Black History Month: How People Of Colour Changed the Marketing Landscape

February marks Black History Month, a period dedicated to celebrating the achievements of Black individuals and advocating for continued progress. In the marketing industry, people of color have been pivotal in shaping its landscape, bringing unique perspectives and innovative approaches. As we honor these trailblazers, we also recognize our role as allies in fostering an environment of diversity, inclusivity, and equal opportunities.

Statistics show that the marketing industry still has considerable ground to cover in terms of racial diversity. Only 5.4% of marketing professionals are Black, a stark contrast to the 67% who are white. In leadership positions, Black representation is even more limited, with only 6% of managers and 4% of corporate executives in the industry being Black​​​​. These figures underscore a critical gap in representation that needs to be addressed to truly reflect the diverse consumer base that marketers aim to serve. The stories of Black professionals in marketing, highlighted in this month of celebration, serve as both a source of inspiration and a reminder of the work still needed to ensure equity and inclusivity in the industry. While the figures to be mentioned here are just a few among many who are making a difference, their stories highlight the profound influence of Black professionals in marketing.

The Black Pioneers of Marketing 

Tom Burrell: A Spearhead in Multicultural Marketing

In the 1960s, Tom Burrell became the first Black advertiser in Chicago, leading multicultural campaigns for top brands like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. These brands were then the major users of television advertising, making Burrell’s achievements groundbreaking. He is celebrated for incorporating Black culture, hip-hop, and slang into his marketing campaigns, showcasing positive and realistic images of Black people. This approach made Burrell a pioneer in true “targeted marketing.” Today, he owns Burrell Communications, a firm that leads diverse campaigns for global brands.

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Carol H. Williams: Breaking Barriers in Creative Direction

Carol H. Williams is known for creating iconic taglines such as Secret deodorant’s “Strong Enough For a Man, But Made For a Woman” and the Pillsbury Doughboy’s giggle. She holds the record as the first female and Black creative director and VP at Leo Burnett. Following this achievement, Carol became the owner of the largest independently owned African American agency in the US.

Hans Dorsinville: Shaping Fashion and Body Positivity

Hans Dorsinville’s career began as a Junior Designer at Donna Karan’s in-house creative agency in 1993. He later rose to become EVP and a founding partner of Laird + Partners. Dorsinville is renowned for his work on the Lane Bryant #ImNoAngel Campaign, which challenged traditional beauty standards by featuring only plus-sized models. This campaign won numerous awards and earned him a spot on Adweek’s Creatives to Watch 100 list in 2017.

Robin Beaman: The Powerful Woman Behind Powerful Women

Robin Beaman, a marketing and PR phenomenon, played a crucial role in the success of The Oprah Winfrey Show, having previously led communications for Black Entertainment Television (BET). As president of Beaman Incorporated, she continues to find innovative ways to ignite brands. Robin emphasizes the importance of diversity of thought, recognizing Black women as trendsetters and brilliant minds in the industry.

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Vincent T. Cullers: The Dean of Black Advertising

In 1956, Vincent T. Cullers founded the Cullers Agency to address the need for marketing targeted to ethnic consumers. Known as “The Dean” of Black advertising in Chicago, his agency worked with prominent clients like Johnson Products Co.’s Afro Sheen and Sears, Roebuck & Co. The Cullers Agency was committed to showing minorities positive images of themselves in national advertising.

Modern Marketing Trailblazers of Colour

Maurice Cooper: A Trailblazer in Corporate Marketing

Maurice Cooper’s journey to becoming the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of major corporations such as Target and Bath and Body Works is nothing short of remarkable. His achievements are a testament to his strategic acumen and visionary leadership in the marketing realm. In recognition of his impactful work, Cooper was honored with EBONY’s 2022 Power 100 Corporate Citizen Award. His success serves as an inspiring example of how perseverance and creativity can lead to exceptional accomplishments in the marketing industry.

Octavia Warren Gilmore: Bridging Design and Strategy

Octavia Gilmore stands out as a shining example of entrepreneurial spirit and innovation. She founded Creative Juice in Atlanta, a testament to her ability to merge her background in graphic design with strategic marketing approaches. Gilmore’s work in brand development has not only brought her recognition but also significantly influenced how brands are built and perceived. Her journey highlights the importance of integrating creative design with strategic thinking to make a lasting impact in the marketing world.

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Lola Bakare: Championing Inclusive Marketing

Lola Bakare’s contributions as an Anthem Award-Winning Inclusive Marketing Strategist and founder of be/co have positioned her as a leading voice in creating authentic and inclusive marketing strategies. Recognized as a LinkedIn Top Voice and a contributor to the Forbes CMO Network, Bakare’s focus on responsible marketing practices has earned her widespread acclaim. Her upcoming book on responsible marketing further underscores her commitment to fostering inclusivity and authenticity in marketing practices.

Bozoma Saint John: A Role Model for Women of Colour

Bozoma Saint John’s impressive career trajectory, with roles as CMO at Netflix, Endeavor, Uber, and positions at Apple Music and PepsiCo, showcases her as a formidable leader in the marketing industry. A strong advocate for women of colour, Saint John’s leadership and impact in every role she undertakes make her a role model for aspiring marketers. Her journey is a powerful reminder of the impact one can have by advocating for diversity and leading with authenticity.

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Diversity in The Future of Marketing

The legacy of these pioneers extends beyond their accomplishments; they have laid the groundwork for future generations. As we celebrate Black History Month, we must also commit to being active allies. This means collaborating to create a more equitable industry, supporting initiatives that promote diversity and inclusivity, and continually learning from and uplifting the voices of Black professionals.

Although this blog pays tribute to a few remarkable individuals who have shaped the marketing landscape, it’s important to remember that they represent just a fraction of the many people of colour who contribute daily to this dynamic industry. Beyond this, it’s paramount to keep in mind that there is still a long road towards equality, and by amplifying Black voices and stories we can move more swiftly towards an equitable future. As we celebrate Black History Month, let’s also acknowledge and uplift all the inspiring Black innovators who continue to make a difference every day.

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