simplistic genius, which often gets confused with nothing more than luck,” maintains Ken Smikle, president of Target Market News, a Chicago-based market research publication. “But Carol’s ability to consistently carve out nuggets of communicative genius really puts her in a place that very few other folks have been in this industry.”
Williams cut her teeth in advertising at some of the industry’s biggest agencies. A product of Chicago’s South Side, she intended to study medicine at Northwestern University. But as a 19-year-old junior, she found her true passion was writing plays for campus theater. The budding talent was discovered by Bill Sharp, a copy supervisor at J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, who noticed how one of her scripts engaged an audience. “They laughed where they were supposed to laugh,” reflects Williams. “It was the first time I discovered the alchemist in me.” Sharp invited her to participate in an advertising class sponsored by the American Association of Advertising Agencies — a move that propelled a dynamic career, taking Williams to the executive suites of the world’s leading agencies and, ultimately, to her own thriving enterprise.
Williams’ advantage is a strong general-market background. “She learned the fundamental principles of good advertising from folks who really set the bar in the industry,” Smikle explains. Couple that with the sensibilities of a young African American woman from Chicago, and “she literally c
reated a new perspective in advertising that hadn’t been seen before.”
Williams offers broad fundamentals for her success: passion, communication, clarity, and courage — intellectual components of the creative process. “Somehow the world has separated creativity from intelligence. I find that incredibly astounding,” she explains. “There’s absolutely no way you can be creative without having tremendous intelligence, [and] communication is the absolute epitome of intellectual prowess.”
Her business principles and distinctive taste continually set Williams apart from other marketers. Unlike many other black shops, she has refused to partner with mammoth general-market agencies. And Williams does not hesitate to terminate a relationship with a client she believes compromises the standards on which she built her firm. For example, she opted out of a contract with Bank of America for just that reason. “[It] was not a comfortable situation,” she says. “A huge client, but I have a philosophy that compatibility, and being able to advance who you are as a person is essential in my life. I don’t do what I do just for the money. I don’t have to.” According to Target Market News, a Bank of America spokesperson said, “We’re glad to have been associated with them and wish them continued success.”
COOKING UP CAMPAIGNS
At CHW, customer service is paramount. For example, the agency has created “road shows” in which clients lay out their business wish list and the firm, in turn, uses that exchange to identify strategies to drive revenues or capture market share. Another area is what the agency calls “business intelligence,” providing clients with commercial opportunities derived from market data on a particular segment. Clients also request customer relationship management competency applications that