Not Just An Ol'Boys Club.
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.
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. Others, such as Creative Director Ray Clemons, were wooed by the agency because of their years of general market experience. "She's in the trenches, getting involved in the strategic process and even writing copy. Carol is the energy we all drive behind," says Clemons, 50, who owned his Own agency and worked at J. Walter Thompson, Chiat/Day and Ogilvy & Mather before joining CHWA almost five years ago. "We develop our creative on simple human truths: those things that look, sound, feel and taste familiar to our consumer. We then create a dialogue with the brand and the community. It is what makes us unique."
To understand CHWA today, you must first know the Carol Williams of yesterday. Born and raised on Chicago's South Side, Williams followed the guidance of her Southern working-class parents who required all five of their children to become self-sufficient, productive citizens.
For Williams, that meant pre-med studies at Northwestern University. But in 1968, the 19-year-old junior got a summer editing job at Sears, Roebuck & Co. and was writing plays for the campus theater. In the audience one night sat Bill Sharp, a copy supervisor at Chicago's J. Walter Thompson, one of the nation's largest full-service advertising agencies. Fascinated by her writing, he invited Williams to participate in an advertising class sponsored by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA).
During the three-month class, Williams built a portfolio of mock ads. So impressive were the execution of her writing and grasp of the strategic process, that Chicago advertising giants J. Walter Thompson and Leo Burnett made her offers. "I loved the problem-solving aspect of strategic marketing and here I was invited into a field which was very rewarding, challenging and intellectually-driven. I went with my heart," recalls Williams. She joined Leo Burnett in 1969, graduating from night school with a liberal arts degree in 1971.
With only two weeks as a copywriter under her belt, Williams approached then associate creative director Jim Gilmore with a campaign idea for Pillsbury, one of Burnett's largest clients. The campaign, "Nothing's Quite as Good as Biscuits in the Morning," launched Williams' nascent career. She wrote the tagline, "It's Pillsbury's Best Time of Day."
Gilmore remembers the day that Williams, who in those days of the civil rights riots was driven to work each day by her big brother, walked into his office. "We were doing the Dough Boy television spots, and when this young girl came in with that line, I knew she would go a long way," recalls Gilmore, now a visiting lecturer in the department of advertising at Michigan State University in East Lansing. As her peers painstakingly eked out catchy phrases and jingles, Williams carved out the "Paper Knife" and "Say Hello to Pop-in-Fresh Dough" campaigns for Pillsbury. The latter nationally reintroduced the Dough Boy into American homes and advertising history.
The people around Williams became her teachers and mentors, and she an apt student who studied intently with them. She quickly became a copy supervisor in 1972 and earned an M.A. in arts and science from her alma mater. In 1974, she rose to associate creative director. Once it was recognized that Williams understood strategy and could shape those strategies with the creative to move a business forward, she was handed Secret antiperspirant.
A declining brand for Procter & Gamble, Secret was No. 9 in the market behind top competitors Ban and Right Guard. "When I was given the brand, they begged me not to quit," Williams laughs. "Nobody wanted that product but little blue-haired women. I saw it as an opportunity to turn it around." Williams did it with the renowned "Strong Enough for a Man, but Made for a Woman" campaign. Within seven months, Secret was leading the market, becoming one of P&G's greatest success stories. It remains the No. 1 antiperspirant today.
With a flourishing career before her, Williams became a creative director in 1976. Many successful campaigns and Clio and Addy awards soon followed. In 1977, Williams was named Leo Burnett's first woman vice president and creative director, and Advertising Woman of the Year by the Women's Advertising Club of Chicago. By the time she left Leo Burnettin 1980, Williams felt like a bird leaving the nest. Having learned all she could, she moved on to Foote Cone & Belding in San Francisco to head its creative department. As senior vice president and creative director, Williams took the strategic disciplines she learned on products like Secret and applied them to Clorox Liquid and Clorox II, reversing the trend on yet another declining product and legitimizing the brand. However, her stint in this new environment was short-lived.
Williams left the advertising industry in 1982 and married orthopedic surgeon Tipkins Hood. Two years later, she gave birth to her daughter, Carol, now 15, who is a "scholar, student and athlete." At 34, Williams was ready to say goodbye to an industry she had helped revolutionize. "I had turned a corner and closed a chapter in my life and had no intention of opening my own agency," says Williams. But a trip to Ghana soon after prompted the epiphany she needed. Williams realized that "there was a reason for all of this in my life," and she opened the doors of CHWA in 1988.
