Chisholm-Mingo Group, Inc.
Chisholm-Mingo Group, Inc.
Incorporated: 1977 as Mingo Jones & Guilmenot Inc.
Sales: $100 million (2000 est.)
NAIC: 54181 Advertising Agencies; 54182 Public Relations Agencies; 61143 Professional and Management Development
Chisholm-Mingo Group, Inc. is one of the largest advertising agencies owned and operated by African Americans. Its clients include the U.S. Army, General Motors Corp., Denny’s Inc., Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. Inc., Joseph E. Seagram & Sons Inc., and Time Warner Inc. Divisions of Chisholm-Mingo also are engaged in public relations and crisis management, executive training in race relations, and account planning and research.
Mingo Plus Jones: 1977–86
The agency, based in New York City, was founded in 1977 as Mingo, Jones & Guilmenot. Frank L. Mingo, Jr., the president, left a $75,000 job at McCann-Erickson Inc., where he managed the Miller Brewing Co. account. Mingo brought to the partnership its first customer, Miller’s, which entrusted to the fledgling agency its advertising campaign aimed specifically at African Americans. Caroline R. Jones and Richard A. Guilmenot III were former vice-presidents at another Madison Avenue agency, Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn (BBDO). The Interpublic Group of Companies provided the firm, for a fee, with critical support services such as media payments, accounting, and customer billings. The agency started out with a staff of four, two clients, and about $500,000 in billings during its initial year.
Another of the firm’s earliest clients was Heublein Corp.’s KFC Corp. subsidiary, which fielded many Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets in African American and Hispanic neighborhoods. “They were looking for a turnaround in their business, which was declining because of the intense fast-food competition in New York,” an agency executive told Stephen Gayle for Black Enterprise in 1981. “They had been running ’It’s so nice to feel good about a meal,’ but our research led us to the conclusion that we needed to get back to promoting the product itself.” The agency decided to use billboards and radio commercials to disseminate its message, replaced the slogan with “We do chicken right,” and hired Gladys Knight to appear on the billboards and to sing the theme containing the new slogan. Between 1979 and 1981 sales in Kentucky Fried Chicken’s New York outlets increased by 70 percent. KFC adopted the theme song for its nationwide campaign, which also proved successful.
Mingo, Jones and Guilmenot had annual billings of $3.5 million in 1979, when its accounts also included L’Oréal and Uncle Ben’s Rice. By the end of 1981 Guilmenot was no longer with the firm, which was now named Mingo-Jones Advertising and listed Jones as executive vice-president and creative director. Mingo and Jones were the principal owners, and a majority of the 37 employees were African Americans. Mingo-Jones was the second largest African American advertising agency in the United States in late 1981, with annual billings of $12 million. Clients, aside from Kentucky Fried Chicken and Miller Brewing, included, in 1982, Philip Morris Cos. Inc., Liggett & Myers Tobacco Co., Seagram, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., and Westinghouse Electric Corp. For Liggett & Myers, Mingo-Jones handled Omni cigarettes, a low-tar mentholated brand that was being test-marketed primarily for African Americans. General assignments included Jeffrey Martin’s Porcelana spotting cream and Cuticera soap.
Mingo estimated at this time that about 60 percent of the firm’s current $20 million in annual billings consisted of African American-oriented business, ten percent was Hispanic-oriented, and the remaining 30 percent consisted of general accounts. Although he recognized that the African American consumer market was a natural starting point for the agency, Mingo told Shirley James Longshore for an Advertising Age article that from the beginning the firm was “not going to engage in tokenism. We position ourselves as a first-class agency—as professionals, not as black. … We are now in the enviable position where our work speaks for us.” Realistically, however, the company was dependent on clients seeking to reach African American consumers. Interviewed by Cara S. Trager in 1985 for Advertising Age, Jones said, with regard to the agency’s black-oriented marketing, “We try to protect clients from themselves, because if an ad gets ghetto-ized, the consumer will be offended. … It’s all right to show blacks living in houses and buying cars, and yet we know some don’t live like that, but aspirations are what advertising can be about.”
At the end of 1985 Mingo-Jones Advertising still retained many of the preceding accounts—including Miller, KFC, Seagram, and Westinghouse (which was seeking to attract minority engineering students). It also had gained a number of others, including Walt Disney Productions, Pacific Bell Inc., and Pepsi-Cola Co. For Disney amusement park ads, the agency recruited African American celebrities such as Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and author Alex Haley. For Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, and Mountain Dew, the campaign featured African Americans from all walks of life and economic levels. But Mingo chafed at the barriers that continued to restrict his business. KFC, for example, had made Mingo-Jones its agency nationwide for black consumers but had no plans to give the firm its general market business, which belonged to Young & Rubicam Inc. Similarly, the Pepsi-Cola account’s ads for Mountain Dew featured Janet Jackson, but the firm retained BBDO for the drink’s general market. His agency’s clients, Mingo told Trager, have “pigeonholed us and some still pigeon-hole us. It’s a real struggle and seems to be mainly a cultural thing and not something people overtly want to do,” he added. “They believe that if they are advertising to white, WASPy consumers, they need white, WASPy people to talk to them.”
