Obit­u­ary: Bar­bara Proc­tor, ad­ver­tis­ing gi­ant hailed in State of the Union speech

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY MAU­REEN O’DON­NELL,

Har­vard Busi­ness School called Bar­bara Proc­tor “the first woman in the United States to open an agency spe­cial­iz­ing in ad­ver­tis­ing to the black com­mu­nity.”

By 1976 — six years after she launched it — Proc­tor and Gard­ner was dubbed the big­gest black-owned agency in the na­tion.

In the mid-1980s, its billings topped $13 mil­lion. And Ms. Proc­tor was one of 72 women fea­tured in “Su­per­sis­ters,” a set of trad­ing cards nick­named the “fem­i­nist an­swer to base­ball cards.”

In 1984, Pres­i­dent Rea­gan cited her achieve­ments in a State of the Union ad­dress. That same year, “60 Min­utes” fea­tured her in a story that de­scribed “Bar­bara Proc­tor, in her chauf­feured car, rid­ing along Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive — a long way, in ev­ery way, from the shack where she was brought up by her grand­mother.” Her client list in­cluded Al­berto-Cul­ver, Amer­i­can Fam­ily In­sur­ance, Jewel, Kraft and Sears.

On top of all that, she’s been cred­ited with help­ing to in­tro­duce Bea­tles records to Amer­ica through a deal she sealed while work­ing for Vee-Jay records.

Ms. Proc­tor died Dec. 19 at the Fair­mont Care fa­cil­ity. She was 86 and had re­cently suf­fered a frac­tured hip and had de­men­tia, ac­cord­ing to her son, Mor­gan.

“She was a player,” said Tom Bur­rell, founder of Bur­rell Com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Adept at build­ing re­la­tion­ships, “She made a mark. She helped open up the cat­e­gory of black­owned ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies fo­cused on the black con­sumer mar­ket.”

In the mid-1990s, after eco­nomic down­turns and grow­ing com­pe­ti­tion, her agency filed for bank­ruptcy.

Ms. Proc­tor, who at times resided in a South Shore pent­house and on Michi­gan Av­enue, was liv­ing in af­ford­able se­nior hous­ing when she died, her son said. She still en­joyed a lovely view of Lake Michi­gan, he said: “That was her fa­vorite thing to do, to be at that win­dow and watch that traf­fic com­ing up Lake Shore Drive.”

Peo­ple stopped her, he said, “right up to the end to say what an in­spi­ra­tion she was.”

She kept her clients lo­cal to be in close prox­im­ity to her son as he was grow­ing up. “Ev­ery day of his life, I ei­ther said good morn­ing or good­night” to him, she said in an in­ter­view with C-SPAN.

Ms. Proc­tor, who de­scribed be­ing raised by her grand­mother in a ru­ral “shot­gun shanty” with­out run­ning wa­ter or elec­tric­ity, re­tained an as­tute, prag­matic view of a busi­ness world in which she of­ten was a first and an only — as a woman, an African-Amer­i­can, or both. She named her agency Proc­tor and Gard­ner to give prospec­tive clients the im­pres­sion there was an un­seen male part­ner, ac­cord­ing to her son and the book, “Pi­o­neer­ing African-Amer­i­can Women in the Ad­ver­tis­ing Busi­ness.”

In­dus­try veter­ans re­call Ms. Proc­tor’s eth­i­cal stance on prod­ucts or view­points she viewed as de­mean­ing and ex­ploita­tive. Around 1970, while work­ing at an­other agency, she re­fused to work on a com­mer­cial that in­tended to sell hair prod­ucts by mim­ick­ing a civil-rights demon­stra­tion.

She once re­counted the story for C-SPAN. “It was dur­ing the days of the black rev­o­lu­tion, and they wanted me to do a ‘foam-in’ demon­stra­tion in the streets, with women run­ning down the streets wav­ing hair­spray cans, which I said I would never do that. I got fired,” she said. She started her busi­ness with an $80,000 Small Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion loan.

Ms. Proc­tor grew up in Black Moun­tain, North Carolina. Ac­cord­ing to a book about self-made women, “Mil­lion­airess,” her grand­mother, Co­ralee Bax­ter, had a ready re­tort about young Bar­bara when peo­ple com­pli­mented her on her looks.

“Not cute,” her grand­mother said. “But right smart.”

Later in life, her son said, “Ev­ery­thing she did that was right, she would at­tribute to her grand­mother.”

She went to Tal­ladega Col­lege in Alabama and landed a sum­mer camp coun­sel­ing job in Kala­ma­zoo, Michi­gan. When her Grey­hound bus stopped in Chicago en route back home to North Carolina, “She wan­dered to Mar­shall Field’s and ended up buy­ing too much stuff. She spent all her money for her ticket to get back to North Carolina,” her son said.

Ms. Proc­tor found a job at the Ur­ban League and worked as a critic for Down­Beat mag­a­zine. At Vee-Jay Records, she wrote liner notes and worked in dis­tri­bu­tion, cir­cu­lat­ing artists in­clud­ing the Four Sea­sons. And, as she put it, “In De­cem­ber of 1962, I brought the Bea­tles to Amer­ica.”

“I . . . made a trade with EMI Records in Lon­don to trade the Four Sea­sons records for the Bea­tles, who at the time were un­known,” she told C-SPAN. “It’s a won­der­ful coup, ex­cept . . . I only signed them to 30 sides, and said well, you know, we don’t want to take any chances on this un­known. And so we had the first 30 sides of the Bea­tles records in Amer­ica on the Vee-Jay la­bel.”

Be­fore found­ing her agency, Ms. Proc­tor worked at North ad­ver­tis­ing, Post-KeyesGard­ner and Leo Bur­nett. “She was a word­smith,” said for­mer col­league Emma Young.

“In the space of 50 to 80 words,” Ms. Proc­tor once said, “you have to move mil­lions of dol­lars worth of prod­uct and you have to per­suade mil­lions of peo­ple not only to lis­ten to you but go into their pocket and buy some­thing which they may or may not need.”

In 1974, Bar­bara Proc­tor was named Chicago Ad­ver­tis­ing Woman of the Year by the Women’s Ad­ver­tis­ing Club.


Bar­bara Proc­tor with Oprah Win­frey (right) and Ms. Proc­tor’s son, Mor­gan (left).

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