Advertising is the single most important way of reaching everyone in America and I feel a deep responsibility for my work.
When Barbara Gardner Proctor launched her advertising agency (Proctor & Gardner, the first one of national and international scope to be owned by an African American woman and the second largest black owned advertising agency in the country), she was initially denied a small business loan because of a lack of collateral. Undaunted, Proctor obtained three advertising agencies’ statements of what they would pay her as an employee and convinved the lender to give her an $80,000 loan using herself as collateral. She also purposefully named the business both Proctor and Gardner so that potential clients would assume that “Gardner” was a male partner behind the scenes.
Barbara Gardner Proctor was born in 1933 in Black Mountain, North Carolina to a single mother in abject poverty. She was raised by her grandmother and uncle with neither electricity nor running water. Despite this, in 1970, whe would become the first African American woman to establish an international advertising agency.
Her academic talent offered her the opportunity to study at Talladega College in Alabama, where she would earn two B.A. degrees – in English and Psychology and Social Science – in 1954. She attended law school after that. Her career began in music. In 1959 she worked as a jazz music critic and contributing editor to Downbeat magazine. She wrote copy for jazz record covers for Vee-Jay Records International in Chicago from 1961 to 1964.
After her divorce, she focused on the advertising industry. She worked for Post-Keys-Gardner Advertising, Gene Taylor Associates and North Advertising Agency all in Chicago. She had worked her way up to copy supervisor at North Advertising, but decided to found her own company in 1970 when she was fired for refusing to work on an ad campaign to which she objected. The ad, which she found demeaning to women and African Americans, parodied the Civil Rights Movment and featured protesting women running down the street and demanding that hairdressers foam their hair.
Barbara Gardner Proctor is often noted for her determination to honor her values as often as she is for her determination to succeed. She refused to produce work that degraded women, blacks or that she found morally objectionable. Proctor & Gardner did not work for cigarette or liquor companies.