Mingo, Frank L. 1939–1989
Frank L. Mingo 1939–1989
Though his name may not mean much to the general American public, Frank Mingo had a major impact on American advertising. At a time when just about the only recognizable black face in advertising belonged to Aunt Jemima and her ubiquitous syrup, Mingo, a 6-foot, 6-inch African American with a creative vision as imposing as his stature, set out to change both the way minorities are portrayed in ads and the way they are marketed. Along the way he became one of the most successful advertising executives in the business. He was the first black account executive at major advertising firm. He then joined another top firm as vice president and there was instrumental in the launch of a new brand of beer that quickly morphed into a multi-million dollar market success.
On the heels of that success Mingo founded his own advertising company with just four employees and a half a million dollars in accounts. In less then eight years time the firm had exploded into one the largest black-owned and oriented agencies in the nation with over &25 million in billings. By the time of his sudden death in 1989, The Mingo Group employed more than fifty staff members and had billings of over &60 million. However, it can be argued that the most important success Mingo achieved was his role as a pioneer in minority advertising. As a Mingo Group press release following his death noted, “Frank Mingo’s vision lives on, fostering a new generation of intelligent advertising to minority audiences.”
Frank L. Mingo was born in McComb, Mississippi to Frank L. and Cornelia Dillon Mingo on December 13, 1939. The family moved north and Mingo was raised in Chicago where he attended Engle-wood High School graduating in 1957. He continued his education at Roosevelt University earning a bachelor’s degree. He completed his studies with a master’s degree in advertising from Northwestern University. Following graduation Mingo set out to begin a career in advertising. Despite his master’s degree he found it hard to break into the business. “People are not used to black people in the advertising business,” he told Stamford, Connecticut’s The Advocate, “One company interviewed me 16 times while they made up their minds.” Before landing his first job in the industry, Mingo worked as a manager of education services for a Chicago company. When he finally did get hired by an advertising firm, his career took off like a bottle rocket.
At a Glance…
Born Frank L. Mingo on December 13, 1939, in McComb, MS; died October 30, 1989; son of Frank L. and Cornelia Dillon Mingo; married Sheila Breckenridge; children: Justin and Michael. Education: Roosevelt University, B.S.; Northwestern University, M.S. in Advertising. Politics: Democrat.
Career: J. Walter Thompson, first Black account executive; McCann-Erickson, Inc., vice president and account supervisor; Mingo-Jones Advertising, founder, president, CEO, 1977–89, renamed The Mingo Group, 1986.
Member: Board member, The Urban League (CT); chairman of the board, Medgar Evers College Foundation; chairman of the board, Muse Cordero Chen; board member, Wilfred American Educational Corporation; National Urban League; NAACP.
Awards: H.K. McCann Award for outstanding client services; Robert E. Healy Award for outstanding contributions to a client’s business; posthumously elected into the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Fame.
Mingo’s first advertising position was in Chicago at J. Walter Thompson, one of the largest agencies in the world. There Mingo became the company’s first black account executive and was responsible for major clients including Oscar Meyer and Sears Roebuck. Mingo next joined the New York City offices of McCann-Erickson, Inc. as a vice-president and account supervisor. He was directly responsible for managing accounts that totaled over &100 million. At McCann-Erickson, he achieved one of the greatest successes of his early career: he helped a major client, Miller Brewing Company, introduce their Miller Lite brand to the market. His creative guidance led Miller Lite from the market research stage to a multi-million dollar product. “After that sensational success, Frank Mingo saw the opportunity to start his own agency,” noted a press release from The Mingo Group.
Mingo’s success did not come only from his advertising savvy and skill in marketing to a black audience. He was also widely known for his warm personality and sense of humor. One of his clients, a vice-president for Philip Morris was quoted in The Advocate as saying, “He was an extraordinarily creative person. An innovator that possessed great people skills.” Samuel Chisholm, who worked with Mingo for over ten years and took over The Mingo Group after Mingo’s death, told The Advocate “[Mingo] was a magnet that drew people to him. He was beyond being a nice guy.” In the harsh money-driven world of advertising, Mingo’s kind spirit set him apart and allowed him to build close relationships with his clients.
