By Hughes, Alan
Black Enterprise , Vol. 39, No. 11
THE AUSTIN, TEXAS, OFFICE OF SANDERS\ Wingo Advertising inc. (No. 5 on the BE ADVERTISING AGENCIES list with $111.8 million in billings) can be found just steps away from the University of Texas' sprawling campus and a stone's throw from the State Capitol building. Though more than 1,700 miles from New York City's Madison Avenue, the capital of the American advertising industry, this agency has managed consistent year-over-year growth--something even the biggest players have been unable to accomplish in this environment.
Although the Austin site is not the company's headquarters (that's in El Paso), it is home to the company's growing multicultural business and appears conducive to the flow of creative energies. High ceilings and an abundance of tall windows offer a view of downtown Austin and the college campus. Successful print campaigns for AT&T, State Farm, Chevrolet, and other clients adorn earth-toned walls. A vintage arcade game sits in the lobby for those who want to rejuvenate creative juices by destroying alien invaders. In one of the so-called "creative rooms," a team works on an upcoming campaign. Photographs and sketches depicting people of all races and hues are tacked to boards while youthful-looking employees engage in a spirited debate of ideas. At the helm of this thriving organization is Robert Wingo, the unassuming 25-year industry veteran who credits much of the company's success to the stellar creative team management has put together.
In 2008, Sanders\Wingo managed to not only become General Motors' agency of record for African American, urban, and youth marketing for Chevrolet, but also picked up new clients including Austin-San Antonio Commuter Rail District and INX Inc., a technology solutions company. The firm even managed to land some general market work for AT&T and GM--a rare feat for a black-owned agency. All told, this activity has led to a roughly 25% increase in billings for a company with more than five years of consecutive growth during a period in which many competitors--those within and outside the ethnic space--are on life support. For Wingo and his team's collective vision and ability to thrive in today's unforgiving business climate, BLACK ENTERPRISE has named Sanders\Wingo the 2009 Advertising Agency of the Year--an honor that hasn't been bestowed upon a BE advertising firm since 2005.
THE POWER OF TEAMWORK
Advertising spending continues on a downward spiral as corporations continue to tighten budgets by slashing such expenditures (see "Forged in Fire: The New Rules of Doing Business," this issue). "Independent African American agencies have a tougher time and a tougher fight than those who might be partially owned by an advertising holding company such as Publicis or Omnicom, in order to really get new business," says Greg Head, president of HEADFIRST Insights b Strategy, a Stone Mountain, Georgia-based marketing research firm. 'That being said, I think Sanders\ Wingo is an exception to the rule right now. They've just done some marvelous work over the last several years."
At the heart of this growing company is a unified vision set by Wingo and his management team. To be successful their cadre of professionals must provide clients with solutions. So how do they achieve this goal? By helping align brands, offering fresh approaches, and creating a value-driven proposition--often something extra clients don't request but the team feels they need. Wingo says, "We ask ourselves the who, what, and why questions every day. Who are we talking to? What are we trying to accomplish? What can we bring the client that is above and beyond? Why are we doing it? That is a value-driven proposition which will help their business move forward."
That teamwork has been paying off. Mark Gibson, assistant vice president of advertising for State Farm Insurance, credits the company's presence in the African American community to Sanders\Wingo. …