Jones, Caroline R. 1942–
Caroline R. Jones 1942–
She’s been called a pioneer, a success story, and a role model—pretty lofty praise for an advertising professional. But Caroline Robinson Jones is not your typical ad person. Jones began her career as a secretary at an ad agency and worked her way, through sheer intent, to the top of her profession. Along the way she helped diversify the industry, placing blacks and other minorities in campaigns and developing marketing strategies geared towards minority consumers. In the book The Success of Caroline Jones Advertising, Inc. she said, “I understand what goes into achieving something. I understand the ups and downs of life. I do what I have to do to get the job done.” She always has. This commitment has not only made her a success, but has also made her an excellent role model—one that we can all learn from.
Caroline Robinson was born in the small town of Benton Harbor, Michigan on February 15, 1942. The first of ten children born to Ernest and Mattie Robinson, Jones seemed destined for business success even as a young girl. Extremely inquisitive, she devoured books and spent summer hours in the local library. When not feeding her mind, she was filling her pockets. “I always worked,” she recalled in Success. “In the summer I picked berries for money. I also sold magazine subscriptions, greeting cards, pot holders, and cosmetics. I was always out selling something,” she added.
Following high school graduation, Jones decided to become a doctor. Considering that no one in her family had attended college, and that many universities were not yet admitting women to pre-med programs, this was a very ambitious goal. However, true to her go-getter nature, Jones was not daunted. In 1959, just seventeen and having never left home before, Jones arrived on the campus of University of Michigan as a pre-med student. Though she enjoyed most of her science classes and did very well, by her sophomore year she had switched her major to English. Of this abrupt change, Jones recalled an early anatomy class in Success, “I fainted at the sight of a dead cat on the examination table.” Still, not one to let any opportunities go to waste, she continued with the science classes she enjoyed and ended up earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1963 with a double major in English and science.
Just before graduation Jones met a representative from famed advertising agency J. Walter Thompson at a recruitment event and was invited to come to New York City for an interview. In typical Jones fashion she was determined to make the most of the trip. “I gave myself one week to get a job,” she said in Success. Before the week was up, Jones landed in the secretarial pool at Thompson. Despite her education and intellectual drive this was her only chance at the company. “I wasn’t qualified to be a secretary, but Thompson only let women enter the firm as secretaries at the time,” she recalled in Success.
Bored and under-stimulated, Jones volunteered for projects and willingly took on additional work. Through
At a Glance…
Born Caroline Robinson on February 15, 1942 in Benton Harbor; oldest of ten children born to Ernest and Mattie Robinson; divorced with one son, Anthony. Education: Earned a BA from the University of Michigan in 1963 with a double major in English and Science.
Career: J. Walter Thompson, New York City, secretary, senior copywriter, 1963-68; Zebra Associates, vice president and co-creative director, 1968-70; Kenyon and Eckhardt Advertising, senior copywriter, 1970-72; Black Creative Group, creative director, 1972-75; Batten, Barton, Durstine, Osborn (BBDO) Advertising, vice president, 1975-77; Mingo-Jones Advertising, partner, executive vice president, and creative director, 1977-87; Caroline Jones Advertising, Inc., president, 1987-; in The Black, TV show, host.
Awards: Has received dozens of awards in advertising and business including a Clio, a Galaxy Award for Public Relations, a Cannes Film Festival Award, and an Obie Award; she was named one of the 100 Outstanding Creative People in America in 1976; featured as a “Living Legends in Black” in a publication by Ford Motor Group; Advertising Women of the Year, 1990; Ellis Island Medal of Honor, 1997; currently a sought-after public speaker at universities, professional groups, and symposiums.
Addresses: Home —New York; Office —Caroline Jones, Inc., 641 Lexington Avenue, Floor 32, New York, NY, 10022-4503, (212) 754-9191, fax (212) 754-9105.
this she soon realized that she wanted to be in the creative department where the company’s products—advertisements and campaigns—are conceived, take root, and eventually end up on the side of buses and in glossy magazines. Her first break came when, barely a month after her hiring, Jones was promoted to secretary for one of the firm’s biggest creative directors.
Despite being in her own words, “a horrible typist,” her new boss was impressed with her organizational skills and commitment to the business. Jones spent her free time learning about the company and advertising in general and consistently asked her boss for a chance to prove herself as a copywriter. He eventually gave in and, just months after plopping, over-educated and ambitious, into the secretarial pool, Jones found herself swimming with the big fish in the creative department. Her promotion was not only a major leap for herself, but also an important step for blacks within the company, and in advertising as a whole. “I was the first black to work as a copywriter for the company…. There were three other black women at the company, but they were secretaries. No black men were trained as copywriters in the early sixties,” she said in Success.
