UnCommon Ground

Commonground, a West Loop-based multicultural marketing agency, has merged with three other agencies in Miami and New York to create Commonground/MGS, which its owners say is the first wholly minority-owned holding company in the advertising and marketing industry. With combined annual revenues of $50 million and a headcount that approaches 300, they also say it the new company is the largest multicultural agency in the nation.

The merger “gives us the scale, depth and breadth to deliver what we feel are best-in-class solutions to our clients,” Commoground co-founder Sherman Wright said in an interview with Crain’s. In particular, he said, the combined resources will allow the new company to make significant investments in the data analytics technology that increasingly drives marketing decisions.

Clients’ interest in multicultural agency partners continues to increase as the country’s demographics continue to shift, according to Monica Gadsby, CEO of Starcom MediaVest Group’s multicultural and Latin American divisions. Today, some 80 percent of U.S. population growth comes from Hispanics, African Americans and Asians, according to census data.

“Clients are also looking for simplicity within the complexity of the marketplace” and are leaning toward hiring a single agency rather than tapping an agency specializing in multicultural work on top of other specialty agencies, Ms. Gadsby said. “That’s why you have this group of agencies saying if we join together, we have more clout and we have greater resources and we can better serve clients.”

Founded in 2004 by Mr. Wright and Ahmad Islam, Commonground has grown to 140 employees, all in Chicago, and more than $26 million in 2013 revenue. The company, which does creative work for blue chip clients including Nike, MillerCoors and Coca-Cola, recently added new clients including Verizon Wireless and Nissan Motor Co.

The partnership unites Commonground with Miami-based MGSCOMM, the 12th largest Hispanic agency in the country; the Vidal Partnership, a Hispanic agency in New York, and the Cunningham Group, a Miami-based strategic communications firm.

In addition to its focus on the multicultural marketplace, Commonground/MGS also specializes in millennial culture and consumer behavior.

“While many companies are well intentioned, they need a partner and guiding light when it comes to understanding the importance and impact of culture and diversity to the bottom-line,” Manuel Machado, co-founder of MGSCOMM and one of the new agency’s managing partners, said in a statement. “Moreover, with millennials being the most diverse, evasive and critical consumer group, understanding cultural context is a must.”

The new company will operate as a single entity with six managing partners, one profit-and-loss statement and offices in Chicago, New York, Miami, Houston and Los Angeles.

Commonground’s founders were members of Crain’s “40 Under 40” class of 2009.

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