.  
  3. Include them in meetings. Their perspective  and opinions may give a new insight on your business.
  4.  Give them research oriented projects. I’m in advertising and before I pitch a company for business I need to know as much as possible on the company and its industry. A good researcher is invaluable.
  5. Have an open door policy. Again, you are a mentor. 
  6. Have performance reviews but prior to that give regular feedback on status and how they are performing their jobs. I am always delighted when I find out one of my co-workers left to start their own agency. Usually, they didn’t have the gumption to do it until they became your co-worker. Regardless, feedback is important for professional development.

I read and hear people in the ad industry bellyaching about what they do is “just a job,” “trained monkeys can perform the same creative work.” Hogwash. I came from a  background where work was to be an enjoyable experience because its part of who you are. Sometimes it’s okay for to veer away from rigidness and cynicism.  When that day comes, if we are truly watchful, we will get colleagues and not “occupants at the desk.”

 Catch you later,

Bernard Alexander McNealy

New Beginnings: Thank You America

I was watching the former “Military Channel,” now called the Heroes Channel, and caught a marathon on the Revolutionary War. I watched with sheer fascination. Some see that war as analogous to David vs. Goliath, and that may be apropos – but I see it as something more profound.

I truly believe that at the invention of the Universe, in the firmament that was a plan for the United States to come about. This country has survived long and gloriously. It has always been badly flawed. It tolerated an economy predicated on the enslavement of other people – Africans — a group where some of my ancestors came. America in its flaws, some might argue, destroyed indigenous people in its expansion westward.


It was a land that fought a Civil War where one the issues was over slavery. America rose to the task when Abraham Lincoln held a divided Union together.  And it wasn’t until 1964 that, despite Democratic party obstructionism, the Republican Party led by Sen. Everett Dirksen (a wonderful and forgotten statesman) passed the Civil Rights Act. A Southerner, President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill, but a Yankee, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, listening to the reasoned arguments of A. Philip Randolph, Mary Bethum Cookman, Martin Luther King, Bayard Ruston and other of the lions of American history.

The United States of America, in its flaws fought against the threat of communism in Korea, Vietnam and places around the world, that I cannot pronounce, knew there was a greater fight — a battle for hearts and minds. Today, we see our nation once again sending its troops to those unpronounceable places to beat back the war declared by radical Islamists. Perhaps it is without real conviction from President Obama, but our men and women under color of arms protect this land — its people — its people — and its flaws.

Thank you America for getting past biases to elect a bi-racial president. Yes, he is ineffective, perhaps treacherous but we tolerated the rhetoric and put aside our differences to see if we could walk together into the pages of history. 

I’m so grateful America because I had passion fueled discussions with a Korean War veteran by the name of Lt. Cleveland McNealy (dad), who told me about struggle, racism, economic deprivation and other evils. I might not have known to appreciate the life I have.

I learned about the flaws of this great country – and I applaud its greatness. I grew up without my father but got to know him later in life. “Believe. Dare to be Great,” was his favorite phrase. Thank you America for letting me start a business – this descendant of Cherokee-Seminole, African, Portuguese, and Scottish peoples, amid my complaining. 

Thank you for allowing me to compete in a profession I love, advertising. Even if I don’t win the pitch, you are showing me the best of times.

I must thank you America for everything about you. You’ve given me a great life. I met Ronald Reagan, worked in the campaign of a diametric opposite, Tom Bradley four time mayor of Los Angeles and that great American hero, John McCain. America, you gave me opportunity to shoot the breeze with Buzz Aldrin, Shirley Chisholm and John Lewis. In every sense of the word they are Americans heroes.

I read a lot of black history. And yes, although I was young, I did my share of hell raising demonstrating for civil rights, and protesting. That’s why I love my country. It has flaws, but is a land of opportunity.

The American Revolution is a textbook study of greatness. It was also a time of political division (rebel vs loyalist, slaveholders vs slaves), while illustrating that from chaos greatness emerges.

