Williams, Terrie M. 1954–

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Terrie M. Williams 1954

Public relations executive

At a Glance

Selected writings


Terrie Williams is co-founder, president, and CEO of one of the most successful public relations firms in the country. With no formal training, Williams opened the Terrie Williams Agency, which she has built into one of the largest minority-owned public relations firm in the country. In addition, Williams has also authored a bestseller, The Personal Touch: What You Really Need to Succeed In Todays Fast-Paced Business World, written with Joe Cooney in 1994. Former New York City mayor David Dinkins said of Williams, as quoted on the dust jacket of Personal Touch: Perhaps it is Terriess formal training as a social worker and her ability to understand people and to respond to their needs that has helped lead to her enormous success.

Williams was born on May 12, 1954, in Mt. Vernon, New York. Her parents taught her the lessons she would need to succeed in life. Her father, Charles, was forced to leave school and help his mother support his four siblings. Charles continued to study with the help of the military service, books, and encyclopedia. Williams recalled that when the trucking company her father worked for shut its doors, he located a partner and put together his own trucking company. Her father taught Williams that, if there was something she really wanted or needed, that she should do whatever she could and find a way to achieve her goals. Williamss mother, Marie, was one of nine children and the only one to complete high school. For several years, Williamss family went to the St. Agatha Home; a refuge for disadvantaged and orphaned children in Nanuet, New York where they would bring back a little girl for the weekend. This taught Williams the value of helping the misfortunate at a young age.

Upon graduation from high school, Williams entered Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts where she earned her bachelors degree in psychology and sociology. But it was not easy to be a black woman attending a prestigious Jewish school like Brandeis. Williams wrote in Personal Touch, I had to prove myselfto others and, most important, to me. She then went on to earn her masters of science degree in social work from Columbia University. She moved to New York on her 25th birthday, from Mount Vernon.

After graduating from Columbia University, Williams went to work at New York Hospital, where she cared for the physically challenged and terminally ill. Within two years, she realized that the job was simply too demanding. As she explained in Personal Touch, The frustration of not actually being able to alter peoples condition was incredibly depressing. She even admitted to being burned out.

Upon learning that the legendary jazz musician Miles Davis was a patient on another floor, Williams decided to take a chance and introduce herself. I didnt know exactly what or why, but even then I felt inside that meeting Miles would have some kind of impact on my life, Williams wrote in Personal Touch After talking with Davis on several occasions, her desire for a career change grew stronger.

Williams read about a public relations course at YWCA, and decided to enroll. She then took another public relations course at the Publicity Club of New York. That

At a Glance

Born Terrie Williams on May 12, 1954, Mt. Vernon, NY; daughter of Charles and Maria; children: adopted son, Rocky. Education: Brandeis University, B.A., (cum laude) 1975; Columbia University, M.A. 1977.

Career: New York Hospital, medical social worker, 1977-80; Black Filmmaker Foundation, program administrator, 1980-81; Black Owned Communication Alliance, executive director, 1981-82; World Institute of Black Communications Inc. executive director, 1982; Essence Communications, vice president, and director of corporate communications, 1982-87; Terrie Williams Agency, president and CEO, 1988-.

Memberships Brandeis University Alumni Association; National Corporate Advisory Board.

Awards: Dparke Gibson Award, Public Relations Society of America, 1981; Brick Award, New York Urban League, 1987; Women in Communications, Matrix Award in Public Relations, 1991; The PRSA New York Chapters Phillip Dorf Mentoring Award; Marietta Tree Award for public service, Citizens Committee for New York; Vernon C. Schranz Distinguished Lectureship, Ball State University. 1996.

Address Office The Terrie Williams Agency, 1500 Broadway, New York, New York, 10036.

followed with volunteer work at radio station, WWRL. She then joined the Black Filmmaker Foundation as the program administrator, where she made publicity an integral part of her agenda, creating a film publicity division. She began to attend the sort of functions through which she could meet future contacts. Williams knew that by volunteering to do public relations work for non-profit organizations, as well as for her jazz musician friends, she could strengthen her portfolio.

Prior to opening her own business, Williams worked in a series of public relations jobs. At the Black-Owned Communications Alliance, she served as executive director. She also worked director of the World Institute of Black Communications. Then she landed a position as head of the personal relations department at Essence Communication, Inc. Shortly thereafter, she was promoted to director of corporate communications and the youngest vice president in the history of the company.

