Founder of the first African-American agency

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Vincent T. Cullers, a pioneering adman who founded what's widely regarded as the first African-American-owned full-service ad agency in the U.S., died Oct. 4 in Chicago after a long illness. He was 79.

An art director at Ebony magazine, Mr. Cullers left to open Vince Cullers Advertising in 1956 with his wife, Marian, and Emmitt McBaine. The Cullers agency was a training ground for young African-Americans seeking exposure to the ad world. He was an active figure in Chicago and national ad circles, where he became known as "The Dean" of black advertising (see Letters, P. 20). After his retirement last year, his agency was reorganized as Vince Cullers Group and is led by his son, Jeffery Cullers.

Mr. Cullers was passionate about minorities finding a positive self-image and equally dedicated to showing marketers the need to craft campaigns targeted specifically at ethnic markets. One of his agency's first popular campaigns was "Watu wazuri-beautiful people" for Johnson Products Co.'s Afro Sheen hair-care products.

The agency added cigarette marketer P. Lorillard Co. in 1968, and went on to work for such other major marketers as Amoco Oil Co., Ameritech, Kellogg Co., Sears, Roebuck & Co and others. Billings at its peak reached $15 million.

Tom Burrell, chairman-CEO of Burrell Communications Group, Chicago, the African-American-controlled agency part owned by Publicis Groupe, said "targeted marketing has found its way into the mainstream, and black culture is now playing the role of cultural catalyst and trend initiator for the world. It all started with Vince Cullers, and we should not forget that."

Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., president of Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, said, "The advertising world is fortunate to have known and shared in the talents of Mr. Cullers."

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