Winning the GM African-American Ad Account

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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 Agencies conference 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 ("Say Hello to Poppin' Fresh Dough"), she eventually became the agency's first female vice president and creative director.

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

A creative force
"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 General Motors Corp.

The 50-something executive believes advertising that truly reaches 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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