I admire Gen. George Washington and consider him the greatest American of all time. Yes, he had slaves. But, there is evidence he also paid them and gave them the choice of leaving. Washington was such a charismatic figure, he could have declared himself King. This is unlike our present situation where we have a minuscule man striving mightily destroy our liberties and become the very thing Washington declined.

By the way, when we decide to make something, the rest of the world can’t match it. They can steal it, or learn to build it — but…

This is an example of American  greatness. It was two days before Christmas in 1783 when Washington strode into the statehouse at Annapolis, Maryland. He address the Congress and surrendered his military commission. Washington declared, “Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theater of Action—and bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my Commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life.”

Imagine, he could seized it all. That type of man probably wouldn’t approve of some of the things we have become. Benghazi cover-up, coddling terrorists (Fort Hood killer), IRS scandal,a deserting soldier brokered for Al Quada terrorists and lying about it all. Politicians fan the flames of division, toward what end, who knows. We’ve sent God on vacation from our hearts. 

But this is still the country that Gen. Washington struggled to liberate. I’m grateful for it.

So, on your birthday, the day we declared independence from Britain, July 4th, thank you America for letting me be who I am. Thank you for letting me have a chance to succeed, and to fail, and be given another opportunity to do it all again.

If this is post disjointed, forgive me. There is emotion that swells in my heart when I think about the greatness of America past and hopefully future. Have any safe and glorious Independence Day.

Catch you later,


Bernard Alexander McNealy

Carson Dunn Media Advertising

New Beginnings: Meg Tilly Motivation Moment

In 1993, there was a remake of the Kevin McCarthy classic, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” called “Body Snatchers.” To me, life often plays out like a movie. Seemingly we live by a script. Sometimes we write it daily; other times life just sort of happens.

Each action one takes is the consequence of each event leading up to that moment of occurrence.

I’ve developed certain talents beneficial in carrying out whatever vocation I am undertaking. I am acting consequential to the script of preparation. For example, I went to law school and ultimately opened an administrative law and mediation practice; then, a series of events led me down the winding path of opening an advertising agency.

Lately, after more setbacks than progress, I re-evaluated whether I want to keep going. On a personal level it was hurtful when someone I relied on to help re-branding my agency, took her considerable talents elsewhere (she’ll do well). It was a bothersome setback when two people designated as department leaders proved ill-suited. Their responsibilities had to be filled quickly, so I selected myself because it was cheaper (doing thing on the cheap is always a mistake) because our clients were paying late if prodded — or not at all, if requested.

I didn’t like explaining our internal dwindle to prospects and existing clients. I’m still be a little unsettled by being thrown off-balance. Here is where the Meg Tilly Motivation Moment comes in.

The scene is a master shot of the den and living room of darkly lightly house with music droning low — one long continuous note. Will Patton, playing ‘Steve,’ Meg’s husband, runs frantically down the stairs into the silhouetted living room. “Carol! Carol! We gotta go! Honey! We…we have get out,” Steve shouts. Meg is in the den whispering into the phone.

“Carol! We gotta get out of here! We gotta go,” Steve repeats. Clearly what he feared has just struck. Tears and fear ride the current of his words.

Cut across to a close up of Carol (Meg). She’s calm, despite knowing what’s happened. I found what happened next inspiring because I was contemplating taking Steve’s advice. Throwing up my hand in defeat.

Carol coos in a halting, three gin and tonic voice: “Go…where? Shhh…I want you to listen to me, Steve. Shhh. This is important…Steve.That thing that happened in the room, happened. It’s happened everywhere. But, where’re you gonna run? Where’re you gonna hide? You can’t, because there won’t anybody there like you. So, I ask you — go where — where’re you gonna run – where’re you gonna hide?”

Carol is calm — zombie calm — Jody Arias sneaking in your bedroom calm. Hell, Carol’s Meg Tilly.