Making the best of the situation, Mingo-Jones often contacted a company and suggested that it direct ads to African American consumers, particularly if research indicated that it had a product with overlooked strong sales potential among minorities. An agency team cited the travel, credit card, and clothing industries as among those remiss in this regard. Mingo-Jones had acquired a Hispanic subsidiary, Mingo-Jones/Garrido, Miami. After this arrangement ended, in 1986 the agency acquired four California minority-owned agencies—three headed by Hispanics and the fourth by an Asian—and combined them into a new, Los Angeles-based agency called Muse-Cordero-Chen & Beca Advertising (later Muse, Cordero, Chen). Mingo felt that the current political climate, however, was not encouraging companies to consider minority advertising. “There’s no pressure for people to do what they don’t want to,” he told Trager. “In 1977 we had a lot more people looking for black or Hispanic agencies, and today we don’t hear about people looking for them.” (Mingo was active in the presidential campaigns of Democratic candidates Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis and also was an adviser to Jesse Jackson’s bid for the 1984 nomination.)
Mingo Group Inc.: 1987–96
Mingo-Jones Advertising’s billing reached almost $50 million in 1986. Late that year, Jones left the firm to form her own agency. The lesser of the two partners, she said she felt she was working too hard for too little money. A 1987 Advertising Age article also cited a source claiming that she—and other women at the agency—were victimized by male chauvinism. Renamed the Mingo Group Inc., the agency continued to grow, winning accounts from General Motors and Sony Corp. and becoming the first African American agency to handle U.S. Army advertising (as subcontractor for Young & Rubicam). It ended its relationship with Muse, Cordero, Chen, however, because of a client conflict and closed branch offices established in Chicago and Denver. In the fall of 1989 Mingo died of heart failure at the age of only 49. (He was, in 1996, the first African American installed in the Advertising Hall of Fame.)Direction of the company now passed to Samuel J. Chisholm, a former marketing executive at Continental Can Co. who had become chief operating officer of the Mingo Group in 1987. Mingo’s widow inherited a majority stake in the business.
Chisholm sought to lift the Mingo Group out of the minority ghetto by positioning the agency as a specialist in what he called “urban marketing.” Speaking to Randall Rothenberg of the New York Times shortly after Mingo’s death, Chisholm said, “People in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia live differently than they do elsewhere in America.” He cited Spandex-clad bicycle messengers as an example of the African American community’s influence on urban fashion. The following year he established a division called Mingo Group/Plus to undertake public relations, community relations, sales production, and product publicity. The firm was asked to do a television commercial for Miller for the first time since 1988. It also was hired by the National Basketball Association to publicize ex-players who had become successful businessmen and by W.K. Buckley Ltd. to market Buckley’s Mixture, a Canadian cold remedy. By 1991 the Mingo Group had survived damaging rumors that it was unable to pay its bills, although revenues dropped from the 1989 peak of $62 million.
The company’s mission is to leverage our roots and ethnic expertise into public relations, marketing and advertising to all consumers driven by an ethnic sensibility, by creating a pre-emptive emotional bond between the consumer and our client products and services.
Mingo’s death took a heavy personal, as well as economic, toll on his agency. “There was a tremendous amount of hurt,” Chisholm recalled in late 1990 to Kim Foltz of the New York Times. “There has been a lot of tears and a lot of handholding. … I didn’t feel prepared to run the agency. He’d always been there to talk to if you weren’t sure you were making the right decision. Frank was the ringmaster; he taught us all how to fly.” Chisholm reorganized the staff into several profit-oriented team groups, explaining to Foltz, “We had been set up as a family, but that way of doing business wasn’t going to work with Frank gone.” Some longtime employees left on their own, others were dismissed, and a new group of senior account management executives was brought into the firm.
