Monthly Archives: October 2011

WEIGHING OPTIONS: Ethnicity And Points of Struggle (Part 2)

What is the meaning behind the headline, you might ask? I’m speaking as the head of a creative agency and as an African American. Despite delusions to the contrary, race matters in our country. Some people believe that because America elected a bi-racial president, the Obama phenomenon erased all of the racial ills in the country were. It did not – it hasn’t even come close. Three hundred years history remains with all of its divisiveness. Consequentially, as a black man, there is a cultural and racial aspect to everything I do.

But, I don’t want that to hinder obtaining business because I don’t see myself as inferior in the delivery of agency services.  I am not a victim because I choose not to be one. If I say so myself, I am a damn good creative director and my staff is as good as any. Why am I so boastful? I believe in speaking the truth.

There are few black agencies in Southern California, probably in the country as well. So, I’m driven by obvious factors. The paucity of agencies such as ours is catalytic; perhaps this stimulation forces creativity.  I don’t know.

At the inception of our agency I sought to blend (integration in its finest form) multiple ethnicities within a small shop.  If we are nothing else, we are multicultural. Therein lays a point of struggle. Look, we may know the nuances of different cultures, but we also studied and voraciously consumed everything we could have learned about the so-called general market. “General market” is a euphemism for Caucasians (or those of that social and cultural bent.)

The general market does not scare us. We relish the challenge. We do not present a rather hip-hop, crooked hat, baggy pants approached advertising, or for that matter, public relations.  We’re straightforward and quite capable of handling the work that comes our way.

Truthfully? I would like to feed on it, consuming is much as I can.

Okay. We may be met with skepticism at times. But I’m willing to bet that mixed-media, or triplication, results in two things: a change in pace during a campaign to seize the most affected path to a client’s objective; the client will make a sizable return on its investment.

We are forging our identity. We are a small black agency because coincidently the owner happens it be black. Perhaps more aptly stated, we are an agency that is becoming part of the business fabric of Southern California.

Bernard A. McNealy, President.

WEIGHING OPTIONS: Ethnicity And Points of Struggle (Part 1)

Okay. Okay. The headline has the subtlety of fingernails scraping across a blackboard. But there’s a point to be made.  True multi-cultural agencies are in jeopardy.  Why is that? Well to begin with, mainstream agencies are beginning to poach on previously forbidden territory—the so-called ethnic market. Someone at those firms discovered that as of 2014 the buying power of Black people will be $1.2 trilion dollars. Also, Latinos are on pace to be the largest “minority” or ethnic group in the United States, translating into upward to $1.7 trillion in collective revenue. For mainstream marketers these are potential windfalls.

Interestingly, minority employment with agencies is either static or nonexistent. A friend of mine commented, “They want the business, but won’t open the door.”  Inarguably there is a nominal presence of black and Hispanics among creatives in mainstream firms.  Is this racism? Well, it reflects the truth is that it is business as usual.

Does that mean there should be segregated marketing – blacks only pursuing black clients consumers – Hispanic agencies marketing only Latino clients – Jews do the same with Jews – Whites – Asians with their own? I am not an advocate of that at all.

Here is what I want. I created a small agency with an atmosphere to attract creative people.  In turn , we have learned to communicate to consumers, the message of business clients want them to have. Yes, we target the audiences, but only consistent with the business desires of our clients.  If we have succeeded, the reason is quite simple, clarity of message coupled with innovative execution.  Pride in its creative culture should be the hallmark of any agency. Clients should make the assumption that the agency can execute and deliver.

All agencies, especially the smaller ones, simply want a fair chance at obtaining business. The belief should be that a competent agency can sell to any group consumers.  The problem is that a lot of businesses think that the size of the agency is determinative of quality. It is not. If this is a common belief, coupled with the growing economies of ethnic communities, a lily white company will seize the opportunity and become, in word alone, multi-cultural. This is why there is a connection between ethnicity and points of struggle.

In that type of situation, all one can ask is that a prospect to judge their work. To do so gives insight as to which consumer can reach successfully.  As a cross between public relations and advertising agency we are without uncertainty. Instead, we are certain that our method is effective to promote a client’s business message.

Bernard A. McNealy, President

WEIGHING OPTIONS: The Greatest Responsibility

I never thought this blog would become a public service announcement, but things seldom go as I plan.

