By Rick Griffin
Dave Mering, 64, CEO of advertising agency Mering that he founded in 1985, admits the year 2020 has been his toughest year ever in business.
The San Diego agency, known for 13 years as Mering Carson, specializes in tourism, travel and hospitality clients, sectors that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve done everything we could this year to keep our head above water, including furloughs, pay cuts, benefit cuts, some layoffs,” Mering told Times of San Diego. “We’ve hung in there, but it’s been challenging.”
Now, Mering has decided to sell.
“Given what’s happened over the past nine months with COVID, I’m expecting this new chapter in my life will be somewhat liberating,” he said. “I’m excited about refocusing my energies on clients and creative work and not being responsible for the dollars-and-cents, day-to-day operation.”
TSY Enterprises, parent company of The Shipyard, a Columbus, Ohio-based marketing agency, has acquired Mering for an undisclosed sum. The deal closed Dec. 8. Financial details were not disclosed. A spokesperson said no layoffs at the 60-employee Mering are anticipated as a result of the acquisition. The Mering name will remain at this time.
“In the very beginning, our first order of business will be to make sure we aren’t distracted by the integration, we want to be focused on our clients,” said Mering. “We will slow-walk integration and then in a few months worry about branding.”
The Shipyard, founded in 2014, also has about 60 employees. The 120-employee combined firm will operate offices in Columbus, San Diego, Newport Beach and Sacramento.
In early 2020 springtime, Mering was living through the devastating effects of the COVID shutdown. “We got hit hard and quickly because of the industries we serve,” Mering said. “In a few weeks’ time, our clients stopped advertising completely. I had never seen anything quite like it.”
A short time later, Mering was conversing about his COVID business challenges with other CEOs who are members of Worldwide Partners. On the call was Rick Milenthal, CEO of The Shipyard.
“Rick reached out to me after the call and asked me how I would feel about joining forces,” said Mering. “He shared his experiences and provided a sounding board for what I was going through. The process of joining forces took a little longer probably because I was not in a hurry. I wanted to take my time focusing on our people and retention. Your staff is the most important part of your success.
“So, what began as a friendly personal dialogue transformed into a plan for our companies to join forces. Rick and The Shipyard have a track record of success bringing first to market solutions to brands and innovating ahead of competitors. As we moved into more serious conversations, a few things were clear about our possible shared future. First and foremost, by combining strengths we can provide our clients with deepened expertise. Additionally, we saw the benefits of our diversified experiences across so many industries. This not only makes us stronger, but it also makes our companies a more exciting place to work for our teams, who like to be challenged with new opportunities.”
Mering clients include Visit California, San Diego Tourism Authority, VSP Vision Care, KSL Resorts, Monarch Beach Resort, Mammoth Lakes Tourism, Merlin Entertainments (Legoland), California Wine Institute, California Grown, Tahiti Tourism North America, Visit Napa Valley and Visit SLO CAL.
Successes of the Mering agency have been numerous. The agency’s creative staff took Lodi from “off the map” to Wine Region of the Year and then Winemaker of the Year. Mering also has been part of roughly $32 billion in economic impact for the state through the Visit California marketing efforts. The agency also has worked on more than 15 lines of business for The Walt Disney Company. The agency received an Emmy for a spot created for the National Football League.
At age 28, Dave Mering founded Mering & Associates in Sacramento. The ad agency was owned at the time by Sacramento entrepreneur Jon Kelly, former owner of KCRA-TV and Sacramento-based River City Bank who passed away on July 25 at age 84.
“Jon was a great man, he was my mentor who helped put me in business,” said Mering.
In 1990, Kelly sold the agency to Mering. About 15 years ago, Mering opened a San Diego office. Greg Carson joined the agency as a writer in the early 1990s.
In 2006, when Carson became a partner, the firm name changed to Mering Carson. Carson left the agency in October 2018, but the Mering Carson name remained for a year before becoming Mering.
“The agency was born to represent TV stations and broadcast networks,” Mering said. “Over the years, our client mix has changed. For a while we worked in healthcare and retail. Now it’s tourism and travel. We’ve represented the San Diego Tourism Authority for 12 years. It’s been a great honor to market San Diego to the world and capture the spirit of our beautiful city.
“It’s been a great life experience to work in so many different industries and represent so many incredible brands. The great thing about advertising is you can become a mini-expert in all kinds of industries. I can’t image working for one company and in one vertical. I would be bored to death.”
Mering, a father to three daughters and grandfather of two, said he has no plans to retire. A press statement said Mering will be an equity partner and vice chairman of TSY Enterprises.
“When I was young, I wanted to make movies,” said Mering. “But, after starting to work in advertising, I realized I could make mini-movies with TV commercials. I love the brainstorming, writing, editing and production.
“I’ve always loved the ad business. It’s a intriguing business that allows for creative expression and solving business challenges. I’ve been fortunate over the course of my career to work help great clients with a creative product. It’s been extremely fulfilling. It’s also extremely satisfying when clients put a tremendous amount of faith in your skill and experience. When you mutually achieve success, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
The Shipyard clients include In-N-Out Burger, American Electric Power, Scotts Miracle Gro, Weleda, Protective Insurance, Bollé, NCR, BrewDog, Sempra, Nationwide and CO-OP Financial Services.
