In honor of Black History Month, Leo Burnett Chicago, a global advertising agency, spotlighted agency alum and its first Black Vice President, Don Richards.
Richards spearheaded groundbreaking work on national accounts such as Pillsbury, United Airlines, McDonald’s and Schlitz Beer. Richards was a trailblazer, initiating diversity in client campaigns and production in the advertising industry.
Richards shared his contributions to Leo Burnett, and advertising as a whole, with Leo Burnett Chief Talent Executive Renetta McCann, noting, “My career in advertising at Leo Burnett began in 1966. I was fortunate enough to work under Dr. Seymour Banks, the Media Research Director at Leo Burnett, who was also my professor at the University of Chicago.”
The retired executive went on to explain his career trajectory, saying, “I began my career in Market Research and was promoted soon after to Account Executive on the Pillsbury account. From there my career grew and I worked on several other multinational accounts including United Airlines, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, and Schlitz Beer.
Richards reminded McCann that “at the time, very few African Americans worked at any of the major advertising agencies.” He added there were very few minority suppliers such as film directors, photographers and graphic designers.
“It became very important to me to bring more diversity to all aspects of advertising,” Richards commented.
In pursuing this personal commitment he said, “I took a job at the 4A’s in New York as Director of Diversity, to recruit minority college graduates for the ad agencies, and to identify and utilize more minority suppliers in advertising, as I said before – production houses, film directors, photographers, and graphic designers.”
Richards concluded his discussion with McCann acknowledging the support of other Black advertising executives. He remarked that he owes “special thanks to Tom Burrell, of Chicago’s Burrell Communications, and to Black advertising pioneer Carol Williams.” Both, he says, mentored him during the early days of his career.
Now years away from the frenetic hustle and bustle of the advertising world, Richards shares his time as a trustee of the First Church of Deliverance, and enjoys the social activities of the Original Forty Club, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, and immersing himself in the offerings of the Oak Lawn Library Book Club.
Don Richards is recognized as a HistoryMaker, an African American who has made a significant contribution to the culture and society. The organization’s records house the nation’s largest African-American video oral history archive.