Mithun (US)

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Mithun - or Campbell Mithun as it was until 2014 - was one of America's larger regional agencies, headquartered in Minneapolis and sitting loosely within the Interpublic portfolio. Campbell Mithun had a long and storied background, but new business performance had been worryingly patchy in recent years, with the agency becoming overly reliant on a small collection of core clients. As a result, the main agency was increasingly overshadowed by its media division Compass Point. Interpublic finally pulled the plug in January 2016, dismissing top management, and merging Mithun and Compass Point to form a new Minneapolis outpost for its lead network McCann Worldgroup.

The shortening of the agency's name from Campbell Mithun to just Mithun in 2014 followed an earlier abbreviation in 2000, when the Esty tag was dropped from the end of the name. In addition to its Minneapolis HQ, the agency maintained a New York office, and also had an outpost in Irvine, California. The agency's San Diego office merged in 2001 with separate agency Phillips Ramsey, previously part of the McCann network, but was subsequently sold to management in 2004 as MeadsDurket. Also in 2001, Campbell Mithun absorbed the Chicago office of Bozell, which was rebranded as CM, marking the agency's return to that city - a previous Chicago outpost was sold in 1994. The second incarnation didn't last either - it was sold in 2005. New products consultancy Br&nd Innovators was sold in 2010, the same year that Campbell Mithun strengthened its inhouse digital service by absorbing the local office of McCann's MRM Worldwide network.

For many years the largest agency in Minneapolis, a stream of bright advertising executives passed through Campbell Mithun's offices over the years before setting up on their own. Its alumni have gone on to create or run such agencies as Fallon McElligott, Carmichael Lynch, Martin/Williams and Colle & McVoy. Advertising Age estimated US revenues of $40m in 2014.

Campbell Mithun had retained its own inhouse media agency, operating under the Compass Point Media banner. This has scored some notable successes in recent years, especially with restaurant Chipotle Mexican Grill. Compass Point Media continues to operate as a separate unit within what is now McCann Minneapolis.

Rob Buchner succeeded Steve Wehrenberg as CEO of Campbell Mithun in summer 2013. (He arrived from Fallon, where his brother Mike is CEO). David Carter was appointed as chief creative officer in 2014. Both men were dismissed in Jan 2016 as part of the merger into McCann.


Ralph "Inky" Campbell and partner Ray Mithun put the Minnesota capital on the advertising map with the formation of their agency in April 1933. Campbell was a former newspaperman who ended up working at BBDO as an account executive, and rose to head of the agency's Minneapolis office. In 1933, BBDO's top management ordered Campbell to move to head office in New York. He refused and was sacked for insubordination. Instead he decided set up his own shop with borrowed capital of $1,500 and four employees. One of these was a young copywriter named Ray Mithun whom he made a partner in the new business.

Campbell eventually retired in 1947, handing the role of president to Mithun. (He died two years later, reportedly during the halftime celebrations at an Iowa-Minnesota football game). Ray Mithun broadened the agency's reach, opening an office in Chicago, and capturing Campbell Mithun's first national accounts, including Hamm's beer and Pillsbury-owned Ballard Flour. More accounts followed, and by the 1950s, billings were over $15m, making CM the #1 agency in Minneapolis. The agency continued to expand over the next two decades but always resisted opening a New York office. As consolidation fever hit the industry during the 1970s, Mithun took the opportunity to cash in, selling out to US agency Ted Bates in 1979. At the time it was the biggest-ever acquisition of an advertising agency, but that record was to broken over and over again several times in the following decade. (Mithun retired from the business four years later and died in 1998).

Bates was busy acquiring a string of other businesses, including New York agency William Esty, a rival giant in broadcast advertising, first established in 1932 by a former JWT executive, acquired by Bates in the year of its 50th anniversary. Campbell Mithun and William Esty co-existed for several years within the Bates group until 1986, when Bates was itself swallowed by the voraciously acquisitive Saatchi & Saatchi. Although Campbell Mithun had continued to perform well during the 1980s, stablemate Esty was hit by a string of large client defections, mostly prompted by its purchase by Saatchi. In the space of a single weekend in May 1987, for example, it lost both the Nissan and MasterCard accounts, worth a combined $200m in billings. In 1988 the Saatchi brothers merged Campbell Mithun with William Esty, to create Campbell Mithun Esty (CME). Four years later they also turned CME into the US end of a mini-network, partnered with London agency KHBB, itself formed from the merger of local shops Kingsley Manton & Palmer and Humphreys Bull & Barker.

But CME-KHBB picked up almost no business and by the mid-1990s, the US agency was struggling with a series of account losses. During 1994 it lost its three biggest accounts when the Jeep-Eagle automobile account was consolidated at Bozell, Texaco-Star transferred to Bates, and Brown & Williamson shifted to Grey. As a result, two offices in Detroit and Houston were closed. At the end of the year, the agency won the business of consumer goods company Dowbrands, whose products included Yes detergent and Fantastik household cleaner. Yet this only served to create another problem within Saatchi, itself struggling with the fallout from its breakneck expansion during the previous decade. Procter & Gamble, a key Saatchi account, was unhappy about the presence of a rival client within the group. As a result, the beleaguered British group agreed to sell off CME to keep its #1 client happy. Interpublic acquired the business for around $45m, then sold back a 50% stake to a management team led by chairman-CEO Bill Dunlap. (The team later took back a further 25% of the equity; Interpublic raised its holding to 80% in 2003.) Almost immediately, CME scored its biggest ever new business win, capturing the $150m Kmart account.

Affiliation with Interpublic gave the agency not only access to an international network, but also to specialist marketing agencies, including Hispanic marketer Casanova Pendrill. In early 2000, CME acquired Minneapolis-based design consultancy Pederson Gesk, then the last remaining independent among the top ten North American corporate identity firms. Esty was dropped from the company name in 2000. The following year, the agency took over San Diego shop Philips Ramsey, as well as the Chicago office of IPG stablemate Bozell. Bill Dunlap retired as chairman of the agency in 2003.

Last full revision 24th May 2016

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