Black Americans who propelled the advertising industry forward

Sunday night, John Legend and Common accepted an Academy Award for their song “Glory”. Their win and musical performance made us all reflect on the past, contemplate the present, and hope for the future equality of blacks and all minorities in America.

Mass communication industries, such as advertising, public relations, graphic design, television, media, etc., have not been exempt from discriminatory actions. In fact, most brands ignored black consumers and excluded black professionals until the end of the 20th century. It wasn’t until the early 1950’s that the first black man was hired to work at a Madison Avenue ad agency.

To honor their journey of hardship and turmoil and to celebrate their accomplishments and plight to open the mass communication field up to black consumers and future professionals, we want to highlight five African Americans who propelled the advertising industry forward and paved the way for future generations of black and minority advertising professionals.

Clarence Holte (1909-1993)

From Norfolk Virgina, Holte began his advertising career at Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn (BBDO) as an ethnic marketing specialist. His work included a liaison to black newspapers and radio. He was the first black advertising professional on Madison Avenue and was also one of the first to rise to an executive level position in a general-market ad agency.  He is known for his work with Old Taylor Bourbon in their “Ingenious Americans” campaign, which highlighted the cultural and technological contributions by blacks. He left BBDO after 20 years to start Nubian Press, a publishing company that closed a year before his death.

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He was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from Lincoln University and to honor his achievements in publishing the Clarence L. Holte Literary Prize (an award that recognizes work dealing with cultural heritage of black Americans). BBDO sponsors AAAA’s Clarence LeRoy Holte Multicultural Advertising Intern Program award. He is also known for his extensive collection of books that cover the history and culture of Africans and people of African descent in the America’s and Europe.

[Holte pictured on left]

Holte Book

Thomas J. Burrell (1939 – Present)

Chicagoan Thomas Burrell was the first African American to work at a Chicago ad agency. He climbed his way up from mailroom clerk to copywriter and eventually served as a copy supervisor at Foote Cone & Belding and creative supervisor for Needham Harper & Steers before starting his own company in 1971. He is founder and chairman of Burrell Communications group, one of the first and leading African-American owned agencies. The agency would eventually claim clients such as Proctor & Gamble, Nabisco, Verizon, and Maxwell House Coffee.

Of his contributions to the industry, the most propelling one was the theory of  “positive realism”— targeted ad campaigns that reflect relevant, authentic portrayals of African Americans using client products. This work helped change the industry’s approach to marketing, shifting it from mass marketing to target marketing. In 2010, he published a book called Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth Black Inferiority. The book explores the centuries of marketing and media distortions that placed African Americans as an inferior race and then connects it to the attitudes blacks have about themselves today as individuals and a group.

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His accomplishments have prompted recognition from groups such as Advertising Age, who named him on lists such as the “50 Who Made a Difference” and one of the “Top 100 Advertising People” in the industry. He has also received the Albert Lasker “Advertising Person of the Year”(85-86), and been given the Missouri Honor Medal from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. He was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame in 2004.

John H. Johnson (1918 – 2005)

With his driven pursuance in both communication and community, John H. Johnson has proven that the accreditations of his merit prove well deserved.

In 1942, Johnson founded Johnson Publishing with a mere $500 loan and created the publication Negro Digest. Reaching circulation of 50,000 in only 6 months the project was deemed a success and Johnson started looking for ways to continue his growth. For his next project, Johnson created Ebony, a magazine designed to bring hope and positive images to African Americans, as well as, discuss and deal with the political and social issues facing blacks in America. It was through these publications that Johnson advanced our field; providing proof to brands that African Americans were a distinct and viable market and that messages could reach blacks through publications that served their cultural interests. Ebony has since gone on to become Johnson’s flagship publication and is the nation’s number one African-American focused magazine with a monthly readership of 10 million.


Throughout the development of his career, Johnson also bought three radio stations, established a cosmetics line, and commenced a book publishing company and a television production company.

In addition to Johnson Publishing acting as the number one African-American publishing company in the world, Johnson is the recipient of numerous awards. In 1966, he won the NAACPS’ coveted Spingarn Medal; In 1972,  he was also named as publisher of the year by the major magazine publishers in the United States; In 1982, he  became the first African American to be named one of the 400 richest people in America by Forbes magazine; and in 1996, President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the nation. For the culmination of his efforts in advertising, Johnson became inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame in 2002.