In 1977 along with an another African-American alum of J. Walter Thompson, Caroline Jones, Mingo opened Mingo-Jones Advertising in New York City. Miller Brewing Company, not wanting to let Mingo relinquish control of their Miller Lite campaign, became one of Mingo-Jones’s first clients. The company had to educate their potential clients on the financial benefits of advertising to minority audiences. One of the first things Mingo rallied against in advertising was what he called the ‘three-second obligatory Black.’ “No matter what setting or situation, when the camera panned the room, there would always be that lone Black, who was focused on for three seconds … this isn’t smart marketing, it’s just insensitive,” he was quoted as saying in a Mingo Group press release.
Mingo preferred to portray blacks “on top of the heap. We want to do something inspirational,” he told Advertising Age. In the same article, Jones reiterated Mingo’s philosophy of respectful marketing, “We try to protect our clients from themselves, because if an ad gets ghetto-ized, the consumer will be offended.” Mingo and Jones’s commitment paid off and their company soon became an established firm with a roster of loyal clients including the aforementioned Miller Brewing Company, Kentucky Fried Chicken— for whom Mingo and team coined the phrase “We Do Chicken Right!”—Walt Disney Productions, and Westinghouse Electric Corporation. Numerous industry awards further cemented the firm’s success.
Though the company had a strong commitment to promote minority advertising and had indeed established itself as a major player in that field, Mingo-Jones Advertising didn’t want to be limited to just a segment of the advertising audience. “General market advertising is an area of expansion and given the opportunity, we will go for it,” Mingo told Advertising Age. However, advertisers weren’t ready to commit their general marketing campaigns to Mingo-Jones. Of their efforts to land such contracts Mingo told Advertising Age, “It’s a real struggle and seems to be mainly a cultural thing and not something people overtly want to do. They believe that if they are advertising to white, WASPy consumers, they need white WASPy people to talk to them.” He continued, “As long as the principal faces of Mingo-Jones are not white, we will still be Mingo-Jones, a black agency.”
Jones left the firm in 1986 and Mingo continued at the helm as president and CEO of the renamed Mingo Group. He continued to land lucrative accounts and develop his reputation as a creative genius. By this time Mingo had married Sheila Breckenridge of Stamford, Connecticut and had settled there. They bore two sons, Michael and Justin. In addition to running his company and raising his family, Mingo furthered his commitment to the integration of advertising. He worked with the NAACP and the National Urban League to expose minorities to careers in advertising. For students already pursuing an advertising education, Mingo lectured at universities across the country on the value and necessity of respectful and intelligent minority advertising. He was a natural role model for young African Americans. An associate of Mingo described him in The Advocate as “a powerful symbol of the spirit of black entrepreneurship.” Mingo also found time to consult on the presidential campaigns of Reverend Jesse Jackson in 1984 and Michael Dukakis in 1988. When not immersed in some aspect of the career that he so loved, Mingo indulged in hobbies including collection antique guns and practicing amateur astronomy.
In September of 1989 Mingo suffered a stroke. He was hospitalized at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in his home town of Stamford. He remained in the hospital until his death on October 30th. He was just 49 years old. His business, now under the name of The Chisholm-Mingo Group, is still going strong. “He once said this company would exist beyond him,” Chisholm told The Advocate, “He was always looking beyond himself.”
The legacy he left behind carries on. It is evident during weekday sitcoms when a commercial break features a young African-American mother extolling the virtues of her baby’s new diapers. It can be seen during a Super Bowl advertisement when two friends—one black, one white—argue game stats while enjoying a tasty bag of chips. Mingo’s legacy is there in a cosmetics ad featuring three gorgeous models with shiny, pouty lips—one black, one Hispanic, one blue-eyed and blonde haired. Before Mingo ads such as these were not even fathomable. “He was a true visionary,” a client said of Mingo in The Advocate, “he had a vision of where blacks were today and where they’re heading and where his business was and where it was heading.”
Advertising Age, December 19, 1985, pp. 18–20.
The Advocate, (Stamford, Connecticut), November 1, 1989.
New York Times, November 1, 1989, Obituary, p. D26.
Additional material for this profile was obtained form press releases issued by The Mingo Group and The Chisholm-Mingo Group.
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