I Am Legend: Ray Mithun And The Future Of Campbell Mithun

By SuperSpy 

Campbell Mithun is like, is like… um, Mariah Carey. You know, just when you think she can’t get any more zonked on her own fame (surprise weddings, strange press releases, weird beauty rituals), out she comes with a hit album. In today’s Minneapolis Tribune, we get to take a look inside a stalwart of The Twin Cities scene and all the changes taking place to bring the shop back to its high flying origins.

Recent changes at Campbell Mithun include new CEO, Steve Wehrenberg; account wins such as National City Bank, and an expected bump in media billings ($750 million this year, following three consecutive years of between $650 million and $700 million). AdAge has them up 2.6& in 2007 in their Agency Report. The Star has them up 3%. Either way, they’re turning a few more dollars beating out other Minneapolis based agencies in revenue such as Carmichael Lynch (-1.5%), Fallon (-26.5%), and Martin Williams (7.4% but still ranked below Mithun).


In the article, the shop makes it clear they are going back to basics.
Jonathon Hoffman, CM’s president and chief creative officer, returned to the agency in 2004 after 15 years at Leo Burnett Worldwide of Chicago. Hoffamn told the paper that CM was going back to ethos of founder Ray Mithun: “a big, pioneering brand idea that communicates the point of the product and its value, driving increased sales and profits.”

Wait. Isn’t that the whole point of advertising? Shouldn’t everyone be looking to do that at the base level? Yeah. Ray was onto something, but how did Campbell Mithun come to be anyway? Glad you asked…

Campbell Mithun was founded by Ralph Campbell who had been dismissed from BBDO after he refused to relocate to New York. Campbell, nearing the age of 50, teamed up with the then 24 year old Raymond Mithun who had worked beneath him as a copywriter. Their first three accounts were Andersen Corporation, Land O’Lakes, and Northwestern National Bank. Not bad, right? The shop did what all small shops do – hustle. Campbell Mithun survived the great depression and the war years with flying colors. Campbell died in the fall of 1949 during the halftime festivities of an Iowa-Minnesota football game. Nonetheless, the shop surged on and became well known for its highly creative work and determination to pitch, as well as win big accounts.

Mithun was getting old and so, he encouraged his staff to become invested in the company, so they would carry on being an independent force in the industry. It didn’t take. Mithun sold all of his stock back to the company in 1972, and retired in 1978. One year later, management sold out to New York-based Ted Bates. Bates was later bought by the legendarily reckless Saatchi boys.

CM was merged with another Saatchi holding, The William Esty Company, to create the most powerful Midwestern agency at the time. The New York-based William Esty Company held many automotive accounts in Detroit, Michigan. In 1988, the new company had combined billings of $740.8 million and offices in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Toronto, and Windsor, Canada. Hot shit.

In 1992, Campbell Mithun Etsy acquired Goodwin, Dannenbaum, Littman & Wingfield – an independent advertising agency based in Texas. CME was then merged with and London-based KHBB to form a new international advertising agency network. CME-KHBB Advertising, Inc., with combined billings of $1.2 billion, was listed as the 17th largest ad agency in the world. The agency’s offices were located not only in the United States, but throughout Europe and Asia. The idea behind the merger, according to Saatchi & Saatchi management, was to create a network of small offices located in major cities around the world.

When Saatchi blew, so did CME. The 50% of interest in the shop was put up for sale and purchased by The Interpublic Group of Companies in 1995 for $40M.

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