Another Black ad agency, Commonground, closes its doors


It was hailed as the “communications agency at the forefront of the new marketplace conversation.”

In 2003, Commonground MGS was co-founded by managing partners Sherman Wright and Ahmad Islam in Chicago. In fall 2013, eight independent agencies nd companies that create and produce ads aimed at minority, multicultural, urban and youth markets are coming together under the umbrella of a holding group named Commonground MGS. It was led by Wright, Islam, Manuel E. Machado, Al Garcia-Serra and Manny Vidal.

With their headquarters in NY and offices in Chicago, LA, Miami and Houston, it’s being reported this week that Commonground MGS no longer exists.

Their official statement reads:

“The agency known as Commonground/MGS is no longer operating as that entity. Circumstances beyond the agency’s control, namely the adversarial relationship between the holding company, PCH Communications, and their lender Fifth Third Bank have caused this major disruption. The entire agency was completely surprised by the bank’s actions. While this situation has been very disturbing to the  entire agency, the senior leadership team is diligently working towards viable solutions.”

The five principals of Commonground/MGS, all senior executives with decades of experience, once described the new agency holding company as the first in the advertising industry to be wholly owned by members of minority groups. It was reported that Commonground/MGS had about 300 employees offering clients services that include, in addition to advertising, public relations, event marketing, social media, content development, production and animation.

Here’s the letter that employees unexpectedly received last Saturday, Dec. 5, via email:


As many of you may be aware, the Agency has been dealing with financial challenges. Over the last several weeks, we have been carrying out good faith negotiations with our senior lender to attempt to obtain relief from these challenges and we believed we were close to an acceptable resolution with the lender. To our surprise and dismay however, the lender took hostile actions against CGMGS and froze our bank accounts earlier this week. While we have since been attempting to obtain relief from the lender, including negotiations as late as today, the lender has simply refused to release our funds so that we can keep our business going.

It is therefore with deep regret and heavy heart that we have to inform you that without access to funds, we are no longer able to operate our business. Your employment will therefore terminate effective today, December 5, 2015. While the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act of 1988 may require advance notice of your permanent layoff, the unforeseeable circumstances of the lender’s actions and our faltering business circumstances that necessitated our good faith efforts to actively secure capital to prevent closing the Agency, did not afford us an opportunity to provide such advance notice.

On Monday, we ask that you please collect your personal belongings. If you are not able to go to the office, please contact Lena Economos or Lulu Cepero to make arrangements for collecting these personal items. On behalf of all the management team, we greatly appreciate everyone’s commitment and hard work.

This is a sad day for CGMGS and words can never express our appreciation for the dedication and commitment that each of you had in building this new Agency.

We know you will have many questions. A FAQ sheet will be emailed separately, as we are gathering information real-time ourselves. You may also contact Lena Economos or Lulu Cepero for additional information.


PCH Communications, LLC

Three agencies brought together under the Commonground/MGS banner — Commonground, based in Chicago; MGSComm, based in Miami; and the Vidal Partnership, based in New York — were combined to form Commonground/MGS. The other five agencies and companies — CG Works, the Cunningham Group, Post Master, Run Wild Productions and Sway Public Relations and Marketing — have continued operating under their own names as autonomous units of the holding group.

Another Black ad agency, Commonground, closes its doorsCommonground/MGS clients inuced MillerCoors, Bacardi, Coca-Cola, Hyundai, NBCUniversal, Outback Steakhouse, Tiffany and Verizon Wireless.

This isn’t the first time a promising wholly Black owned agency has suffered such a fate, in. Marketing communications firm Chisholm-Mingo Group Inc. was forced to file for Chapter 11 in October 2003. Industry experts cited in Black Enterprise magazine that it was due to poor management plus the inability of the New York City-based firm to provide a broad base of services to clients and to land Hispanic- or Asian-oriented accounts along with black or “urban” ones may have been at the root of its growing troubles.

The agency’s chairman and CEO, Samuel Chisholm, cited economic setbacks stemming from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and a decline in the number of companies marketing to African Americans as contributing to the firm’s financial woes.

Founded in 1977, the firm’s clients include Anheuser-Busch, the U.S. Navy, and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.

Here’s a gallery of Black-owned agencies.

Find out more about the Black-owned ad agencies that are still thriving by clicking “continue” below.

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