Billy Davis (1932 – 2004)

When it comes to music, Detroit native, Billy Davis was a man of many talents, wearing the hat as performer, composer, arranger, producer, and impresario. Beginning his career in the 1950s, Davis formed the Four Tops, one of the most popular groups of rock-n-roll’s Golden Era. After acting as in-house producer and creative guiding hand at Chess Records in Chicago, Davis was recruited by the McCann Erickson advertising agency where he joined their New York music division in 1968.

davis3As one of the first top executives with a background in pop music, Davis is credited with popularizing “song-form” advertising. His work remains some of the most popular advertisements in existence. His notable work includes songs for Coca-Cola such as “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”, “It’s the Real Thing”, and “Have a Coke and a Smile”. Other associated works also include “Miller Time” for Miller Brewing, “Soup Is Good Food” for Campbell’s, and “The Sound of Sony” for Sony.

Staying with McCann Erickson for 19 years, Davis eventually worked his way up to Senior Vice President of the company where over the years, his song form campaigns won every award the industry offered. In 2007, Davis became inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame.

Frank L. Mingo (1939-1989) 

Renowned for his contributions in marketing segmentation via his involvement in national politics, media and race relations Frank Mingo has made strides in both the field of advertising and the African-American community.

Before founding his own company, Mingo began his advertising career at J. Walter Thompson Co. where he became the agency’s first African-American account executive. Here Mingo handled clients such as Quaker Oats, Oscar Meyer, and Sears Roebuck & Co. He then served as vice president and management supervisor at McCann-Erickson where he acted as the driving force behind the introduction and launch of one of America’s most popular brands, Lite Beer from Miller Brewing. After his mounting successes at other agencies, Mingo founded his own company, Mingo-Jones Advertising Inc. Starting with a staff of just four in 1977, Mingo grew the firm to one of the nation’s largest black owned and minority oriented advertising agencies before it’s closure in 2004. Mingo also helped found Muse Cordero Chen Inc., the nation’s only multi-ethnic ad agency targeting consumers of African-American, Asian and Hispanic descent.

[KFC creative created by Mingo-Jones to target black americans. It was eventually adopted for the national campaign.]

In the community, Mingo contributed to the the National Urban League, the NAACP, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, and Western States Advertising Agency, where his involvement in each helped develop programs to attract and sustain more minorities in the advertising business. Among his other achievements, Mingo has won industry awards such as the H. K. McCann Award and the Robert E. Healy Award, and in 1996, became inducted to the Advertising Hall of Fame.

While these men parted the sea and left waves of influence, the advertising industry still has many strides to make. In 2000 the US Census found out of half a million workers in advertising only 6% were African-American. A more recent study (2009, Madison Avenue Project) by the NAACP found that black college graduates in the industry earned only 80% as much as equally-qualified white college grads. Today’s Bureau of Labor Statistics cites that of those who claim to be in advertising, public relations, and related services only 6.6% of them are black. Doing the math, that means in fourteen years the percentage of blacks in advertising has increased by a sixth of a point.

These statistics show a blatant need for the industry to exert more effort in diversifying its professionals. We all need to educate ourselves about this issue so we can work to change the industry standards and its obviously unwelcoming image. To get a full understanding of this issue and the walls these five professionals faced, we recommend reading Madison Avenue and the Color Line by Jason Chambers. This book is the first to focus on black advertising professionals, rather than the portrayal of black in advertisements.

– Caroline Robinson & Savannah Valade

Nonprofit Social Media: Starting From Scratch

Here at Communication Minded, we love our guest bloggers. But we particularly have some special love for February’s contributor, our friend, Rachel Gracy. Rachel graduated from UNCW with a B.A. in Communication Studies with a concentration in Video Production and Advertising. She is currently serving with Global Education Ministries in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. Rachel is in charge of all video production and social media for GEM as well as a kindergarten classroom! In the fall of 2015, she plans to move back to Wilmington where she will be seeking a position in the field of communication!

Nonprofit Social Media: Starting From Scratch

I would like to start by saying that there is nothing normal about my job. I work at a tiny, private school in a small town in Mexico. For half of the day, I am a kindergarten teacher, and the other half, I am in charge of video production and social media management for Global Education Ministries (GEM), the nonprofit organization that our school is ran through. I could possibly have the strangest job combination of all time. And I love it.