“We were attracted to Mering because of its strength in designing compelling campaigns for clients that drive consumers to action,” said Milenthal. “We see tremendous business growth opportunity in California, and Mering is California’s leading independent agency. Dave is going to be an incredible asset to our team and I couldn’t be happier to have him and his agency on board.”
TSY Enterprises is a private holding company established in 2013. Other previous acquisitions have included ad agency O’Leary and Partners, content company Revolocity, design shop SteamDigital and the strategic consultancy Tomorro LLC. TSY also created SmartHarbor in 2017, a digital marketing company focused on the insurance industry. In 2019, TSY sold Smart Harbor to Accel-KKR Ventures, using the resulting capital and resources to continue building The Shipyard.
KOGO to Report on Baby Jesus with News Director’s Grandkids
For the 36th consecutive year, KOGO-AM News Radio 600, an iHeart Media San Diego station, will air “The Bethlehem Report” from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
According to Cliff Albert, KOGO news director, the special program will feature the story of the first Christmas as told in newscast style. Reporters will investigate reports of a star in the sky as an unusual astronomical event, rumors of a new king born in Bethlehem and visits from wise men from the East.
New this year will be Albert’s eight grandchildren, ages 14 to five months, participating in the broadcast with speaking roles. Youngsters are reading lines from the “Wonders of Christmas” in the opening segment, while the five-month-old is babbling as baby Jesus.
“The program does not directly mention COVID, but, to be honest, the pandemic has had an impact on me, as it has on many of us,” said Albert. “In putting a pause in our lives, the pandemic has made me realize, now more than ever, the importance and value of family. So, all my grandchildren will be taking part in this year’s presentation. They will be sharing why, even with the pandemic, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. It will be a new twist on a San Diego radio tradition that began in 1984. We hope our annual broadcast will be a blessing to all our listeners.”
The broadcast also will stream on the radio station’s website.
Fox 5 To Air Rock Church’s Christmas Special
KSWB-TV Fox 5 San Diego reports it will air “Rock Your Christmas,” a one-hour, prerecorded holiday special featuring music and a message from Senior Pastor Miles McPherson, senior pastor of the Rock Church San Diego. The special will air on three separate days, including 8 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 23; 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 24; and 8 a.m., Saturday, Dec. 26.
“In this unprecedented year, our service to the community extended well beyond providing the latest news and information with local programming during these difficult times,” said Scott Heath, VP and GM of Fox 5. “Our collaboration with Miles McPherson and the Rock Church has allowed us the unique opportunity to televise `Rock Your Christmas.’ We hope that people across San Diego can share a message of hope from the safety of their homes during the holidays.”
“This Christmas will forever be one that we all remember,” said McPherson. “Though days of uncertainty and fear have seemingly left our society crippled, there is a hope that will get us through these dark times. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (a quote from Romans 15:3). I would like to invite everyone to join us and celebrate the holidays on Fox 5.”
With a weekend attendance of about 30,000 people at five multi-site campuses and more than 20 microsites, Rock Church is San Diego’s largest church and the 22nd largest church in the U.S., according to Outreach Magazine.
In related KSWB news, the station will air its annual “Yule Log” show from 4 to 9 a.m., Friday, Dec. 25. Featuring a looped video of a wood-burning fireplace set to classic Christmas songs, the “Yule Log” has been a holiday staple for more than 50 years. The show originally aired from 1966 to 1989 on New York City TV station WPIX, which revived the broadcast in 2001. In 2003, TV stations owned by Tribune Broadcasting began airing the show. KSWB, previously owned by Tribune, is now owned by Nexstar Media Group.
Do You Hear What I Hear? Christmas Melodies a Popular Radio Format
Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? For the 42nd consecutive year, Entercom Communications’ KYXY 96.5-FM in San Diego is playing a soundtrack of continuous Christmas music this holiday season.
Karyn Cerulli, senior VP and market manager, said the nonstop holiday playlist began in early November. The station is planning a return to its regular adult contemporary format after Dec. 25.
According to Inside Radio, an industry trade publication, more than 470 U.S. radio stations in the U.S. had transitioned to all-Christmas programming as of early December. Citing data from Precision Trak, Inside Radio said the number of all-Christmas stations in any given year has averaged around 450.
However, the number of stations flipping to full-on holiday mode this year may exceed the previous record of 529 set in 2014 because a pandemic-weary public “need a little Christmas” to lift their spirits.
Inside Radio also said many all-Christmas music stations are expecting above-average ratings bumps as big as Santa’s belly from both Nielsen and Arbitron, even with fewer all-day office listeners due to government stay-at-home, pandemic-related orders.
Rick Griffin is a San Diego-based public relations and marketing consultant. His MarketInk column appears weekly on Mondays in Times of San Diego.