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Silhouettes of Black individuals

Thanking Black Changemakers in Advertising, Past and Present

In recent years, workplaces of all kinds have faced a reckoning. As people across industries call out their experiences of bias and microaggressions at work, and racial diversity reports demonstrate continuing systemic injustice, employers have renewed their commitments to create diverse, equitable, and inclusive organizations. 

In the advertising industry, Black professionals have faced countless barriers due to racism. Despite this, Black individuals have made paradigm-shifting contributions to advertising throughout its history. Below, we look at five exceptional advertisers who have disrupted the marketing space in amazing ways:  

Roy F. Eaton  

“Your life is a drama in which you are the star and director, but not the writer.”Roy F. Eaton

After earning an M.A. in musicology from Yale, Roy Eaton began his career in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He worked as a concert pianist, performer, and lecturer before being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1953, where he wrote and produced radio programs. After leaving the military, Eaton was hired at Young and Rubicon as a copywriter and composer. He is now believed to be the one of the first Black professionals to work in advertising.

Eaton made a huge impact on advertising from his post at Young and Rubicon, writing iconic jingles for brands like Chef Boyardee and Texaco. Eventually, he struck out on his own and created Roy Eaton Music Inc., which handled music production for various advertising agencies. There, Eaton went on to collaborate with Michael Jackson and produce even more iconic advertisements for companies like Coca-Cola and the Ad Council. Eaton was inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Fame in 2010. 

Vincent T. Cullers  

“To me, it’s not important that we were the first, second or third black agency, but that we managed to survive, that we were able to provide a training ground for Blacks entering the industry and that we were able to continue to prosper.” —Vincent T. Cullers 

When Vincent T. Cullers returned to the United States after serving as a Marine in World War II, he applied for an art director position at an advertising agency. He spoke on the phone to a hiring manager who told him to come in and start work, but when he arrived, he was told there was no position for him. This experience inspired Cullers to start his own agency in 1956—Vince Cullers Advertising, the first Black-owned advertising agency in the U.S. 

Cullers’ agency provided a training ground for Black advertising professionals who faced many racist barriers to entry and success at other agencies. Additionally, marketers have Cullers to thank for the concept of targeted multicultural advertising, having pioneered the practice of serving ads designed to speak specifically to differentiated audiences. Cullers was inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Fame in 2007. 

Carol H. Williams  

“For me, there is no such thing as ‘never,’ no such thing as ‘good enough.’ You run on or get run over.”—Carol H. Williams 

Carol H. Williams started her advertising career in 1969, at a time when Black women professionals faced extraordinary prejudice that significantly limited their opportunities in the field. Williams rose in the ranks at Leo Burnett and, in less than 10 years, became the agency’s first female and first Black Creative Director and Vice President. 

Like Cullers and Eaton, Williams eventually founded her own Black-owned agency. Started at her own kitchen table, Carol H. Williams Advertising is now the longest-running independent multicultural marketing shop in the U.S., serving brands like Disney, General Motors, and Kraft.  

Williams has been called the “most decorated woman in marketing,” and her awards include the AAF’s David Bell Award for Industry Service, Chicago Advertising Federation’s Advertising Person of the Year, and the National Association of Women Business Owners’ Women Entrepreneur of the Year. Williams was inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Fame in 2017.  

Gary Coichy  

“When we launched Pod Digital Media, the intention was to democratize podcasting for multicultural voices including access to advertising and sponsorship opportunities.”—Gary Coichy 

Haitian-born Gary Coichy worked with agencies and brands like WPP Mediacom, Omnicom Resolution Media, BMW, and Dell for 16 years before striking out on his own. In his years in the advertising space and throughout the rise of audio, Coichy recognized a gap in the podcast market when it came to sourcing content from non-white, LGBTQ, and women creators.

Coichy’s creation, Pod Digital Media, is the world’s first multicultural podcast network, and allows advertisers to tap into a diverse podcast audience while custom-aligning creators from underrepresented groups with blue chip brands. When COVID struck, Pod Digital Media got even more innovative, meeting podcaster’s needs by creating an in-app virtual recording studio. Coichy was included in Ad Age’s 40 under 40 list in 2019. 

Natalie Gullatt 

“We know what it means to be overlooked and different, but we also know how to see the world from other views.”—Natalie Gullatt

Natalie Gullatt may be earlier in her career than some of the other leaders on this list, but she’s accomplished a striking amount in her eight years as a marketing professional. Currently employed as a Customer Marketing Manager at HubSpot, Gullatt worked as a paralegal and planned to go into law before pivoting into marketing with the help of an MBA from Case Western Reserve University. 

In 2017, Gullatt founded the Black Marketers Association of America, a group that works to “empower, elevate and educate Black marketers financially, mentally and emotionally through their marketing careers.” Her work to support and connect Black marketers while strengthening and diversifying the marketing industry earned her a B2B Innovator Award in 2021. 

The individuals on this list represent the thousands of Black individuals who have shaped the marketing industry with their talent and innovation. This Black History Month, we at Basis Technologies are grateful to these innovators and to all the Black marketing and advertising professionals who continually enrich, transform, and lead this industry into a better future.