By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire Contributor –
Carol H. Williams has been quite busy.
The advertising legend and owner of the agency that bears her name, Williams has created ad campaigns for Bank of America, the city of Oakland, General Motors, Pillsbury, Proctor & Gamble and many other household names.
When she was notified about her nomination to the Advertising Hall of Fame, which celebrates and honors the legends who have made extraordinary contributions to the ad business, Williams kept working.
“I didn’t know whether it was real or not,” she said. “It was really nice and I was honored to be considered for (the Hall of Fame), but I just kept working.”
When consideration became acceptance, Williams became overjoyed.
“There was a moment, I was stunned and then the tears came. It was an unbelievable feeling; then I did my ‘spike and dance’ in the end zone,” said Williams, who becomes the first African-American female advertising executive inducted among the nearly 200 honorees in the 67-year history of the AHOF.
She will also receive the David Bell Award for Industry Service, which recognizes recipients for their extraordinary and unique contributions and service to the advertising community and industry.
“The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) is especially proud to salute the outstanding career achievements of Carol H. Williams,” said NNPA President and CEO Dr. Benjamin Chavis, Jr. “No one has done more to impact the advertising industry with innovative genius and market penetration than the iconic Carol H. Williams.”
Williams’ career started at the Leo Burnett agency, where during her 13-year tenure, she became the first African-American woman to serve as creative director and vice president at the company.
She followed that by serving for two years as senior vice president at FCB in San Francisco.
It was Williams who came up with one of the most recognized campaigns in advertising history; one she said remains a career highlight.
“I think one of the most incredible experiences I had was in 1974 when my boss, Charlie Blakemore, walked up to me and said, ‘I want to ask you to write on something, but I’m afraid you’ll quit.’ I said, ‘I won’t quit,’” said Williams.
At the time, the Secret deodorant brand had been failing, it was ranked No. 9 and declining, she said.
“It was primarily used by women,” said Williams, so she came up with the slogan, “Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman.”
The Secret campaign that Williams worked on propelled the deodorant to bestseller status where it remains.
Williams also used a Black woman in one of the commercials for the campaign as well as a Black announcer, which was unheard of at the time.
Williams founded Carol H. Williams Advertising (CHWA) more than 25 years ago. The agency has grown into one of the largest African-American, independently-owned advertising and marketing firms in the country. CHWA’s client list has included several Fortune 500 companies. After starting the company in her living room, CHWA now has offices in Oakland, New York, Detroit and Chicago.
“I can’t necessarily say that I found advertising. I think advertising found me,” recalled Williams. “I was going into pre-med, because I love humanity, and I wanted to engage and heal people, but I also loved to write and had an active imagination.”
After working with the American Association of Advertising on an initiative for African-Americans, Williams developed her portfolio, landed a summer job and never looked back.
Last month, during a panel discussion on gender and race in the advertising industry, Williams said it was revealed that less than three percent of executives in the advertising business are White women and less than one percent are Black women.
“It was really a discussion about the industry’s commitment to female diversity,” said Williams. “It’s quite amazing when you think about it, since the female voice is the primary voice in advertising and she’s the doorkeeper to most of the products which go into the household. Then, with the Black female, it’s even more so. She’s the head of the household for the most part; she’s the one making the money, she’s making those decisions.”
For young women, particularly Black women, who aspire to work in the advertising industry, Williams said that it’s important to check emotions at the door.
“We tend to be an extremely emotional people,” said Williams. “We are extremely creative people and that creativity is driven a lot by emotions.” Inside corporate America, a great deal of decisions are made that are focused on the bottom line and on the hard business of the dollar. If you allow emotions to rule, rather than your intellect, you can get into highly-conflict-driven situations that can create barriers to your success.”