Her work at Essence, along with her friendship with Miles Davis brought Williams into contact with countless celebrities. It was at Daviss sixtieth birthday party that she met actor Eddie Murphy. Williams spent the next two years reaching out to people and building her contacts.

When Williams heard that Eddie Murphy was looking for a publicist, she decided to take a chance, and sent him a package outlining her experience and plans. Murphy was impressed, and decided to hire her. For Eddie to have that kind of confidence in me made a tremendous statement. So I took it as a sign from God that I was supposed to launch my own business, Williams wrote in Personal Touch. At the time Williams opened her public relations agency she had no money and most importantly, no experience at running a business. The two things she did have were determination and her first client.

Williams continued to donate her time and resources educating the young. She has engaged in charitable, as well as civic organizations. Some of which, included Big Brothers-Big Sisters of America and Ryse Reaching Youth through Saturday Education. One of Williamss charitable endeavors that she was most fond of is assisting with the young men from New York Citys Kaplan House. In 2002 she was co-founder of The Stay Strong Foundation, a non-profit organization that guides young people. This endeavor went hand-in-hand with her book, Stay Strong: Simple Life Lessons for Teens. When asked by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal why this was important topic for her to write about, Williams replied, This book is their lifeline. Something they can hold onto. Williams was recognized for her work with young people and was featured in Savoy magazine in the community activism section along with activists, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton. The book has been used in schools and at conferences and seminars.

Williams made her contact list one of her priorities long before she had ever opened the Terri Williams Agency. Today, the diversified list includes some of the most prominent names in the music industry, such as Anita Baker, Janet Jackson, Miles Davis, Lionel Richie, Boyz II Men, Bobby Brown, and Sean Combs. In the corporate arena, Williams has attracted Time Warner, the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of New York, Bell Atlantic, AT&T, HBO, Revlon, Consolidated Edison, Motown Ltd., and Laurel Entertainment. In sports, her clients include the National Basketball Association, Isaiah Thomas, the National Basketball Players Association, and the National Football League. Still other clients include, the New York Grammy Committee, author Stephen King, and lawyer Johnnie Cochran.

Williams has spoken at colleges and universities, as well as for business groups. In fact, many Fortune 500 companies have elicited her expertise. She was invited to Syracuse University as the keynote speaker for the Diversity Business Summit 2002. In celebration of her tenth anniversary since opening the doors of the Terrie Williams Agency, she donated business and personal papers to Howard Universitys Moonland-Spingarn Research Center. The center houses work about and by people of African descent.

As a businesswoman, Williams understood the importance of diversification. Over the years, her agency has branched out to include all areas of public relations and marketing. The agency offers executive coaching, media relations, and communications advice. Personal Touch has been utilized throughout the country as a teaching tool at workshops, lectures, and throughout the corporate world. Williams has written yet another self-help inspirational book, A Plentiful Harvest: Creating Balance and Harmony Using Seven Living Virtues, that will be published by Warner Books. Williams has been invited by People magazine and America Online to play a role in The Digital Heroes Campaign, which will further her quest to help young people.

In 1996 Williams was the first person of color honored with the Vernon C. Schranz Distinguished Lectureship from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. This award is one of the most prestigious awards in the area of public relations and was reproduced in prominent public relations journals and used globally in the classroom. She has received numerous other honors. In Personal Touch Williams offered some advise to those who would follow in her footsteps: Always remember that whatever you do you must honestly look into yourself and know that you will give all it takes to reach your objectives. You dont get anything in life without taking a chance.

Selected writings

(with Joe Cooney) The Personal Touch: What You Really Need to Succeed In Todays Fast-Paced Business World, Warner Books, Inc., 1994.

Stay Strong: Simple Life Lessons for Teens, Scholastic, Inc., 2001.



Williams, Terrie, and Joe Cooney, The Personal Touch: What You Really Need to Succeed In Todays Fast-Paced Business World, Warner Books, Inc., 1994.


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 12, 2002, p.2.

New York Post, February 14, 2002, p.23.

The Record (Bergen County), July 8, 2001, p.Fl.








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