Our school and our nonprofit organization have only existed for a few short years. Before I arrived on the scene in August, there was not much in place in terms of social media management or strategy. It is a very small team, and they did their best to stay updated on Facebook and MailChimp, but that was about all they could handle.

Not only was this my first job out of college, but I was also the first professional they hired to grow their online presence. I was up for the challenge, and I want to share with you a few steps I took in order to start my nonprofit’s social media from scratch.

Choose which platforms you want to use.

GEM was already on Facebook and Instagram. I already knew that these would be our primary platforms, but I also wanted to utilize Twitter. I was able to research other similar organizations and see how they used Twitter, which was very helpful!

Remember your audience.

This point was ingrained into my brain in college, and I still remind myself this on a daily basis. Our school is in Mexico, but our social media is aimed towards our donors and sponsors in the United States. Many of our school families interact with our social media, which inclines me to create content aimed towards them, but that is not the goal. Remembering your audience is crucial in achieving your social media goals.

Goals, goals, goals!

Speaking of goals, you should outline a few simple ones to keep your posts driven. When I began, our goals included increasing our Facebook likes, email subscriptions, and creating a foundation on Instagram and Twitter. These goals gave me direction when creating content and a way to measure the success of my work. As time goes on, your goals can become more specific and adapt to your nonprofit’s current needs.

Constantly collect content.

As I mentioned before, social media/video is only half of my job. I am also in charge of a classroom of kindergarteners— and they happen to keep me very busy. When you are posting 5-6 times a week, it is challenging to remain creative without having a large supply of photos and videos to choose from. I try to have my camera on me as often as possible, because you can never have too many photos. I also try to get a variety of shots so our audience does not get bored with similar posts each week.

Also, not ALL of your content has to be directly from your organization. You can continually collect interesting blog posts, articles, videos, etc. that simply relate to your organization’s mission. It is a great way to save yourself some time every so often and still get your audience fired up!

Stay engaged.

Whether you’re speaking to existing or potential donors, after reading your posts, they should feel more connected with your organization and what your organization is accomplishing. Responding to comments or shout outs can increase the chance of an individual reading future posts and taking further action with your nonprofit!

Social media (and IMC in general) is often overlooked as a wise use of resources for a nonprofit, but it is crucial. A study by Waggener Edstrom found that “Fifty-five percent of those who engage with nonprofits via social media have been inspired to take further action”. With some time and a lot of effort, social media can take your nonprofit to a whole new level of success!

Rachel Gracy

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To contact Rachel about her experiences, or to reach her about her ministry, you can connect with her on her Vimeo or LinkedIn accounts.


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Celebrating Art vs Capitalizing On The Artists

From Madonna to Taylor Swift to Paul McCartney, ACDC, Jessie J and many more, an A list compilation of celebrity attendees and performers can mean only one thing – the Grammys. Thousands tuned in this past Sunday for the 57th Annual Grammy Awards to see who was with who, who wore what, and most importantly, who won what. Despite the amazing performances by Beyonce, Ed Sheeran, and John Mayer, what seems to be lingering in the after thoughts of the awards ceremony isn’t about what was sung by the artists, but about what was said about the event – commentary provided by none other than Kanye West.


Even though he didn’t win any awards this year, Kanye has still managed to steal the spotlight; beginning with his seemingly joking attempt to jump on stage when rock artist Beck won album of the year. While viewers at home all thought he was mocking his infamous interruption of Taylor Swift during her award acceptance at the VMA’s in 2009, he revealed in an interview with E! that he really did think Beyoncé deserved the award. (If you haven’t seen the whole interview click here)

Although the news headlines focus on his diss of Beck, what Kanye ends up ranting about is the commercialization of the music and entertainment industries. Kanye says,

“…what happens is, when you keep on diminishing art and not respecting the craft and smacking people in their face after they deliver monumental feats of music you’re disrespectful to inspiration. And we as musicians have to inspire people who go to work everyday, and they listen to that Beyoncé album and they feel like it takes them to another place. Then they do this whole promotional event that you know they’ll run the music over somebody’s speech, the artists, because they want a commercial advertising. No, we not playing with them no more”.