The movie’s called Body Snatchers for a reason. In life you think the spaghetti has hit the fan because you believe you’re in the wrong place. I’ve felt like and been Steve more than once.

In my case the issue boils down to what would being apathetic achieve? What would running away prove? What would neglecting the business by disengaging myself intellectually accomplish? There’s no place to run — there’s no place to hide. Importantly, there is no one else like me.

Meg’s sexy-scary voice soliloquy said what I needed to hear because it was true. I am where I belong. This is the right time to improve on it and push beyond fear and confusion to abundant success.

Catch you later,

Bernard Alexander McNealy

New Beginnings: A Kick in The Pants Moment

I just caught a snippet of video featuring B. Bonin Bough VP of Mondelez International. The video segment was a promo for Advertising Age, but that isn’t what was important to me. The video was a “kick in the pants moment.”.

Mr. Bough touched on the idea of confidence and affirmation. He said a person has to remember to be their own cheerleader. For me, that means acknowledging how good I am at some facet of what I am doing in the ad profession. The more you put yourself in the conversation, the greater the likelihood someone will check you out. It’s not bragging, but trying to gain an advantage. From self-affirmation, business relationships flow.

No matter the size of the agency, we should be of notoriety, the good kind. No one will knows or care if we labor in obscurity.

I remember something that continues to rankle me about the disappointment of relying on a former staff member to sit down with me and create a couple of spec ads an a short video for a presentation. It never got done.  She was being paid, but she had to be approached like she was Queen Elizabeth or ‘Jenny from the Block’ — keep your eyes averted or she’ll throw chewing gum at you.  So, I went to the meeting as prepared as possible. I had some good research on the company and its target, and a few visuals in the briefcase. We were up against a slick nimble group, and I suppose its best to say our lack of materials got us blown out of the water. I did something that ran contrary to who I am — I apologized for the shortcomings of my agency. As it so happens, there were a couple websites we’d done (with some damn terrific copy, I might ad) that the client glanced at. 

Here’s the teachable moment. Later, the VP of the client company sensed my depression. He walked me back over what we’d done and failed to do. This guy was pretty “old school” and from New Yawk. He said, in essence, Jenny needed to take her butt to another block. Don’t allow people to pull me down, he emphasized. If I need a pat on the back, I have long, flexible arms and can do it. God knows that co-worker didn’t exalt our company in the least. I called Jenny in and told her that she was free to seek opportunities elsewhere.

Mr. Bough’s little cameo for Ad Age reminded me or two things: Its okay to be your own critic. However, my greater virtue is that given a chance to get in the room (That’s a Draperism) I can pitch an idea real well. After the backslapping done, the true measure of what I do, is the ability to capitalize on whatever opportunity I attain. 

Catch you later,

Bernard Alexander McNealy


New Beginnings: “David Ogilvy? What Band’s He In?”

There are times in our lives that we need inspiration, perhaps guidance. For me that has been David Ogilvy. I’m reading Kenneth Roman’s book about the great man. As a former chairman and CEO of the Ogilvy & Mather agency, Kenneth Roman provides an almost pictorial biography of the agency’s early days, Mr. Ogilvy’s history prior to founding it, and the agency’s subsequent years.

Advertising was not my first profession. It grew out of my mediation practice. One day, my associate and I were discussing what was basically, “What I’m going to do when I grow up,” and for some reason we revisited a component of our business. In the past, our practice had a number of small business clients that needed help planning and drafting ad copy, and buying media. History had repeated itself and we had gotten a few similar business clients.

Their needs were similar, including graphic design, media buying and other aspects of the ad business. That was our ‘a-ha’ moment. “Hey gang, let’s become an advertising agency.” Well, the small staff got smaller. It was the height of the Great Recession. My wonderful associate decided she could the same thing and started her own marketing and ad agency – stealing my sales staff and the last viable accounts.

