How did Blacks get into advertising anyway?


Jim Glover has worked for general market and black advertising agencies and his work has always been on the cutting edge, which many believe is why he has won so many accolades in the biz. Jim is now the founder, President, Creative Director/writer of MultiCultural Creative Consultants (MCC), author of the thriller novel, Mad Man and a screenwriter.

Just like now, after Martin Luther King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, this country erupted in demonstrations, looting and burnings. And like today, there was much hand wringing and criticism of the demonstrations, looters and burners.

But if it weren’t for that violent outburst some things would have never changed. In fact, it was from the riots directly in New York City that sent the NAACP leader Roy Wilkins to meet with representatives from leading New York City ad agencies and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) and presented a keynote address to an AAAA meeting in New York.

They raised concerns about Black employment in advertising agencies along with issues of negative images of Blacks in ads and the media and absence of Black models and actors from ads in general market media.

A few years before that momentous meeting, the Urban League of greater New York released a study to ten large New York advertising agencies. According to the study, these agencies had more than 20,000 employees, but fewer that 25 African Americans held “creative or executive positions.” The Urban League demanded that these agencies increase their numbers of Blacks and make sure that they were in more than menial positions.

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The New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCHR) opened a new round of attention by sending questionnaires to selected ad agencies. In March 1968, with public concern about employment discrimination enhanced by that year’s urban riots, the Commission held a Public Hearing on the Employment Practices of the Broadcasting and Advertising Industries and the Image Projection of members of Minority Groups in Television and Radio.

The hearings concluded that the advertising agencies in the New York area had consistently failed to employ Blacks, Puerto Ricans and other minority groups especially in professional and executive positions. After the hearings, the New York State Commission for Human Rights (NYSHR) continued to monitor minority employment in advertising.

During the late sixties and early seventies Madison Avenue and Michigan Avenue in Chicago reached out to the Black community to find people to work in advertising because the pressure was on. Groups popped up in both cities to train Blacks for a career in advertising and many were hired from those groups working at some of the best advertising agencies in the business.

Young & Rubican, J. Walter Thompson, Mary Wells, Foote, Cone and Belding, Needham, Harper and Steers, Leo Burnett, and Ogilvy and Mather to name a few.

From the brilliant creative minds of those Blacks trained back then, a good deal of the commercials America’s been seeing over the years were created. Campaigns like, “I’m Stuck on a Band-Aid” for Johnson and Johnson, “A Mind is a Terrible thing to Waste” for the United Negro College Fund, “A Sprinkle a Day Helps Keep Odor Away,” for Shower to Shower, “The Silver Bullet” for Coors Light Beer, “Strong Enough for a Man but Made for a Woman” for Secret Deodorant, “Heads are Turning” for Vitalis and McDonald’s Menu Chant, “Big Mac, Filet-O-Fish, Quarter Pounder, French Fries, etc.”

African Americans who found themselves with a job in the business from the seventies also found that very few younger blacks were coming up behind them in the nineties. There were few exceptions to that rule. However, during this time some Blacks became discontent with their agency’s racial practices, complained and suddenly found themselves unemployed. Some remained on their jobs and tried to move up the corporate ladder.

Some formed the “African American Agency” that specialized in reaching the African American consumer exclusively. Some were:

Vince Cullers Advertising founded by Vince Cullers an Illustrator for Ebony magazine.
Burrell Communications founded by Thomas Burrell a former copywriter at Needham, Harper, & Steers Advertising, Chicago. Now in the Advertising Hall of Fame.
Mingo Jones Advertising founded by Frank Mingo and Caroline Jones former copywriter and account people from J. Walter Thompson and McCann Erickson.
Lockhart and Pettus founded by Ted Pettus and Keith Lockhart from Foote, Cone and Belding, New York.
Global Hue, founded by Don Coleman, former NFL football player and Marketing Executive at Burrell Communications.
Equinox founded by Bernie Washington and Bill Daniels former writer and art director team at Foot, Cone & Belding Chicago.
Glover & Potter Advertising founded by former Vice President, Associate Creative Director at Leo Burnett, Jim Glover and McDonald’s client Wendy Potter.
• Carol H. Williams Advertising founded by Carol H. Williams, former Creative Director from Leo Burnett. Now in the Advertising Hall of Fame.

This “African American Agency” was a good thing for Black people. It allowed Blacks to experience more job opportunities. Today, many of these agencies still exist, but from the white agency perspective it has only fueled their racist attitudes about not hiring Blacks or not hiring them back once they had left the general market agency.

A study on Race and Employment in advertising conducted in January 2009 by Bendick and Egan Economic Consultants. Inc. arrived at this conclusion.

Currently, stereotype-based perceptions by industry mangers that African Americans have only race related expertise continue to limit their work assignments largely to those targeting Black consumers. African Americans are often excluded from “general market” agencies and find work only in agencies specializing in “ethnic markets.”

If African Americans only had “race related expertise” then how could they have created such memorable campaigns during the early seventies geared to the general market?

So what happened to the many African Americans who were hired on Madison and Michigan Avenues in the seventies? Some of the stories are not so pretty. Some had to change professions all together, some teach and some went homeless. I know of at least two whom because of not being able to get back into to the general market agencies after leaving finally ended up unemployed and committed suicide.

My point being that, here we go again full circle and not much has changed in advertising since the seventies. In fact, of the list of black agencies aforementioned only two still exist and until this day there is not one African-American that is president, CEO of a general market agency. The only exception to this rule was Phil Gant, who I believe was president of BBDO, Chicago.

Yes, and there are some new kids on the block that are making quite a bit of noise, however, Walton Isaacson and Steve Stout’s Translation.

Then, if that’s true you ask, why are we seeing so many interracial commercials now and blacks being represented in just about every other commercial, general market or no? Because white (general market) agencies are doing those commercials.

Why is this? Because with the new emphasis on “Total Marketing” these white agencies and the new addition of cost consultants have convinced clients that they don’t need Black agencies because all they have to do is put a minority in a general market campaign and that will do the trick and save them money. But time doesn’t suffer fools lightly, it proved out that falsehood when market share numbers began to roll in to dispel that myth. Clients were losing black market share, big time. But the damage was already done and many black agencies went the way of the eight track tape.

So, let’s hope that now that everybody is “woke” again, from the current demonstrations that corporate America will realize once again that one size does not fit all and that people not only want to see themselves in commercial they want to see their life in the commercial. To quote one of the fathers of black advertising and marketing, Tom Burrell, who so aptly said, “Black people are not black white people.”

And, maybe, just maybe, ad agencies and corporate clients alike that are making so much money off this trillion-dollar black market will start more training programs like the seventies to recruit young minority kids into the ad business. Many of us black ad executives, agency owners and the likes were one of those street kids at one time.

If it were not for the opportunities available to us at that time, our lives could have been lost like so many of the black young men today being killed by police. So let’s hope that ad agencies and corporate America are truly getting the message this time for real.

They need to take a page out of the playbook of the past and finally do more than as little as possible about this cancer that is destroying our country.


To contact Jim Glover about starting a minority training program in your agency please email or call 312 731-4638

To see more of Jim Glover’s writings please check out his novel “Mad Man” on amazon or wherever books are sold.

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