Becoming a copywriter was a great triumph for Jones, but it would also prove to be a great struggle. The other copywriters, all white, offered her no assistance in her new job. In fact, no one, black or white, peer or supervisor, stepped up to help Jones. “I had to teach myself everything,” she recalled in Success. Others may have crumbled under the pressure, but Jones, with the insatiable appetite for knowledge she demonstrated back in Benton Harbor, steamrolled through the obstacles to become one of the most important creative minds in the firm. She spent lunchtime poring over advertising journals and books. Evenings, she dissected popular ad campaigns, breaking them down to their components—word count, color, design—until she understood the formula for a winning ad. She learned the ad business inside and out and quickly rose from the ranks to become a full-fledged writer.
With her skills proven, Jones found herself in a position to promote change in the racially biased world of advertising. It was the seventies and the slogan “Black is Beautiful” was raging across America, however, the people who populated billboard, television, and magazine ads were all white. When a black face did appear it was often demeaning—“Aunt Jemima” or “Uncle Ben.” Despite her protests, Thompson did not incorporate blacks in their ad campaigns. So, five years after joining the firm, Jones quit to work as a vice president for the ground-breaking black-owned, black-focused ad agency, Zebra Associates. For two and a half years, she worked non-stop to make Zebra successful and break down the color barriers in advertising, but the strain eventually became too much. She recalled in Success, “The same people who told us to go into business, were the ones who did their best to hurt us.” Now married and the mother of a young son, Anthony, Jones decided to leave Zebra and took a position as senior copywriter for an already established firm.
As Jones’ experience in advertising grew, so did her goals of achieving diversity in advertising. She realized that it was not just a matter of putting black faces in ads, but also of reaching out to the black consumers that were generally ignored by most ad campaigns. In 1972, to pursue this goal, Jones joined on as creative director of the Black Creative Group. By the time she left in 1975 she had become a pioneer in the field of black consumer marketing and her advice and ideas were widely sought after. In 1977 Jones would become a pioneer in yet another way, this time as the first black female vice president of a major firm, the internationally acclaimed, BBDO (Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborne).
Despite the dizzying success of her fast climb to the highest echelons of the advertising world, Jones was not satisfied. She still was not in a position to really change the continued racial inequality she saw in the industry. In 1977, along with another prominent black advertising executive, Jones formed Mingo-Jones Advertising. The firm found incredible financial success and made major inroads towards integration of blacks in advertising. When many advertisements only featured highly successful blacks as if to say that only a black doctor or executive could sell products, Mingo-Jones reached out to regular people. Of the firm, she told Advertising Age, “We try to balance what blacks see….not to show blacks [only] as doctors and lawyers, but it’s all right to show blacks living in houses … aspirations are what advertising can be about.” After ten years with Mingo-Jones, her own aspirations took off and Jones set out on her own and formed Caroline Jones Advertising, Inc.
Caroline Jones Advertising, founded in 1986, and later re-named Caroline Jones, Inc., is a full-service agency providing advertising, public relations, marketing, and promotions. Jones’ years spent working her way up the advertising ladder and pioneering black marketing techniques came together to help her business grow exponentially. The skills she had honed in her years as a copywriter helped, too. As the creator of such memorable phrases as, “Because You’re Worth It” for L’Oreal and “We Do Chicken Right” for Kentucky Fried Chicken, Jones had a solid reputation as a hands-on creative force. “… I love to write advertising,” she told Essence, “You can be working on rum one day, cars and trucks the next, and hosiery the next,” she continued. Under her guidance, the firm landed contracts with Prudential, Anheuser-Busch, the U.S. Postal Service, and Westinghouse Electric.
The success of her agency afforded Jones the ability to stretch her influence further than the created world of advertisement. Upon forming her agency, Jones told Back Stage, “This is somewhat of a breakthrough—I am in a position that will enable me to better effect my goals.” Not only could Jones use the powerful breadth of her agency to further diversify advertising, but she was in a position to help people in a myriad of ways. She became a sought after lecturer at universities and business symposiums. She was wanted not only for her insight into advertising and marketing to black audiences, but because of her struggles as a black women in a traditionally white, male industry. Others sought her out as a role model—the secretary who pulled herself up to the pinnacle of her profession. For many years in New York she hosted a business television show, In the Black. On a global scale, she has provided business strategies to emerging African governments. To each of these roles Jones brings the incredible commitment, enthusiasm, and intelligence that has propelled her from small town girl to New York secretary, from advertising executive to renowned business leader. She told Essence, “I don’t do anything without knowing where I want to land. I trust my instincts and listen to my own wisdom.” It’s a simple philosophy that works for Caroline Jones, and those she has and continues to inspire.
Fleming, Robert, The Success of Caroline Jones Advertising, Inc., 1996, Walker Publishing Company, Inc., pgs. 1-23, 47, 53.
Advertising Age, December 18, 1985, pp. 18-20.
Back Stage, February 18, 1987, pp. 1-2.
Essence, January 1990, pp. 34-35.
"Jones, Caroline R. 1942–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 24, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/jones-caroline-r-1942
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