Then, one day wallowing in anger at Barnes & Nobel, I saw it: “Confessions of an Advertising Man.” This was Mr. Ogilvy’s own story and I fell head over heels. I read it and stared at the cover and interior like I was exploring the mysteries of a beautiful woman. I committed myself to learning not just about Ogilvy, but the advertising profession and started formally learning it. Slowly, we got a few clients – small businesses but they were paying customers.

It’s a struggle learning to run a small agency. You fight for new accounts, fight to obtain and keep personnel, and gain relevancy and credibility.  Often you are in it alone — or it feels that way. In looking at Roman’s book on Mr. Ogilvy, I took away a number of things. Ogilvy, paradox that he was, was a consummate professional. He built a philosophy, not just an agency. He believed in writing long, explainatory copy. Mr. Ogilvy was also a bit rigid about what constituted good advertising. I love writing copy, and detest jumbled messages, whether written for print or produced as a commercials. 

Sadly, the profession is riddled with people who don’t know bad advertising from middling. I am sadden when I encounter interns who ask:  “David Ogilvy? What band is he in? Oh, yeah. That’s the dude that won American Idol.” Professor Longhair over at Middle Finger U doesn’t tell them a damn thing about “The King of Madison Avenue.” Or, for that matter, Leo Burnett (Yeah him; power forward, LA Lakers) Rosser Reeves, Ted Bates, Mary Wells. Jerry Della Ferma, Jay Chiat, Carol P. Williams, Harry Webber and the people that actually helped make the advertising profession. Professor Longhair knows all about his friend’s agency and tells his students that real agencies must have ping pong tables, dogs the in hallways, tattoo contests, just like that progressive visionary agency “Laptop Larry” started.

Laptop Larry’s amenities are about as useful as an air sandwich. We used to call those features bullshit. An old mentor once told me that when you’re bullshitting, you’re not working.

Back to Mr. Ogilvy.

What is inspiring for me is the modest beginnings of his now gigantic agency. Sure he had partners that contributed to its funding, but the bottom line is that even when accounts were few, he never quit. He also paid himself modestly and took care of his workers by establishing profit sharing.

There’s a tendency for people to crawl into a fetal position of surrender when times are rough. We whine about entitlement but in reality nothing good comes from whining – effort pays off. Last year, my business partner and I decided to transform into a digital agency. But, here is the thing: First and foremost we are an advertising agency. David Ogilvy said that an agency’s role is to sell its client’s product. Yes, strive for creativity, put the maximum effort in it, but serve your clients – move their stuff from the shelves and into the hands of consumers.

I’ll read a few more chapters and start my recovery.

Catch You later,

Bernard Alexander McNealy

New Beginnings:   A Father’s Day Thank you

Like many black men, I grew up without my father in the home. I never resented him, or questioned why he was absent from my life. It was a fact of life and I accepted it as such.

My mother supplied several dozen reasons (daily it seems) as to why they had divorced. I loved my mother. But although she was endearing, she was a difficult character tat times. So as a kid I packed a sandwich bag many a day and headed for the railroad. I was going to get away from that woman and live a hobo’s life. From the way she blistered my ears blasting me verbally, I think I understand one the reasons Dad headed for the hills.

Was that the real justification? Some things provide their own rationale, so in the end, it doesn’t matter. I had strong men in life to help through hurdles and pitfalls. If I have any worth as a man today, it is because of the men God placed in my life.

My older brother Sammie was a constant morale force.  Even while we were kids, he taught me to be respectful of women. Sammie was wise and cool. When I had my first foray into interracial dating (a beautiful red-haired Irish-American girl) and it went sour, Sammie helped me to deal with the pain of rejection. You see, my would-be girlfriend’s father was a Boston cop; as were two of her older brothers.  I was unceremoniously shown the door.  

