Tag Archives: public relations

New Beginnings: This Pitch Has Something For You, People

AMC produces a show about advertising agencies called: “The Pitch.” The premise is interesting and reflects what the average person does not know about advertising agencies. We compete against each other for business, although it is not like in “The Pitch.” In that program, two agencies are summoned to a briefing by a business like 1-800 Flowers, Little Caesars Pizza, Tommy Bahama, C. Wonder, Marriott Corp. and a few others. Some of the owners of the agencies act like God is waiting for them with an axe to chop their balls off.

They are in the same room and given a briefing at the same time. Like real life, the agencies are given a short period of time to come up with an idea that the business will buy and enter into an agency client relationship.

I’m fascinated by what drives a company to hire an agency. Last season, Jo Muse of Muse Communications head of a multi-cultural agency talked about losing the “chemistry battle.” He felt the business owners and the other agency got along better, and hence overcame the first necessary ingredient: “chemistry.” Both the client and the rival agency were white. There is something to be said about that.

Jo Muse ran a commercial during the show called “White Spaces.” The premise of the commercial was true because I have observed exactly what the commercial claimed. Carson Dunn Media Advertising is a small company. We are considered as a “dark horse,” meaning, there are certain business that we will not get to take us seriously because our size. But it could be worse… you guessed it. I run into the “white space” mentality. Madison Avenue acknowledges the trillions of spending dollars in black, Latino and Asian communities, but we are seldom part of the decision-making process in the boardroom. That’s where it’s decided what agency will be signed to a contract.

When I went into business, I wanted an opportunity to fail. What that means is that I wanted the same opportunities other people got. It is the greatness of this country that I can have a chance to run a business. But, the “fail” aspect deals with having the same view that my firm is confident directed at me… my ethnicity notwithstanding. Is it disheartening to look at website after website and see that all of the faces are nearly all white? Depending on how one’s personal makeup is, it can be.

I choose a look at it this way. Those trillions of dollars in the so-called minority, are fast becoming the majority — they control their fate in business. They need to take a look at the products they buy and ask what was prevalent prior to 1964 Civil Rights Act: “What about our businesses. What about the ones we control?”

This should not be an empty argument. I’m afraid when one looks at the so-called black culture, one is struck by music and dancing. Very little media coverage is given to anything else. Magazines such as Black Enterprise will address the issue, but I’m afraid believes Global Hue is the only black agency worth mentioning. In fact there are many. What media coverage we can muster should be directed towards us. That means as an agency, I have responsibility to introduce myself to the publishers and broadcasters involved.

One has to understand that control of the media means controlling perception. All the singers, dancers and rappers don’t make a whole hell of a difference in the lives of people who need to be told that they are worth something. If you listen to the “songs” they are not affirming but denigrating.

Creating our own media is one way of dealing with the wrong message being thrown out there. That takes money. There are a lot of people of color that could solve this issue — but how does it help, Tyler, Oprah, Bob Johnson and others. They aren’t going to anything unless they see a reward — money overnight.

To do less means that we will never control dialogue as to what is hurtful and appropriate for black people. Our children will continue to be statistics like Travon Martin, or the countless millions of black men in jail. Agencies also need to take a second look at black graduates in communications and English, just as the graduates should look at a black agency for employment. People, it can’t hurt.

Parenthetically, I have had young black people at my agency for a day. They gave nothing, contributed nothing because they had been believed that a black-owned agency offered little in the way of opportunities. So, they either didn’t show up for work, or have some lame excuse for being late.

I can’t help but think that if I was one of those smiling faces on those white websites, if things would be different. Just a thought.

Check you later,

Bernard A. McNealy, CEO

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WEIGHING OPTIONS: Billing For What We’re Worth

A Sense of Worth

Ages ago, I wrote a blog called, “Trumpet Over The Horizon.” That article dealt with my sincere belief that clients want agencies to charge realistic, with prices for services. I propose to know clients a capped mount for creative services (i.e. creative director, art director, copywriting fees, etc.) . The primary fee would be joined from generating and placement of ads, an amount not excessive of than 12%. By tradition, agencies are paid 15% of place ads idea was for the 3% differential to replace back into advertising. I wanted to benefit the client.