Opening CHWA meant having to start all over again in some ways. Ironically, companies now questioned whether Williams, with a background in general market creative advertising, could successfully do strategic target marketing.
One of them was Pacific Bell. After much hesitation, they used CHWA and are loyal clients today. Through CHWA ads, they have gained a 9% increase in their Universal Lifeline Telephone Service, a service for consumers without standard telephone service. Its Call Return service is one of the most successful product efforts to date, with usage having doubled since CHWA took over. Pacific Bell met its nine-month revenue goal within the first two months of the campaign.
Today, almost 100% of the campaigns generated by CHWA have reaped dramatic results. Three years ago, CHWA's print and broadcast ads for Nissan's Maxima increased customer "intentions and considerations" by 100%, notes Dierdre Francis-Dickerson, manager of strategic relations at Nissan North America. "When they did their first presentation, I was ready to use it as a campaign," laughs Francis-Dickerson. "She has experience on both the creative and the account side, and it's difficult to find an agency that can do both things well."
In late 1996, after many years of success with its Pink "Oil Moisturizer" Hair Lotion, Luster Products in Chicago sought a younger consumer base for its 30-year-old flagship haircare product. It quietly introduced Pink Light Hair Lotion, a product it was sure would follow in its predecessor's footsteps. Yet, despite its forerunner's widespread appeal and Luster's vast distribution channels, sales were disappointing.
Luster's new director of marketing, Wanda Wright, quickly hired CHWA to help the product gain volume. "We both came to Luster at about the same time," says Wright, former group marketing manager at Soft Sheen Products. "CHWA helped me relaunch a product that, at the time, had no campaign. It was so exciting because we were both new to the company and it was a great Start." The "Stop the Fuss" print and television campaign was a hit, and contributed to Pink Light's double-digit growth. In 1998, CHWA helped to reposition Luster's Pink Oil Hair Lotion, and won with its "Fried, Dyed and Blow-dried" campaign. Today, Pink Oil Lotion continues to be the No. 1 hairdressing in the U.S.
"CHWA has its finger on the pulse of my consumer. That's what put Luster ahead of everyone else," says Wright. To build on that momentum, Luster also handed CHWA its PCJ, S-Curl Comb and Designer Touch products.
In 1997, CHWA landed the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) account, worth over $5 million. In light of pending deregulation, CPUC had to inform African Americans and small business owners that there would be a change in the electric utiity industry and that they would soon have a choice in electricity providers.
CHWA created the award-winning animated "Electric Man." "At first, there was concern that the Electric Man character would be perceived as offensive," says Greg Wood, program director of the $73 million California Electric Deregulation Consumer Education Program. "However, CHWA withstood the criticism of the conservative environment to get the creative done. Within eight months of the CHWA ads, consumer awareness was in the area of 85% in the African American community, well above our target of 60%."
This year, at the Coors Distributors' Convention in early April, some 700 distributors gathered as CHWA presented its creative. This would be the bellwether for future Coors advertising--if it passed muster with this crowd, it would go public. Those in attendance say that CHWA's presentation for Coors Light received some of the largest applause at the convention.
"Fit is important," says Ivan Burwell, director of ethnic marketing at Coors Brewing Co. in Golden, Colorado. "Beer is a unique industry, and you must be able to understand our distribution system and industry regulations. CHWA had the right fit, and that's important if we're trusting them to do a lot of important work for us." The president of HeadFirst marketing agrees. "The beer industry is currently flat," says Head. "In order to maintain Coors Light's viability, Coors must concentrate on all markets. It wanted to partner with an agency that could deliver relevant communications to African Americans and CHWA was that agency."
Having spent most of her mass market career working on packaged goods and food products, Williams hopes to have one of those accounts under her belt soon. She is also expanding her offices and will double her staff this year. She isn't looking to merely put a black face on already tried-and-true general market ads. "I don't want those kinds of clients or 'civil rights' ads," she states. "I am looking to build brands. Unfortunately, many clients don't come to minority agencies to do that."
Reflecting on her craft, she says, "I love what I do. It's fun, but it's also hard. There's no room for a mental lapse when a client's product is riding on your back. Selling a product is based on insightful thinking and breakthrough ads. If you can master that, you can master the art of advertising." The thrill, for Williams, is in the risk. "Nothing gets my adrenaline going more than turning a brand around."
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|Title Annotation:||Carol H. Williams Advertising|
|Article Type:||Company Profile|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1999|
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