Cunningham & Walsh

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Formed by John P. Cunningham and Frederick H. Walsh in a reorganization of Newell-Emmett Co., New York, 1950; sold its Chicago office to management, 1961; bought Post-Keyes-Gardner, 1978; named Advertising Age's Agency of the Year, 1974; sold to Mickelberry Corp. and put under the new C&W Group umbrella, 1982; closed Fountain Valley, Calif., and Dallas offices, and sold San Francisco office, 1985; bought by N.W. Ayer & Partners and closed, 1987.

John P. Cunningham and Frederick H. Walsh formed Cunningham & Walsh in a 1950 reorganization of New York-based Newell-Emmett Co. Mr. Walsh served as president and Mr. Cunningham, exec VP. The agency opened with billings of $26.4 million, which ranked it No.15 among U.S. agencies.

Billings grew to $370 million over Cunningham & Walsh's 37-year history, and the agency created some of the most memorable creative work on Madison Avenue: "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature" for Anderson Clayton Foods' Chiffon margarine; "Let your fingers do the walking" for AT&T Corp.'s Yellow Pages; "Tastes as good as its name" for Old Milwaukee beer from Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co.; the cuddly but piqued koala muttering, "I hate Qantas," for Qantas Airways; and Mrs. Olson, offering up a steaming cup of mountain-grown Folgers coffee.

Cunningham & Walsh put considerable stock in market research to add an edge to its creativity. In the late 1940s and '50s, it conducted an annual Videotown USA survey in New Brunswick, N.J., to determine usage of the emerging TV set. The agency also ran an annual survey in the 1980s on women in the workforce.

In the mid-1960s, Cunningham & Walsh was a leader among agencies advocating that TV networks allow back-to-back 30-second commercials from different clients. The networks at the time ran expensive 60-second commercials and only allowed back-to-back :30s for different products from the same client, a policy that kept TV out of reach of marketers with a single brand or brands with unequal budgets.

One key to Cunningham & Walsh's success was leadership continuity and mentoring. For the most part through its history, the shop's upper management had been with the agency since its inception. Mr. Cunningham mentored Carl W. Nichols and Anthony C. Chevins, the top two executives at the agency for its last 26 years.

In 1961, management was forced to reinvent the company. For completely unrelated reasons, the agency lost the accounts of Texaco, Smith-Corona Marchant, Italian Line and Crown Zellerbach Corp. within weeks of each other. Billings plunged from $54.5 million in 1960 to $39.1 million in 1962, creating serious cash-flow problems.

Mr. Cunningham, 63 and tiring from the demands of leadership, moved to honorary chairman (he retired in 1962). Mr. Nichols, 37, took over as president-CEO and Mr. Chevins, 40, as exec VP. The company refinanced and developed a plan to buy Mr. Cunningham's stock.

The agency's Chicago office (the former Ivan Hill Inc.) was sold to its management when it balked at being part of the new structure, and it became Hill, Rogers, Mason & Scott. As part of the restructuring, Cunningham & Walsh let 100 people go, and management set out to develop a client base that would make the agency more marketing-oriented and creative, with heavy emphasis on packaged goods and consumer products and services.

Sterling Drug Co. became the first client of the rejuvenated Cunningham & Walsh. Billings also grew from existing accounts, including American Home Products, Andrew Jergens Co., AT&T and J.A. Folgers Co., but it took five years for billings to surpass 1960 levels. Folgers, an independent regional company in the early 1960s, soon came under the control of giant Procter & Gamble Co. By the end of 1987, Cunningham & Walsh drew about half its billings from P&G.

The agency's push to become more consumer-oriented was abetted in the 1970s when the agency won the Old Milwaukee beer, American Motors Corp. and Liggett & Myers Tobacco Co. accounts. Based on its creative output and the market-share growth of key clients, Cunningham & Walsh was named Agency of the Year in 1974 by Advertising Age. Its billings had surged to $108.2 million.

Growth by acquisition became the ad industry mantra in the late 1970s and 1980s. Cunningham & Walsh got into the act, purchasing Post-Keyes-Gardner, Chicago, in fall 1978. Much of Post-Keyes' almost $80 million in billings came from Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co., however, and that conflict led to the departure of Liggett & Myers.

In 1982, Cunningham & Walsh established an office in Dallas and, later that year, Mickelberry Corp., a publicly traded company, acquired Cunningham & Walsh. The deal allowed Cunningham & Walsh to become a public company without undergoing the process of going public, gave it access to greater financial resources and allowed the shop to remain autonomous.

Mickelberry created C&W Group and placed Cunningham & Walsh under that umbrella. Mr. Nichols moved to group chairman and took on the task of building the company through acquisition. In 1982, following the takeover, C&W acquired Chicago-based BBDM; in 1984, it purchased Reiser Williams DeYong, Irvine, Calif., and Direct Marketing Agency, Stamford, Conn. Billings for C&W Group peaked that year at $370 million, but those heady returns masked approaching troubles.

By the end of 1984, P-K-G/Cunningham & Walsh had lost $150 million in billings, largely from the defection of Brown & Williamson. Then in late 1985, Mitsubishi Motors Corp. withdrew its $37 million account.

The Cunningham & Walsh office set up earlier to service Mitsubishi in Fountain Valley, Calif., was shuttered and the Dallas office was closed.

The Chicago operation let 124 employees go in a massive restructuring. Billings also were drying up in San Francisco, where management attempted a buyback. C&W Group opted instead to sell that office to Allen & Dorward, then that city's largest agency.

In the first quarter of 1987, N.W. Ayer & Partners bought C&W Group, with billings of $274.3 million, and closed the agency.

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