The other day I had a memorable visit at my doctor’s office . It was my regular medical appointment, one that I had delayed more than once. Honestly, my blood pressure had been up. It has been elevated for months. I take the usual regiment of blood pressure medicine and relax through prayer and meditation. Taking a deep breath to enjoy what God has given me has always been hard, particularly lately. My creative agency faces the usual decisions of acquiring clients, evaluating and retaining personnel while juggling finances. It’s my burden, so complaining is futile. The little aches and pains, subtle headaches labored breathing are bothersome. I could always take my concerns to the bottle, or to Bambi at the Spearmint Rhino Club, but going to the doctor seemed the more sensible course.

Usually family should be restorative of joy and morale but aside from my household’s little man, Assani, I dwell in the company of women – a wife – four daughters — draw your own conclusions about added stress.

That brings me back to the doctor. I went there for two reasons. One related to my physical health. The other concerned my piece of mind. Look, I suffer from an African American male phobia: fear of doctors. It’s referred to as ‘white coat phobia’ and it isn’t restricted to black men, because as a rule, men avoid the doctor no matter how severe or bizarre the symptoms. It doesn’t make any sense. There are people that love and rely on us; people that really care. There’s only one way to reciprocate those  feelings: be  responsible and stop the bullshit. Go to the fracking medic!

Sam, my beloved brother died two years ago. He was a ‘man’s man.’ I miss him so badly it aches inside. He was that handsome, strong, courageous six foot-four dude men admire, and women love. Here’s the tragedy. He waged an eleven year war with cancer, but maybe it didn’t have to be that way. Eventually cancer spread to every organ.  Despite it all, Sam didn’t look or act sick. On his death bed, he was even handsome and cut like Batman. That was no surprise because he had been a world class athlete and knew how to maintain his physique. In short, Sam was remarkable.

My doctor thanked me for being faithful to my health. But behind that was a reminder that Sam had walked around for two years with severe pain in his stomach and intestines before he got around to checking it out. This was the tragedy — if he had been more attentive, the result might have been different. By the time he saw his doctor, pancreatic cancer had a head start. He left  his family behind — people who cared and relied on him. His widow, the lovely Margaret, two daughters and five grandsons were deprived of his laughter, wisdom love and guidance.

Sam’s legacy is rich and envious because he was a moral, ethical man.  At time I feel he is around me.

My doctor’s visit was memorable because he told me of my greatest responsibility is to avoid repeating the mistake my brother and most men make – succumbing to the white coat phobia. Your doctor cannot tell you what you body doesn’t already know.

Men, get real.  If you sense there’s something wrong, check it out. Please.

People need you.

Bernard A. McNealy, President

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WEIGHING OPTIONS: Take a Deep Breath and Grow (Part 1)

The sweetest melody ever recorded is Motown’s “Just My Imagination,” by the Temptations. Eddie Kendricks sings in a bittersweet tenor about a girl that he loves. “Each day through my widow, I watch her as she passes by. I say to myself, ‘you’re such a lucky guy.” Paul Williams belts out the bridge, speaking to prayer and desire. The song progresses to the relationship’s hoped for conclusion. The lovers will have “…a cozy little house in the country, with two children, maybe three.” Sadly, towards song’s end he admits that it’s all a fantasy, a product of his imagination.  He has never met the girl.

Still, what is wonderful about the song is that it addresses to a human need to grow – to increase who we are. Carson Dunn Media is at that juncture. It is time to grow.

Sometimes things crystalize slowly. Before Carson Dunn Media began tackling advertising and public relations full time, we performed media buying and wrote copy for small business clients of our consultant company, Carson Dunn Associates.  Both were challenging – absorbing. For some unknown reason I was reluctant to throw all of our business efforts toward advertising. It wasn’t because of Marty, my office manager at the time. Zealously, Marty implored me change our business model. The idea mortified me, so time dragged. She or Tara would lay ideas on me; I’d do a story-board, and then write copy. Alli or Caesar would negotiate media rates. My approach was detached. Eventually the idea of promoting other businesses hooked me.

Back then my staff was loyal, smart and inventive. They were young, hungry  – attrition took it tow. Years passed before I found people I trusted. In the process of searching the agency remained small. That was a mistake. Likewise, our client roster stayed small, and the challenge should have been greater.  Despite my nonchalance, we had spurts of growth.

It is time to grow again. It’s time to rally around the idea of being better than other agencies not just because of creativity, but because of embracing the needs of our clients. This is our new evangelical call.

Growth is a bit daunting. Growth is a strange stimulus that is catalytic and causes staff to become restive. So, like all agencies, our doors swing open and gifted people like Marty and crew leave at the door’s closing. The door opens again and the wonderful footsteps of Patrick, Aaron, Karla, Walter and the inestimable Kim are heard. Each staff incarnation improves on the previous one.

