Not Just an Ol'Boys Club

By Hayes, Cassandra | Black Enterprise, June 1999 | Go to article overview

Not Just an Ol'Boys Club


Hayes, Cassandra, Black Enterprise


Strong enough to compete with the establishment, Carol H. Williams Advertising isn't a secret anymore

THE LOBBY OF CAROL H. WILLIAMS ADVERTISING looks more like an art gallery than the reception area of an advertising agency. Perched nine floors above Oakland, California's Merritt Lake, the 15,000-square-foot office simmers above the purple carpeting that snakes throughout. (Ghanaian masks and sculpture mingle with the paintings of West Coast artist Joe Sam, whose uncensored reds, blues and greens suggest the abstractions of Russian artist Kandinsky.

Legions of awards grace its walls. R&B, soul and rap music from a 1950s jukebox wafts around the glass walls and doors that separate you from the agency's creative labyrinths. Venture into the quaint office of the maestro of this four-walled canvas and a New York SoHo curator or Village bohemian won't greet you. Instead, a tall, striking woman, dressed in a cashmere sweater and conservative black skirt suit, will smile and, with a firm handshake, welcome you into her world.

A dichotomy? Not for Carol H. Williams, the 50-year-old chair-person, president and chief creative officer of the advertising agency that bear's her name--Carol H. Williams Advertising (CHWA). Her adroitness at packaging the bold wi th the sedate, delivering the hauntingly creative with the profitably strategic and packing an iron fist into a velvet glove, has made her one of the most lauded advertising executives around.

Thirteen years ago, skeptics watched as this African American woman with an expertise in the creative side of advertising set up shop thousands of miles away from the advertising epicenters of New York and Chicago. Her critics waited in vain. CHWA flourished with clients such as Nissan Motor Corp., Coors Brewing Co., Hewlett-Packard, Luster Products, Pacific Bell, California Department of Health Services, University of California at Davis Medical Center and the California State Lottery. Last year, the agency posted billings of $65 million, up from $48.5 million in 1997. Most recently, CHWA added African Panafest and Coca-Cola to its client roster. The soft drink maker was lured by CHWA's exemplary track record and scouted out the agency instead of the agency courting it.

"She is a strategic creator. Many people think that creative is enough to sell a brand, but Carol is grounded in what makes brands grow and sell. She knows that pretty pictures alone don't sell a product; that's just art," says Greg Head, president of HeadFirst Market Research in Atlanta, Georgia, who has worked with Williams on various marketing strategies. "She instills that philosophy in her people, and has a very open and interactive agency. The exchange of differing ideas adds a bit of flavor that you probably would not see on the East Coast."

Williams has consistently struck a chord with consumers with fresh, innovative advertising that stands the test of time. She delivers handsomely on both the business and creative sides--a trait many companies seek but have difficulty finding. Her talented team of artists and marketers is the envy of any advertising agency. These traits and more have garnered Carol H. Williams Advertising the title of BE Advertising Agency of the Year.

FAMILY PHILOSOPHY

Her 43 employees, most of whom are women, have traveled far and wide to be under her tutelage. "Part of the success of the agency is that it's filled with bright, young, dynamic people," says marketing consultant Larry Weisberg of Boulder, Colorado, who helped link CHWA with Coors Brewing Co. "She has people with M.B.A.s and degrees from Harvard who don't need to start at a smaller agency but have because they love what she does."

One of those people is account director Lynn Holman. With an M.B.A. from UCLA, Holman worked in marketing at General Mills and in advertising at Young & Rubicam before joining CHWA in 1995. "The family environment combined with its strategic focus and excellent creative is what attracted me," she says. …

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