For centuries, Black Americans have shaped and influenced our culture. They’ve graciously walked into hostile rooms and, if they weren’t granted entry, created their own. No matter where you look, the extensive contributions that Black men and women have made can be seen all around us. Despite the fact that the marketing industry is 66% White and only 5% Black, this industry is no different. Here is a look at a few of the most influential leaders in marketing and the lessons we can learn from them.
Madam CJ Walker
Exclusion Punishes Everyone
There is not a Black woman on this planet that isn’t eternally grateful for Madam CJ Walker. In the height of the Jim Crow, the post-civil war era in which a series of heavily racially discriminatory laws aimed to dehumanize and disenfranchise newly ‘freed’ African Americans, Walker persisted and proved herself to be not only an influential entrepreneur but a master marketer.
What started as a remedy to cure her own hair loss turned into a million-dollar corporation and ignited a movement. From containing the map to freedom to serving as a medium of self-expression, Black hair is and will always be important to Black culture. And back then, Madam CJ Walker deeply understood this.
Determined to market a product that aimed to accentuate Black beauty, not erase it, Walker sold her homemade hair care directly to the excluded community of Black women, using a personal approach that won her loyal consumers. This strategy, which was ahead of its time, teaches us today that appealing to communities with authenticity always pays off in the long run.
John H. Johnson
Tell Your Story
As marketers, we all understand the power of storytelling. But perhaps, no one understood that more than John H. Johnson. Johnson’s use of providing a space where marginalized communities can find refuge made him the most influential African American publisher in American history.
During the 1950s oppressive reign of white supremacy, valuable Black representation was extremely scarce. As a result, Johnson set out to create Ebony and Jet, the United States’ first monthly and weekly magazines geared towards the Black community. Both publications feature content such as celebrity news, fashion, politics, and other aspects important to Black culture.
While Ebony and Jet, for the most part, maintain a positive tone today, back then, Johnson made it a point to respond to critical social issues. In fact, his most notable issue of Jet was in 1955 when he published a picture of young Emmett Till’s body after it had arrived in Chicago from Mississippi. The brave decision of Till’s mother to have an open casket allowed media outlets like Johnson to produce “probably one of the greatest media products in the last 40 or 50 years,” as said by former Congressman Charles Diggs.
The brutal photo of Till’s body after his unjust murder was a punch in the gut for the entire nation, one that Johnson didn’t flinch from. His commitment to giving a voice to the Black community without holding back from social issues is something we all can learn from today.
Shoot For The Stars, Then Conquer The Galaxy
If you look up the definition of the word boss, right next to the picture of Beyoncé, you’ll find a photo of Robin Beaman. With an array of accolades from now to the next millennia, surprisingly, that is not the most impressive thing about Beaman. Her willingness to aim high without fear and achieve the goals she set out to proves that with tenacity and determination, you can do anything.
After becoming the director of public relations at The Capital Children’s Museum in Washington, D.C., Beaman accepted a role with a then-start-up Black Entertainment Television (BET). With her hard work and keen expertise in communicating directly to audiences lacking authentic representation in film and television, she was able to help transform BET into the incredible powerhouse that it is today. And as if that wasn’t enough, Beaman then set her sights on working with the incomparable Oprah Winfrey. Which she did for many years as their manager for national and international publicity and organizer of community engagement and special events for “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
Now, still fueled by a ferocious ambition, Beaman is the CEO and Founder of her own strategic communications firm, Beaman Inc., which is home to big-name clients like Revlon, HBO, United Airlines, and The White House. To this day, Robin Beaman inspires us never to stop aiming high.
Bozoma Saint John
Think Often, and Think Boldly
We cannot talk about leaders in marketing without mentioning the remarkable Bozoma Saint John. With over 20 years of experience across multiple industries, including fashion, sports, and entertainment, Bozoma has proven herself to be one of the most effective marketers of any generation.
As a champion of innovation and creativity, Bozoma has had huge success with major brands such as Netflix, Pepsi, Apple, and Uber. Before her time at Netflix, she served as the Chief Brand Officer at Uber and at Apple; as the Head of Global Consumer Marketing, she built and launched Apple Music, as well as spearheaded campaigns geared toward growing consumer brand recognition, loyalty, and equity across the globe.
Today, she has rightfully earned her place as a member of the Billboard Hall of Fame, the American Advertising Federation Hall of Achievement, and the American Marketing Association Hall of Fame. Bozoma Saint John is a testimony that sings the positive effects unlimited creativity brings.
Kim L. Hunter
If There Are No Seats At The Table, Build Your Own Table
Owner of the multimillion-dollar marketing communications agency, Lagrant Communications, Kim L. Hunter, is a true legend in the marketing industry. With over 30 years of experience with companies such as American Airlines, Walmart, Starbucks, and plenty more, Hunter has shown that hard work pays off. But perhaps his most honorable attribute is his commitment to others.
When Hunter noticed a lack of diversity in his industry, as there is in most, he forged a campaign to solve this issue. As a result, he founded his own marketing communications agency that prides itself on belong inclusive and specializes in the Hispanic, African American, and LGBTQIA+ consumer markets.
The CEO takes his commitment to others outside of his firm. Hunter frequently speaks to the youth and the next generation of marketers, challenging them to create their own lane if there is no space for them in the current one.
Progress Is a Continual Effort
In 2023, we’d like to think that we are well on our way to social progress – and in some ways, we are. However, there is still much that needs to be done in our march toward equality in all fields. And it all begins with accepting our history, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable, and being willing to make room for different voices. At AAMP Agency, we value inclusiveness and look to the pioneers, both past and present, who have altered the marketing, advertising, and media industries with fearlessness and courage.