Carol H. Williams, the first woman and first African American to serve as creative director at a major advertising firm, was inducted into the American Advertising Federation (AAF) Hall of Fame during a ceremony last month at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City.
Williams is CEO, president and chief creative officer of Carol H. Williams Advertising, and the first Black woman creative to be inducted into the prestigious Advertising Hall of Fame. She began her career at Chicago’s Leo Burnett advertising in 1970, where she became its first female and African American vice president and creative director. She then served for two years as senior vice president/creative director at Foote Cone & Belding advertising in San Francisco before launching her own firm in 1986.
The Chicago native was among six advertising professionals inducted at the 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.”
She also has helped to launch and guide the careers of dozens of African Americans in creative fields through 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, Williams 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, California, and New York. Its annual billings have exceeded $100 million for more than a decade.