Sammie had a lot of Italian-American friends and one was a ‘made man.’  He didn’t shoot me when I met his niece and my heart raced. Uncle Vito said, “You boys are  part Sicilian.”  That only meant he was accepting and knew the young heart. That particular uncle was infamous to law enforcement, but besides protecting us from less understanding folks, he taught me that all things pass away with time. Vito said: “Enjoy life, kid because your tomorrow may not get here.”  Vito treated his wife well. I remember him as being a hell of a dresser. Sammie took after him because my brother dressed with style. Here’s the point, Vito was a strong man who showed us how to believe in ourselves. Fathers you see, are mentors and encourage you to excel.  

My grandfather, Sherman taught me to appreciate the gift of perseverance. Of course, he was there to straighten me out when I steered off course. I remember a week before his death, Grand-daddy Sherman called us from Augusta. I spoke to him briefly, but Sammie had the phone more than me. I honestly believe that he made Sammie promise to watch out for me and keep my tail out of trouble. Try as I might, my big brother always pulled me out of whatever crap I brought on myself.

My uncles James and Robert (RD) influenced me in much the same was as ‘Uncle Vito’ and my older brother.  James taught me martial arts – Robert taught me how to play baseball and football. Everything they knew about both, Sherman taught them.

For the last ten years of his life, Dad and I had a very strong relationship – an unbreakable bond. I loved the man I learned he was. He was a college graduate, served in the Korea War, later was a business man. Dad took me to task about some less a less than appreciate attitude I had about our country. He was a fighter and even killed people in war. He didn’t have regrets about it because he was a product of his father and time – a real man.  

Lately, several things happened to me that has proven to be deflating.  I remember the most valuable lesson a young man can learn as he grows into adulthood: “Don’t give up – get off the ground. Plant your feet — turn around and kick ass.”

I’m not a young man anymore. It’s time to listen to those voices and act.

All of the men that served as father figures, as a guide,  mentors, teachers, and spiritual forces and my birth father have died. I remain to remember: “Live life…avoid trouble…appreciate your gifts… tomorrow is not promised… don’t give up. Plant my feet…”

And I thank them all.

Catch you later,


Bernard A. McNealy, President 

Carson Dunn Media Advertising, Inc.

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New Beginnings: The Pitch — A Swing and A Miss

Back in my youth I played baseball. I became so proficient at it, there was interest from a couple of big league teams. I was thrilled to be invited to a try out, and of course dreamed of bigger things ahead.

A chain of events saw me headed for spring training with this particular team. A funny thing happened on the way to fame and wealth. Let me set this up. I could hit a fastball with no problem. I had to face a guy with a wicked curveball. The ball came, my heart raced as my eyes widened and reflexes activated and the bat swung and — the ball dropped. I looked silly when he did it again. To make matters worse, the pitcher came back with a fastball. The ball sailed past me because I froze. “Strike three!”

This is analogy applies to another type of pitch – the pitch for new business.

I armed myself with whatever is necessary to present the reason why CDM is the agency for a particular client. Just when it looks like we have a shot, a big curve-ball comes at us. It could be a question asked by a honcho at the company, and it leaves me with a befuddled look. I may have an ability to communicate, but the pitch, just like that curve-ball leads me standing there trying to figure out what to do next. That business win looks like a fading memory.

Agency people are familiar with the process. They know the elation of standing at the plate, and maybe getting a hit, only to be told later that some other team was selected.

How are you supposed to feel about this — the loss of time and money? In a word, lousy. There is no victory losing, or just competing. The goal is to win.

David Ogilvy famously said we are to swing for the fences, hit a home run. I know that apply to the work that an agency does, but unarguably you have to nail the pitch to hit a home-run.

Losing a pitch is like passing a watermelon through the bowels.

For those of you facing this string of butt-kicks should reconsider how the presentation is made. You cannot make yesterday’s argument to resolve today’s problem. Another thing is to cut down the over reliance on visuals such as slides and videos. The reason is that you want the hearer to actually listen to how and why your agency will benefit his company.