By no means are we siding with Kanye’s etiquette, but we can’t ignore that he does have a point. This year we noticed that the music prompted to cut off the artists acceptance speeches, came on unreasonably fast – making it impossible for them to properly thank anyone or say anything. Not to mention, where were the awards?

A majority of them are handed out at the pre-telecast Grammy ceremony. This year it was renamed “The Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony” and was streamed live online. During this ceremony, which lasted from 12:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m., 74 out of the 83 awards were handed out meaning only 9 major award categories were presented live.

Ben Naddaff-Hafrey, an editor of Mic Music, commented on his experience at the “Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony”, “The people who came are the people who live for music. They labor over projects that must seem quietly personal until they’re gilded in gold…The Grammys are a big concert; they aren’t an award show. Nobody shows up to the pre-televised event…the Grammys are ultimately more about the audience than the artist”. Some of you may not currently share this opinion, but look at the list of familiar artists, now grammy winners, who were skipped over in the telecasted event to make room for the 23 live performances.

  • Eminem: Best Rap/Sung collaboration with Rihanna on “Monster” and  Best Rap Album for The Marshall Mathers LP2
  • “Frozen”: Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media and “Let It Go” Best Song For A Movie
  • Pharrell Willims: “Girl” Best Urban Contemporary Album, “Happy” Best Video
  • Carrie Underwood: Best Country Solo Performance for “Something in the Water.”
  • The Band Perry: Best Country Duo with “Gentle on My Mind”
  • John Williams: Best Instrumental Composition for “The Book Thief.”
  • “20 Feet From Stardom,”: Best Musical Film (If you haven’t seen this, it is a MUST watch documentary on backup singers. It is available on Netflix.)
  • “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”: Best Musical Album
  • Alexandre Desplat: Best Soundtrack for “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

The Premiere Ceremony’s live performance lineup, which included more obscure acts such as Chilean hip-hop artist Ana Tjoux, and, for you “Wagon Wheel” fans, a fiddle folk performance by Old Crow Medicine Show, seemed truer to the Grammy mission of honoring musical achievement rather than popularity.

Kanye even states a call to action, claiming, “We have to step up the taste level across the board on all networks.”

While Kanye referring to “taste” does raise some eyebrows, he still possesses a valid argument. By definition, the Grammys are the only peer-presented award to honor artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry, without regard to album sales or chart position. Yet a powerful underlying question is raised of whether or not artistic excellence is truly being  appropriately recognized. And Kanye isn’t the only one criticizing the awards, others have also challenged how much commercialization has contributed, not just to the viewing of the Grammys, but the distribution of the awards as well.

One can’t help but notice that a majority of Grammy winners typically tend to be mainstream artists. In her article regarding this year’s Grammys, Kelsey McKinney, claims that despite attempting to eliminate monetary success as a considering factor, “album sales or chart position” seems to decide winners far more than actual artistic quality, “Those climbing the stairs to hold those golden gramophones are more likely to be Top 40 superstars than the best musicians and artists working. Some of the best musicians ever — Bob Marley, Diana Ross, and Jimi Hendrix — never won an award, even with the 83 (yes, 83) competitive categories the Grammys hand out awards in.”

The big flaw, she continues, is the nomination and voting process. The Grammy voting committee is so large, that many voting members are not familiar with every category.  After becoming a Recording Academy Voting Member, which in reviewing the requirements, does not mean you are an expert or necessarily well versed in the industry, members are asked to vote for winners in up to 20 genre categories and four major categories. However, this means that some genres are less voted on than others, and that many people vote winners in genres that they don’t have deep knowledge of. As a result, big names and Top 40 artists are more likely to get both nominated and awarded because of their name and reputation recognition with clueless voting members.

“The Grammys don’t represent real music; their voting system is broken; the system is not as racially sensitive as it should be. All this is true. But all this also assumes that the Grammys are sincerely meant to reward musical achievement, and the fact is they don’t,” says Ben Naddaff-Hafrey.

The budding question we have to ask ourselves as marketers is, when does an event or organization become too commercialized? This is what we believe Kanye poorly alluded to in his post interview rant when he made his fellow interviewees and hosts take the E! branded mic covers off their microphones.

