Advertising Legend Carol H. Williams Inducted Into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame

Dynamic entrepreneur conquered tough industry with perseverance and creative brilliance

Even as a child growing up on Chicago’s South Side, Carol Williams showcased a vibrant creative side. She wowed classmates and teachers with stories about exotic summer vacations and often got an A+ on the vacation reports inspired by books she had read in the local library. She also enchanted friends and family with imaginative tales about the life of which she dreamed. And she amazed those who knew her with intelligence, insight and an enthralling gift of gab.

So it was not at all surprising that after college she landed a job as an advertising copywriter. But that is far from the end of the story.

The precocious, creative child evolved into an exceptionally talented young corporate executive who quickly distinguished herself as the first woman and first African American to serve as vice president and creative director at a major advertising firm, giant Leo Burnett Advertising, where in the 1970s and early 1980s she created iconic, nationally recognized campaigns for Fortune 500 clients. After leaving Leo Burnett, she served as senior vice president/creative director at Foote Cone & Belding advertising in San Francisco. Most notable, in 1986 Ms. Williams launched her own firm and built one of the largest and best-known African-American advertising agencies in the country.

Recently, Carol H. Williams was inducted into the American Advertising Federation (AAF) Hall of Fame during a ceremony and dinner held at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. Williams, CEO, president and chief creative officer of Carol H. Williams Advertising, is the first Black woman creative to be inducted into the prestigious Advertising Hall of Fame.

The Chicago native was among six advertising professionals inducted at the 2017 ceremony, which recognized those who have had “exceptionally distinguished and extraordinary careers” and who “have consistently practiced the highest ethical standards, and have contributed substantially to their communities.” Williams also received the distinguished David Bell Award for Industry Service, established by AAF in 2014 to recognize “extraordinary and unique contributions and service to the advertising community and industry as a whole.” Williams was presented the award by David Bell, former CEO of Interpublic Group, Senior Advisor at AOL, and Advertising Hall of Fame Class of 2007. The Honorable Barbara Lee, U.S. House of Representatives, introduced Williams.  

In addition, the actor Robert De Niro was presented the President’s Award for Special Lifetime Contributions to Advertising. According to AAF, the honor is “given to those whose primary career was not in advertising, but whose work has made enormous contributions to our industry.”

Renetta E. McCann, chief talent officer at Leo Burnett Advertising and a member of the Advertising Hall of Fame Council of Judges Executive Committee, later said she was grateful to Williams for her many contributions to the industry. McCann said she was especially thankful that Williams hired her at Leo Burnett decades ago.

Carol H. Williams’s body of work spans more than 40 years. She is well known for her timeless Secret Antiperspirant campaign “Strong Enough for a Man, But Made for a Woman.” She also created the highly successful Pillsbury frosting campaign “Paper Knife” and the entertaining Pillsbury campaign “Say Hello to Poppin’ Fresh Dough.”

In addition, she has helped to launch and guide the careers of dozens of African Americans in creative fields through mentoring and her agency, which currently is one of the largest independent and African-American owned agencies in the nation.

“To be recognized by the industry that I love is one of the best experiences ever. Actually, there’s no feeling like it,” Williams said of being inducted into the AAF Hall of Fame. “This is the proudest moment in my career.”

Throughout her career, William has been a strategic creative who recognized the need for advertising that speaks to the sophisticated and influential African-American and urban markets and who changed the landscape of multi-cultural messaging. Her agency’s diverse team has created campaigns for Fortune 500 clients that include General Motors, Allstate Insurance Company, Procter & Gamble, The Walt Disney Company, Coors, General Mills, Kraft, AARP and Marriott, among others.

Carol H. Williams Advertising has offices in Chicago, Oakland, Calif., and New York City. Its annual billings have exceeded $100 million for more than a decade.

BFFsLynn Norment