Here is the major problem with my former hypothesis: Advertising agencies put up with more than crap than people outside of agencies know. Accounts can be a headache simply because a client is demanding. So it doesn’t matter what I discount because it’s never enough to please. The resolution for me is to bill for the work that we do at the prevailing rates. It may sound expensive, but that’s the way it is. We are a creative agency, we are very good at we do, and we want to do it pay for it.

Take a look at what is happening nationwide. In New York City, where things are admittedly higher, senior digital executives bill clients an average approximating $350 an hour. Conservatively, creators performing similar work at traditional agencies on Madison Avenue bill at $700 per hour. Where based in Los Angeles, and things in Adland is no different. We worked our asses off and quite frankly, when clients refused to acknowledge what we are doing what is to enhance their business, it rankles.

I’m not making this up. A 109-page report published by the authoritative 4A’s reflected contains a list of the most agencies of all sizes in 2011. These figures regarding hourly rates billed by agencies is published the report. The survey is an update of a labor-billing study conducted three years ago. The report collected data from positions such as account management, creative, analytics, digital, media services and talent management. Having been reported I noticed that Los Angeles and New York, and not to disparate in charges. The Midwest probably is more, but not by much. I think the point is that we work hard for what we do. Agencies of all sizes are filled with people who are immensely talented in advertising and public relations. Our brains are taxed, we often work past out boundaries of times and learning to give the best possible product to a client. Clients should be appreciative of that – often they aren’t.

Let me give you an example. Perhaps this is hypothetical. An agency is contacted by a startup company. The client company wants logos, graphics, web content written, brochures, and other collaterals, in addition to the development and placement of ads in newspapers and magazines for its products.  To me this is a full marketing plan, and I told him so. Before, we proceeded with the work, and after three clients meetings of three hours duration, I drafted a letter of intent. The letter of intent denotes my agencies obligations to the client. It is an offer and acceptance at common law. Most people understand this. This client wanted us to partake in emergency work that would’ve taken up more than twenty hours using a team of five. I told this client as tactful as possible that they had not acknowledged the letter of intent. I cautioned them that if we did as they asked, our agency would have engaged in substantial performance – enforceable contractually. This client counter proposed essentially saying that they reserved right to pay us only if satisfied with our work. Payment would be ninety days later. And, assuming that they retained us as their agency, our monthly fee would be paid ninety days after it became due.

Quite honestly, I’m not unfamiliar with clients who have abusive, bullying, attitudes, but this joker took the brass ring. We received letters from him wherein he changed the company’s plans, blaming us for the changes in rejecting the cursive work we did for them. I did not laugh because this was not funny, but a little sad.

Clients like this should be billed for the full amount of services provided. I’m not afraid to do this because as a matter of principle.

 Here is the upshot. Someone performing work under a contract can invoke the common law rule of substantial performance and charge for the reasonable value of your services or, “quantum merit.” I acted as a creative director on the client projects. My billing rate is no different than that digital creative in New York, or $300 per hour. My art director and graphics department bills at $160 an hour, and my copywriters bill at $150 an hour. Multiply that times 20 and you have sticker shock. But that is the nature of the business – we deserve every cent we charge. 

The new reality is a second sound of the trumpet over the horizon. Billing for what we are worth because we have mouth’s to feed. There is a controversy in the industry. Small agencies like mine tend to forgo billing. The larger agencies, not as reticent, you get stuck like a crazed vampire.

As an agency head, o must protect my stake in my business. Treat everyone fairly, do a great job, but expect the same to done for you. Some people neglect these principles, and issues develop.

Benchmarks are in place for a reason. Agencies often are treated worse than the maid working for the “help.” I do not pay myself $300 an hour. But the benchmark is equivalent, not only to the suggested retail price, but to our sense of worth. I don’t know it is going to be a backlash, but I know what we are worth. We are agency and will start acting like one, because billing is value based.

Bernard A McNealy, President/CEO

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WEIGHING OPTIONS: Hitting the Re-set Button

In the firmament something stirred in the vastness. Soon, a presence became obvious — a steady cacophony that was undeniable and intractable – change. And it was refreshing like the first rain in the spring. It gave life to newly discovered hope.