In the television series Mad Men Donald Draper creates word pictures. His style is poetic. Don also doesn’t waste time either. In examining my last presentation I spent more time talking about my agency, rather than what the client’s brand means to the consumer. Big mistake.

I remember two successful experiences. In one, we won an account by speaking about how a cosmetic company client’s product enhances beauty. Beauty is a goal to unfolds like a celestial curtain, revealing the face of an angel. Don’t laugh. It worked. Their previous slogan was “Try our product — it’s good.”

The second memorable pitch had me handing off the presentation to a colleague: Jasmine (not her real name) She fumbled, until the third person, Clarissa (not her real name either) on the team picked up where Jasmine left off. Clarissa said: “Contrary to myth, life can have do overs. Growth is watered by mistakes.” She took the client through a brief history of its marketing efforts; and how those efforts had fallen short to the point where the client felt like they were drowning. “Advertising is your life preserver. It will not abandon you. It will keep you afloat.” She was brilliant, creating word pictures and it flowed.

Afterwards, the owner of the company said appreciated our knowledge of their marketing history, company products, and its target audience. We had our act together. Of course, we had slides and video as backups, but the word pictures worked.

Catch you later,

Bernard Alexander McNealy

New Beginnings: Being Good Is Falling Short

Over the past couple of months I’ve experienced the apex of exhilaration and the profound disappointment from winning three pieces of substantial business. The exhilaration came because we pitched successfully; disappointment fell because, within a few days each ‘client’ had a shakeup at either the marketing or C-level, or during the cooling off period structured into our contracts, decided to take the guys that finished behind us.

Don’t get me wrong. The relationships are not fractured because in the case of two of these prospects, they operated outside of the United States and the runners-up were from their turf. Familiarity with the advertising restrictions and regulations of their respective countries was probably better for the clients.

I learned a long time ago to communicate with the rejecting party two things: 1) “We understand, and appreciated the opportunity.” And, 2) “If there is anything we can do to win your future business, let’s talk about that when the opportunity presents itself.”

Nonetheless, it stung to be rejected.

The worst part is that is it affected our level of staffing. People assumed that their use to the agency rested in our keeping the accounts, so they went over the hill. Almost every day I read in Agency Spy, or Ad Age about big agency that lose an account, and staff is reduced. In our case, if the bleeding continued there would have been problems. But, small agency owners are triage experts like medics in the military (not to trivialize our troops in harm’s way). We can patch things up and keep going. The younger digital and PR crowd don’t understand this and are apt to jump ship. (I know most Millennials will scream at that; but folks I’m only relating what I witnessed.)

It is encumbered on me to do better than expected. At all levels, this business is heavy with competition. We smaller players in the industry want to be relevant and be first in the mind of prospects. So what is there beyond relevance? Well, a small agency cannot just be good – it has to go beyond that.

Sometimes being good is falling short – the prize continues to elude you.

Catch you later,

Bernard Alexander McNealy

New Beginnings: A Matter of Complexion

I am not one who believes that America has become post-racial because of the election of bi-racial Barack Obama as our President. Sadly, to get an accurate picture of how truly things are, issues of race in America must be viewed from life spent dealing with intellectual and socio-political truths.

Race matters in America. Honestly, that breaks my heart. For me, the racism in my profession has been both subtle and blatant. It has been perpetuated by prospective clients and by my professional brethren. Let me give you an example of a decision to reject my agency based on race. We’d been prospecting this particular company for weeks. I answered their brief promptly and professionally. We were readily familiar with the type of work they wanted. They were sent samples of our work in these areas.

After a couple of telephone conversations, the company’s CEO invited me to meet with him. When asked if we were competing against another agency and needed to pitch, he said: “Are you kidding, Bernard? No. Your work is better than (bigger name agency…and big-time agency). We want a long-term relationship.” I arrived early for the appointment and brought supportive materials. It took an hour to confirm that I had an appointment. The CEO came out, took one look at me and said: “I didn’t realize you’re black.” I reminded him that he felt my agency had the ability to deliver what his company wanted. His replied: “Well, your work will be substandard. I can’t waste my money.”

