Carol H. Williams, Carol H. Williams Advertising

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Carol H. Williams, one of the few African-American women running her own ad agency, built her career on the line "Strong enough for a man." Literally.

Ms. Williams, who studied biology at Northwestern University, went to an American Association of Advertising Agenciesconference and landed a summer job in 1969 at Leo Burnett Co. Thanks to her tagline for Procter & Gamble Co.'s Secret deodorant, and one for Pillsbury Co., "Say hello to Poppin' Fresh Dough," she eventually became the agency's first female VP-creative director.

In January, Ms. Williams, president, CEO and chief creative officer of independent shop Carol H. Williams Advertising, won one of the most coveted and significant African-American marketing assignments in an era where multicultural marketing has been one of advertising's strong sectors. In a pitch against some of the nation's leading multicultural shops, her Oakland, Calif., agency was named creative and strategic agency of record for African-American advertising for General Motors Corp., an assignment with annual revenue of $3 million and estimated billings of $20 million to $30 million.

"She is one of the most creative strategic thinkers in the ad business," not just for African-American marketing but for general marketing solutions as well, says Michael A. Jackson, general manager of the Western region for GM.

The fiftysomething executive believes advertising truly reaching an African-American audience is based on strategy, not simply placing ads on general marketing programming African-Americans are likely to watch, such as National Basketball Association games. "You reach them, but you don't touch them," she says. "You've got to touch them inside, where they live."

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