The Recording Academy is conducting their event to meet the demands of the networks that want television content that will bring viewers – more performances, less speeches, more focus on “popular” awards. For cultivating this large viewership, the networks can then in turn, raise the prices of advertising space. To many this is where the problem presents itself, that the Grammy’s are no longer upholding their mission and purpose to “positively impact the lives of musicians, industry members and our society at large.” Instead, “… the Grammys are nothing more than some gigantic promotional machine for the music industry,”– Maynard James Keenan, lead singer of metal band Tool.


So, has your opinion changed? Do you think the Grammy’s are not honoring their purpose and mission? Did you like this year’s Grammy Awards Show? Let us know is a comment below!

– Caroline Valade & Savannah Valade

Super Bowls ads that intercepted viewer interaction

Super Bowl Sunday… a big day for players, for viewers, and of course advertisers. For the rest of the week you can be guaranteed to hear these two things, “Can you believe that call?!” and “Did you see that commercial?!”. Every year millions tune in to give their critiques of the coaches and the commercials, and Super Bowl XLIX was no different. Sunday’s game between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks became the most watched event in American TV history as NBC’s broadcast raked in 114.4 million viewers per minute. With that many viewers glued to the screen, advertisers know this is the time to make a spot that leaves an impression.

As fans of football, Caroline and I were part of the millions that tuned in on Sunday, but being the communication minded people we are, we couldn’t help but keep up more with the commercials than the first downs. We noticed some advertisers did things that others could take note of – interactivity.

Super Bowl Sunday is of course known as a day to freely indulge in beer and seven layer dip all while crowding around a big screened TV. And while the television is the primary focus of the evening, advertisers must not forget that its not the only screen viewers are looking at; phones are likely to be in which ever hand the beer is not, and there’s a pretty good probability a computer is also around – especially for all of those who streamed the game instead.

For years now we have known that television has fallen to the Internet’s dominance, yet on game day its seems that advertisers forgot this tidbit of common knowledge. With recent macro trends emphasizing cross channel marketing, we were surprised by the lack of such coherence in the Super Bowl spots. However, there were some brands that didn’t miss the ball, and did a fairly decent job with their different interactivity approaches.


Releasing their “Lovin Pays” campaign, McDonald’s feel good Super Bowl ad let consumers know that for the next two weeks, random customers could be chosen to pay for their meals by calling mom to tell her you love her, dancing, or even just giving a fist bump. But during the game, the company was also showing some serious loving on their Twitter page with “Lovin the Super Bowl”. Following along with the game, McDonald’s told followers to retweet for a chance to win prizes that correlated with each of the aired Super Bowl commercials. And let us say – there were some pretty awesome prizes. The company was easily raking up to 14 thousand retweets with each post.

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McDonalds 2


While catching laughs with “Farve and Carve” the website building company also caught some big notoriety with us by proving to be best at interactivity with its “Ten Bucks Game”. Promoting the game on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #ItsThatEasy, every time the word “easy” was said during the Super Bowl broadcast, “from kick-off to the last second and everything in between – commercials, halftime show, interviews and more” viewers could go to for the chance to win $10 if they could click the flashing green “wix” within 10 seconds.



T-Mobile was the only Super Bowl advertiser that used NBC’s offer to show a different commercial to viewers live streaming the game instead of watching the broadcast. A chance to show at least two different Super Bowl spots? It’s a wonder why more advertisers didn’t jump at the chance especially considering gameday viewership numbers – a big missed opportunity. Plugging for their data roll over feature, television viewers saw Kim Kardashian and selfies, while online viewers got Rob Riggle and a vulture. In addition to simply gaining interest by choosing to air a different spot, the online ad (which in my opinion was also the funnier of the two) prompted interactivity by encouraging users to tweet under the hashtag #DataStash or go to T-Mobile’s Facebook page or website.

We’re not the only ones who noticed a lack in opportunity this year. Marketing Land reported that Super Bowl ads that carried hashtags slipped to 50% from last year’s 57%. Furthermore, out of the 56 advertisers, only one, “Pitch Perfect 2”, prompted outreach via Snapchat. With an exploding consumer base, the recent introduction of their “Discover” feature, and the growth of brands who join and use the platform, it’s a surprise more marketers didn’t take the chance to promote their involvement with the app. And speaking of other platform involvement, last year Instagram received only one nod, and this year, none. With Super Bowl continuously setting marks in viewership records, it remains a question as to why advertisers are not taking full advantage of the potential that Super Bowl spots present for both viewership, promotion, and involvement.

– Savannah Valade