By now, everybody on the planet knows that business is operating in a rough climate. It’s a little nasty, maybe difficult to navigate and apparent for the last six years. And, one would not be far fetched to say there is pervasive stupidity borne of unholy hostility toward those of us that prefer to earn our way through life. It is evident in cities like my beloved (disappointing) Los Angeles, and certainly apparent in the People’s Republic of San Francisco and other outpost of Barry’s America. Yes, the drumbeat comes from the highest office in the land. Deride achievement. Tax the hell out of it. Put up walls of regulation and strangle American exceptionalness.

The odds are thus made harder in such an economic environment. I have news for them. We built it and we’re going to keep it.

Carson Dunn Media is like any other small business. We have our needs; we have our struggles. But even with the pressures there is an operative word, maybe a gasp of optimism – change. The change may be in the politics of the country – and it may be same thing all over again. Regardless, CDM has decided to damn the pressures and refocus our efforts to become preeminent as a small shop.  

As leader of CDM, I lost my way investing in the wrong approach, bad hires, and periods of illogicality. Well, consider this message as a hint of our commitment to invest long-term growth, no more settling for less. Not every port in the storm is good. I came to realize that that the hard way.

We have standards, standards that will steer us toward new business with a new can-do attitude.  Don’t get me wrong. In my period of nadir I discovered some amazing talent in Melissa Castro, and rediscovered the gifted artist Jessica Flores (our art and ad work are kick-ass). For that reason alone, I am very confident in the future of what Carson Dunn Media Advertising will do.

I have a plan for this advertising agency. We are going digital, plan on finding a strategist, marketer and sales director to help forge a strong management team and support staff. I am not going to settle on being part of the pack, because we plan on leading the charge.

Sure, we live in a scary financial environment. There are bank and business failures, lay-offs galore, lies, denial and fear that the economy is dead. But these are this is the fire that will test the mettle. It can be conquered. I have heard the rumble of change in the vast firmament. Quite honestly, the stage has been set to prove how great an agency CDM has grown to be. We have hit the re-set button. 

Bernard A. McNealy, President

Carson Dunn Media Advertising

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WEIGHING OPTIONS: Avoiding the Ticket to Obscurity

I took a few months off from blog writing. I thought expressing the creative focus of Carson Dunn Media had become a task best left to others. The future will determine the wisdom of this, but suffice to say, I am back.

 In my hiatus a wonderful writer and former art director of Carson Dunn Media, Kimberly Bautista took my place. As usual, Kim wrote with cogency and communicative skill.

 My intent is to speak to issues relative to marketing, public relations & advertising; the wisdom of hiring an agency if you are involved in either. I am biased – a client cannot do what we do with the efficiency and skill necessary to promote them to profitability. Creative agencies tend to be a revolving door that remains open. It is my fondest hope that our most talented colleagues will always remain allied with CDM. It makes sense because if we are to achieve our destiny, those men and women helped paved the way.

 Thanks Kim.

 Let me share something about how people go about the effort to promote themselves on their own, they make often career ending mistakes. The test is on the welcome page of our current website, but let me retell the story here.

“The big billboards had been around for years, mainly in Hollywood.  On it, the face and impressive torso of a woman were displayed. Time revealed that she wanted to be a movie star.  Intuition told her that the public and ultimately studio moguls would be drawn to her. Calls and fame would follow. Neither happened. At great expense the billboards were taken down, and then put up again. Still, there were no calls. 

 Her efforts lacked the basics of promotion.

She never consulted anyone, or really targeted her audience. The ads only bore her first name, but no information of her background and talents. Not surprisingly she did never did anything significant.  Misunderstandings public relations and advertising got her two things:  an identity as the woman with the huge breasts; and, a ticket to obscurity.

Public relations and advertising are more than notoriety. Employing the most effective avenue to reach receptive consumers equate to success.  Carson Dunn Media will insure that a client avoids becoming the person on the big billboard.”

 That’s it. It isn’t funny, just ironic and sad. I cannot speak for any other agency but I have a gentle warning to our potential customers. Do not engage in marketing, PR, or advertising without knowing the terrain. Promotion is Carson Dunn Media’s métier. Whether it is broadcast, print, online ads, Twitter and or Facebook campaigns, CDM strives to be thorough beyond expectation. It is what we do – and very well at that.

Sometimes avoiding fading to obscurity and losing a dream comes about because a person just does not want to pay a fee for professional guidance.

