WEIGHING OPTIONS: Changing Gears

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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