That was bad enough.

I attended a conference on marketing in the digital age, or something like that. There were big name industry people on dais. Wouldn’t you know it? Despite having whatever credentials I needed to get in the damn place, the mostly male and white attendees treated me like I was a fugitive from a chain gang. “You can’t possibly be an agency owner. There are no black—“ met a chorus of ss-ssh. “Oh. There are no black creative directors.” I asked them if they had heard of Jimmy Smith.

The population of the United States continues to get darker each year due to the influx and growth of Hispanics, the increasing numbers of blacks and of Asians. The ad industry and business community needs to understand that the dollars in these communities are of equal value to the dollars in the white community.

There is a prevailing myth that minority owned agencies cannot navigate the terrain of the “total market.” Look. What we do is sell products. That’s what an agency does — that’s what we do.

Industry publications such as Advertising Age needs to acknowledge people of color in the industry when they are saluting the, “the most influential this… the youngest that…the best small agencies..blah… blah… blah…” because seldom are these agencies anything other than white. Stop unbalancing the playing field and perpetuating misconceptions. It ferments prejudice.

I have been fortunate to have decent business clients that recognize my ability to put together campaigns that sell their products and help build their brands. Unfortunately, I also run into the people that think that I am playing ‘dress-up,’ when I put on a suit and pitch for their business.

I am not foolish to believe that the average small agency always has the same capabilities as the average large agency. However, if given the opportunity, a smaller agency might — I repeat – might eclipse the bigger agency’s work. Here’s the kicker. Some of these small agencies are owned and operated by people of color. The fact that we are shut out like I illustrated is not because of a failure of effort. It is simply because to some, race matters.

Catch you later,

Bernard Alexander McNealy

New Beginnings: Gotta Get That Trophy

The other day, the founder of a local advertising and design agency and I met for a gentlemen’s lunch. To the uninitiated, that’s when you knock back a few martinis with your host and wait until he’s in the bathroom, before you quietly go through his Rolodex and copy down the names and phone numbers of his clients.

No, that’s not true. I had that happen to me twice, and didn’t like it one bit when a couple of clients dropped us because of the “client wrassler.” I have too much integrity to pull a stunt like that. It’s nothing more than stealing. As they say, mama didn’t raise me that way.

The meeting in question was to exchange ideas on how to keep our respective shops in good standing with the local chamber of commerce and business community. It was a satisfying get together because, he is an old hand in the profession, and told me a few things I didn’t know. I came away appreciating his generosity and can’t wait to do the same for someone else.

One of the things I noticed was that he had a dozen awards or so in his lobby. Most were given because of professional excellence – some probably were incidentals. You know, runner-up in some obscure category. I asked him about whether the awards helped his business grow. The answer was compelling. He said some awards helped prospects to hire his agency because of curiosity.

But, he said trophies in and of themselves meant absolutely nothing if his work product was shoddy and unimaginative. He viewed awards as evidence of his agency’s effort to demonstrate how good it is.

“Do you know what your brand is?” he asked. “It’s giving a damn and making sure your client gets the best you have. Don’t look at the size of the account. Look at the trust that’s been placed in you.” That reminded me of something someone told me about knowing that the agency I own, stands for something excellent.

I was being told to approach my work “old school,” instead of frat guy digital. Don’t accumulate awards for the sake of acquiring them because when you really look at it, there are hundreds of categories you can enter and get an award for – since you are nominating yourself — the prize is hollow. After a while it looks like the agency’s only purpose is to acquire hardware. We’ve been nominated by third parties for stuff a few times, but we have actual no accumulation of hardware.

I have a nice glass craving received for “creative excellence.” The trophy was a result of peer recognition. To me, that is cool because it is the most valid stamp of approval.

Catch you later,

Bernard Alexander McNealy


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