Advertising mogul promotes empathy and creativity

Sol Chase

Prominent advertising executive Carol Williams told students to focus just as much on developing empathy and creativity as concrete skills like writing and coding.

“Empathy fuels connections,” Williams said. “It’s the ability to understand another perspective so well that you are feeling with people, not just feeling for them.”

Williams addressed about 200 students at the Belo Center for New Media on Monday. Williams is the founder and CEO of Carol H. Williams Advertising and, in 2017, became the first African-American woman with a creative agency background to be inducted into the national Advertising Hall of Fame. Her agency has created ads for numerous Fortune 500 companies and strives to represent women and African-Americans accurately.

“There are a lot of women in my position who’ll tell you that was the hardest thing they ever did,” Williams said of her experience working in a white male-dominated industry. “It was always a challenge, but it was a lot of fun. If you enjoy being different and always being looked at that way, then you will have a great, great time striving and going up that ladder.”

Williams stressed the importance of creativity in the digital world.

“A lot of times I hear, ‘Oh, well I’m not creative,’” Williams said. “Not in today’s marketplace. To exist in this world today, you’ve got to have that.”

Williams’ lecture was hosted by the Communication and Leadership degree program that began in the fall of 2016. Minette Drumwright, associate director of the degree, said the program’s goal is to empower students not only to lead businesses and nonprofits, but also to affect positive social change in society.

“There’s a great shortage of effective ethical leaders in all parts of society,” Drumwright said. “(Williams) really fits our mold of somebody who’s been an outstanding leader in society, not just in industry.”

Advertising sophomore Danielle Penet said ethical issues lie at the heart of advertising and she’s glad they are being addressed.

“You want to be successful, but you don’t want to step on any toes,” Penet said. “I think a lot of people don’t realize when they’re stepping over boundaries.”

Williams is a visiting professor of advertising this week. She will visit several classes and, on Thursday and Friday, will present at Stan Richards School of Advertising & Public Relations’ conference “Diversifying the Industry: The Job’s Not Done.”