Chisholm-Mingo Group: 1996–2000
The Mingo Group was renamed the Chisholm-Mingo Group in 1996. That year it lost the Miller account when the company—like such earlier clients as Liggett & Myers, Goodyear, and Hanes Corp.—decided to stop aiming ads specifically to African American consumers. The agency gained lucrative accounts from Texaco Inc. and Denny’s Inc., however, and ended the year with $73.7 million in billings, a 36 percent increase over the previous year and the best for the firm since Mingo’s death. In addition to the advertising operation, its divisions included Chisholm-Mingo Plus, for public relations and crisis management; CMG Consulting, which trained top management on race relations issues; and CMG Account Planning and Research.
Texaco and Denny’s turned to Chisholm-Mingo because of damaging incidents that made it a necessity to repair their relations with the African American community. Texaco, already facing sanctions from a federal commission for alleged discrimination in employment, suffered embarrassment when one executive recorded his colleagues speaking of “black jellybeans.” Denny’s had just settled a lawsuit in which some of its fast-food outlets were cited for ignoring African American customers while white ones received prompt service. Chisholm-Mingo stepped in where other African American-owned advertising agencies feared to tread, according to a Crain’s New York Business story that reported several such agencies had declined to compete for the Denny’s account. Interviewed for the magazine by Chris Isidore, a market research executive observed, “You don’t want to become the halfway-house type of agency for clients that screw up their relationship with black consumers, only to have them leave you when the crisis is over.”
Reviewing Chisholm-Mingo’s image-repair work, Advertising Age columnist Bob Garfield was caustic in his criticism of both the agency and its tainted clients. Writing about a Texaco commercial that celebrated the African American experience in what he called “a beautifully rendered expression of unassailable sentiments,” he concluded, “Pandering isn’t the right word. It’s more like groveling.” Garfield dismissed a “Welcome back to Denny’s” spot featuring a low-cost breakfast promotion in which an African American architect, real estate agent, and designer were successively greeted by an African American hostess as “a parade of the Afro-affluent.” The agency’s Denny’s effort also included a campaign, mostly in print, that promoted what the company called its improved record of franchising restaurants to minorities, using minority suppliers, and in hiring and promoting African American executives.
With annual billings at an estimated $100 million, Chisholm-Mingo Group was the fourth largest African American-owned advertising agency in 2000, when it was contracted by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. to help the company break into the African American travel market. The agency was to be responsible for strategic planning, creative media planning, promotions, and other services to support the expansion of Royal Caribbean’s multicultural marketing efforts. Chisholm-Mingo was expecting the Royal Caribbean account to help boost its revenues by 20 percent in 2001. The agency also had received a portion of Young & Rubicam’s $100 million Census 2000 account from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Principal Operating Units
Chisholm-Mingo Advertising; Chisholm-Mingo Plus; CMG Account Planning and Research; CMG Consulting.
Burrell Communications Group Inc.; Omnicom Group Inc.; Uni World Group Inc.
- The agency is founded, originally as Mingo Jones & Guilmenot.
- Now Mingo-Jones Advertising, it is the second largest U.S. African American-owned agency.
- Billings peak at $62 million in the year in which Mingo dies.
- Samuel Chisholm, Mingo’s successor, establishes three new divisions.
- The agency is renamed the Chisholm-Mingo Group and garners record revenues.
Dougherty, Philip H., “Minority Marketing,” New York Times, June 28, 1982, p. D6.
Foltz, Kim, “Mingo Doing Well Despite a Tough Year,” New York Times, January 2, 1991, p. D15.
Garfield, Bob, “Class Consciousness Hurts Denny’s Ads,” Advertising Age, June 2, 1997, p. 49.
——, “Texaco Spot Tainted by Suspicion of Intent,” Advertising Age, May 17, 1999, p. 67.
Gayle, Stephen, “Mingo-Jones: Doing the Colonel Right,” Black Enterprise, December 1981, p. 56.
Isidore, Chris, “Chisholm-Mingo Comeback,” Crain’s New York Business, July 27, 1998, pp. 15, 19.
Lafayette, Jon, “Mingo Refocuses, Fights Rumors,” Advertising Age, May 14, 1990, p. 17.
Longshore, Shirley James, “Their Marketing Homework Rates an A +, ”Advertising Age, November 29, 1982, pp. M-14, M-16, M-17.
“Mingo Aims to Build First-Class Agency,” Advertising Age, February 23, 1987, p. 89.
Mitchell, Grayson, “… And Then There Were 13,” Black Enterprise, September 1979, pp. 46, 49.
Richardson, Nicole Marie, “Better Late Than Never,” Black Enterprise, October 2000, p. 22.
Rothenberg, Randall, “Shift Sought from ’Black’ to ’Urban’,” New York Times, November 30, 1989, p. D19.
Trager, Cara S., “Mingo-Jones Builds Long-Term Relationships,” Advertising Age, December 19, 1985, pp. 18, 20.