Seldom are talented people confident enough to know full measure of their impact. They are important, a lifeline but as I leader I must set the tone and lead by example.  They have to know their importance – the work only speaks only so much. This is all endemic to real growth.

That’s a good thing. It is not imagination, but need.


Bernard A. McNealy, President


Every business is predicated on a model. Carson Dunn Media is partly based structurally on mythic firms of old Madison Avenue, and on an agency birthed in Boston in 1999: Modernista.  Unfortunately, that shop closed in 2011, but we  learned from it while it was around, and although it is out of business, we will continue too.  It is important to study the factors leading to Modernista’s demise and avoid similar pitfalls.

Modernista began as a blank canvas. It was started by two creativities visionaries. The bygone Madison Avenue was a fresh ghostly imprint, but they desired to be different. Perhaps that was a concession that they could not replicate the Masters — David Ogilvy –Leo Burnett — and J. Walter Thompson. Who could? These are Olympian giants that no one is worthy to stand it their shadows. But, Modernista took on its accounts with fervor, producing time expanding work.  I developed CDM with imitation in mind.

Starting an agency is relatively easy. Survival and growth are another story all together. Do you start small – that is pursuing small accounts? Or does an agency demonstrate boldness by setting its sights on the big accounts? That requires a nimble sales force. Modernista had that. CDM did initially, but that dissipated.

When Modernista came along the dot-com madness was waning. In 1999, no one cared or understood digital marketing because big television, print were in vogue. There were signs that these media were waning, but the tip of the sphere had not been reached. It was in that era Modernista was birthed in 2000.

Drawn by its creative vision Modernista’s work force seemed flock to them. It was cross-cultural with people from 30 different countries. 13 languages spoken at the shop. Clients came fast. Within a year, Gap hired them, followed by Hummer, MTV, Napster, Cadillac, TIAA-CREF, Converse and Project (RED). Nice. Our similarity is a cross-cultural bent. However, measured solely by the size of the accounts our client roster is not as impressive.

We cannot be complacent. Our clients have been a law firm, health spas, two publishing companies, a trucking company, a tax service and other small businesses. An eclectic mix of small businesses. Honestly, Carson Dunn Media has not arrived and it is imperative to change gears. Thinking about doing good work is no longer acceptable. We must have the right clients. If I claim different, it is a blatant lie

My creatives have come into a shop rooted in an the past. Yet, they are savvy smart as hell folk raised on digital-marketing, social media and the internet. Rather than hold them back, they guided to share our creative vision with our clients. Truthfully, this is where the ad dollars are.

Modernista did something typical of Ogilvy by passionately encouraging its staff to be creative. They also brought a modern spin to Burnett by creating equally memorable advertising that may stand the test of time.  To a degree, CDM should portray the newness of our agency because a directional change should allow our freshness to be evident. Maybe its time because CDM started in 2002 — our creative pedigree should be national by now.

We don’t intend to create a party atmosphere with the ‘oo-hooo’ fun gadgets and do-dads. No, Carson Dunn Media wants to create admirable work. Timmy the Trapeze Dude or Bozo the Clown can’t do it, but the people at CDM can. We are struggling to arrive; and we have no intention of being confortable.

The industry has changed a lot. The internet is now an advertising source to an inexhaustive consumer base. We also have a sophisticated communications world laden with smart phones — another advertising medium. These are beasts that can be conquered. I looked up one day and came to the realization that our agency must adapt. Our repertoire must expand.

Certainly, we have a great foe in the recession, as well as client bankruptcies. Yet, I am more convinced than ever that there are more companies hellbent to stay in business than those want to go under. These may be companies with smaller marketing budgets, but they are there beckoning for our services. CDM would love a few million dollar clients; but there is business out there among the lesser budgets. Some of them want to be national brands.

Here is the essential thing. We need to work hard because that is our corporate mentality. We have big ideas and can deliver them using the mixed media of triplication. No matter our size, CDM is relevant. Here are my final points. If people and business trickle out, we will not see it as a source of defeat – or a portend of disaster. No, we will see it as an opportunity to free ourselves from a mistake laden past while adding to our client base and staff.  We want the spirit of Modernista to invest our walls.

Everyone that worked at CDM has something great to offer this industry. CDM itself only will grow and keep doing what we do for as many clients as possible. That’s why we are changing gears.

Bernard A. McNealy, President

Carson Dunn Media

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