Even when LimeGreen Moroch CEO, Michon Ellis, was working for six figures in McDonald’s PR department back in 2003, his dream was to open his own agency.
It was an ongoing desire he readily shared with confidants, until a close co-worker finally blurted out a valuable piece of advice: “Either start your own agency or shut the eff up!”
Shortly thereafter, Ellis took that advice to heart. He quit his cushy job and joined by partner, Mike Stratta, he launched LimeGreen in 2004.
“As African-Americans, we’re taught to find a good job and stay at it for twenty years until retirement. And believe me, there were many nights I woke up crying, confessing to my wife that I’d made a huge mistake,” Ellis said. “And I had to do this or shut the eff up!”
LimeGreen won its first account with a new idea at the time.
Ellis and Stratta, with only $2,000 between them, approached Ford Modeling agency and pitched the idea of creating a digital catalog for models.
“There was nothing out there like this,” he explained. “Ford was blown away and we won the business.”
Even with just one client, Ellis had a larger vision for LimeGreen. A higher purpose, if you will. “I believed there was a need for an agency with the singular mission to help all brands truly engage the growing cross-cultural consumer base, with relevant insights to deliver lasting results.”
Unfortunately, Ellis would learn that not all brands would share his belief.
Fighting a stigma did not limit company growth
“There was a stigma, which still exists somewhat today, that African-American agencies produce an inferior product. It’s not true, of course. Just look at the work Burrell or Uniworld has done over the years. But that’s the perception. And perception eventually becomes the accepted truth.
“It forces you to question yourself. Am I good enough? And here’s the funny thing, we ARE the subject matter experts. But self-doubt leads to self-sabotage.”
But this did not deter Ellis and team from going after the brands they sought. A McDonald’s assignment was their big break. “McDonald’s believed in us and the very specific point-of-view that we offered for their target.”
Sixteen years later, having surmounted these obstacles, LimeGreen merged with Dallas-based Moroch, Inc. last August.
When asked if the high-profile diversity issue causing Hollywood consternation can be found in advertising, Ellis unhesitatingly answered, “absolutely.
“You see many of us at junior and mid-level positions in agencies and on the client side. But when it comes to senior management, not so much. It just drives home the point that we do need cross-cultural agencies like LimeGreen Moroch, to offer people of color an opportunity.”
He paused at the mention of Commonground’s demise. “It’s a shame. Now there’s one less option for a person of color. I wish them well.”