 Bernard A. McNealy, President


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With Every Pro is a Con: Social Media

In recent decades, society experienced a cultural paradigm shift in social interactions. This new, but prevalent approach is social media. While technology is at the height of its momentum, we have to remember that moderation is always key and with every pro is a con.

In the business world, social media has become the leading source of communication between a company and its audience. Due to recent inventions of social media sites such as Google +, Facebook, Tumblr, and Linkedin; many have become fixated on in its advantages, while deviating themselves away from reality. Yes, social media creates an exponential profit for companies, but it does have its limitations.

The most effective use of social media is to integrate its advantages with human interaction. We have to acknowledge its disadvantages and create preventative meaurements, in order to save valuable time, money, and credibility.


  • Customer Service:

Great customer service involves humans, not mechanical devices and tools. Customers appreciate a face to face interaction, instead of a tweet or a message.

  • Fraud:

With networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook readily available, It is now much easier to steal someones identity. Although this may not ruin an individual’s finances, it does ruin their image and credibility.

  • Criticism:

When a company creates a Yelp or Facebook profile, they are vulnerable to negative feedback, which may tarnish their credibility.


  • Establish a Brand:

Creating a company image then spreading word through Facebook, WordPress, and Twitter is a productive use of networking sites.

  • Conduct Research:

Tracking and listening to an audience’s likes and dislike enables a company to adjust their product and/or service.

  • Advertisement:

Profit driven sites (ie. Facebook) inevitably turn to advertisements to increase revenue. Nowadays, these sites filter an individual’s advertisement to their preferences. For example, if 20 something year old recent graduate frequently visits a clothing store’s profile page, apparel based advertisemnts are published on their home page.

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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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Trumpet Over The Horizon

Right now it is clear to me. As measured by resources Carson Dunn Media is not a top tier agency. We are second tier solely because of limitations imposed by this, however, in terms of talent, CDM is damn good and can be as good as it gets.

Somewhere in the fog of memory are the words of a story I once read. The story is about a warning, actually and more precisely, a warning not heeded. It went like this:

“Sunlight pushed through the purple shadows dawn, a new day had arrived. As always I stood on a rock in the meadow. A brook had swollen from the rain and rushed madly in a rocky channel. The current licked at my boots. I heard it. I’d heard the sound before. Somewhere on a hill, dirt and rocks moved and rolled down the hill. In the distant valley, a sound echoed. It became louder; the sound blaring over the horizon. It was a trumpet and it carried a warning. What bodes for me, I asked repeatedly to the wind. My question and voice got lost in it.”

I think I have the answer – the riddle is solved. If you don’t pay attention, you miss the music. In all situations, there is a choice. For me, there is a time to act.
For any creative agency business should be abundant – the economy’s leaking boat notwithstanding.

It is simple when you break it down. A business exists for two reasons: survival of the brand; and, growth in sales. Everyday the issue for me is determining why clients are not beating a path to our door. Maybe it should begin with a change in agency philosophy. As a creative agency Carson Dunn Media should explore a business’ needs, and then accommodate them. I am reminded that a wise man calls this channeling the conscience of a business.

Regardless, it is time to wake up. The right pricing structure can draw clients. Enough business can increase our agency’s profits. This is the trumpet an agency president must and heed. More profit has an added benefit: it causes continued viability and allows us to keep our best talent. Increased staff allows us to give better services.

I don’t know about other agencies, but developing and stretching our market capabilities and presence is exciting. Growth is a prospect worth pursuing. I want to build a successful creative business. If it means charging less – but valuing our services – I’m for it.

We have a buyer’s market. That does not mean Carson Dunn Media will refrain from accepting the 15% commission – no, we will take 13% and put the remainder back into the advertising budget. That does not sound like much, but over time, this 2% will add up. With a bigger budget, the client will benefit.

In order to offer a full range of marketing services an agency should receive an initial retainer to get things targeted and on the mark. As a result Carson Dunn Media could cap creative fees, and not require clients to pay a monthly running tab.

How realistic is this? What are the total savings a client will experience? I am not certain. It is a gamble, and it comes with risks. The downside may be hindered growth. But the upside is the prospects of greater profit for agency and client. More business at reduced costs mean volume – volume means success. That is the sound of the trumpet over the horizon.

….. Bernard A. McNealy, President of CDM

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