The Magic Touch: Carol H. Williams Advertising Conjures Up Winning Campaigns and Huge Billings Using an Enchanting Mix of Business Savvy, Creative Talent, and Unbridled Passion

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The agency is illuminated by color and and light--a blend of the natural and the fluorescent--highlighting an eclectic array of African art, paintings, sculptures, and montages. The rainfall of hues and varying textures adorns almost every inch of the expansive space. With panoramic views of the bay Area, the office signifies power and self-expression as well as promise and daring.

And then there's the staff--a mix of conservative, funky, trendy, and Bohemian types who represent a cross section of cultures: African, African American. Carribean, Asian, Italian, Hispanic, and various ethnic combinations. "They hail from Morehouse to Harvard," asserts Ray Clemons, the firm's vice president and creative director.

It's a conservatory that cultivates talent, creativity, and energy to produce a collection of unforgettable and, in many cases, soul-stirring spots. Through ads like Kmart's engagingly soulful "Right here. Right now." Pacific's Bell's amusingly familiar "Cousin Thomas," and Coors sexy "Rock on," an unbreakable connection has been made with consumers.

Welcome to the magical world of Carol H. Williams Advertising.

The chief executive confirms that every inch of her office is as strategic as one of the firm's campaigns. "It is intentional, because that's who I am," Williams, 56, says of the agency that bears her name. "My home is always very celebratory, but also very peaceful, very intellectual. And so when I sought to create my own environment, I sought to have my creative pursuits come from a very beautiful and spiritual place."

It has been this philosophy that has taken CHW from a small boutique in Oakland, California, 18 years ago to a supernova with satellite offices in Detroit, Chicago, and New York. At a time when many ad agencies--both general-market and ethnic--are regaining their footing in a rebounding economy, the agency has achieved forward momentum. For one, the prescient Williams stays at least 15 years ahead of psychographic, demographic, and cultural trends. And she has positioned herself to leverage, among other changing market dynamics, an African American segment that currently represents 13% of the total U.S. population and controls total money income of $631 billion. Asserts Jack Feuer, national news editor at Ad Week: "With the African American audience, there's an additional chip on the table, and that's their ability to influence the rest of the culture. That makes it even more of a coveted demographic."

Williams is keenly aware of that fact, but her focus extends beyond the influences of the African American market. Her strategy: target clients' needs and provide them with not only all-encompassing data related to the demographic but specific information on business opportunities within that market. To achieve this end, CHW uses new technology and quantitative analysis. Says Williams: "It keeps you ahead of the curve."

CHW understands that in today's market, clients believe "creative [advertising] without strategy is a commodity," explains A. Patrick Buchanan, executive vice president and chief marketing officer. "Strategy is solid and that makes a difference."

The result: CHW's explosive growth. It has expanded its platinum roster of clients, which now includes General Motors, Procter & Gamble, Coors Light, Allstate, Kmart, Washington Mutual, Visa, and Crown Royal. In the past three years, the number of employees has increased by more than 250%, from 38 in 2001 to 135 today. And gross billings have surged by an eye-popping 130.7%, from $130 million in 2002 to $300 million in 2003. Due to CHW's expansion in billings, the firm is gaining on GlobalHue, which posted gross billings of $325 million, for the top spot on the BE ADVERTISING AGENCIES list. This stellar performance has earned CHW the distinction of being named BE'S Advertising Agency of the Year--the second such kudo bestowed upon the firm in the past five years. …