Black Ad Agency Guru Valerie Graves Pens Memoir on Life from Teen Mother to Advertising Legend

Black Ad Agency Guru Valerie Graves Pens Memoir on Life from Teen Mother to Advertising Legend

Press Release ( - NEW YORK - Feb 23, 2017 - Ad agency guru Valerie Graves knows that “pressure makes diamonds.”  In her dynamic memoir “Pressure Makes Diamonds: Becoming the Woman that I Pretended to Be,” she explores her journey of evolving from young Black teen mother in the projects of Motown-era Pontiac, Michigan to glass ceiling smashing ad executive in the suites of Madison Avenue.

Published by Brooklyn’s Akashic Books, an independent company dedicated to publishing urban literary fiction and political nonfiction, “Pressure Makes Diamonds” takes readers from the “Mad Men” era of the 1960’s to the “Golden Era of Black Advertising” in the 1990’s.

During the late 1960s, Graves used grit to balance being a teen mother with college classes. When an ad agency CEO made a speech at a NAACP event, Graves followed up and earned an interview.  Her talent in writing soon had her breaking barriers in major advertising agencies as one of the first black copywriters at BBDO, Kenyon & Eckhardt, and JWT. ” Of course, the biggest obstacle was getting in, and although my entree had to do with being Black, most people of any race had to be intrepid or lucky to get that first advertising job,” she recalled. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t say that there were many obstacles in those early years; as a relatively junior person and usually the only Black, I wasn’t a threat to the “Mad Men.””

In “Pressure Makes Diamonds,” Graves’ personal odyssey takes her through the shifting terrain of 1960s and ’70s America on her quest to “be somebody.” The marches, riots, and demonstrations of the era are her backdrop and rock ‘n’ roll the soundtrack. By the ’80s and 90s, Graves makes her ascent to the East Coast heights of the white male–dominated advertising world. She became branded as the award-winning chief creative officer at UniWorld Group, one of America’s oldest multicultural advertising agencies. Reginald Hudlin, of the famed Hudlin Brothers,  who created the Eddie Murphy Black ad agency comedy classic “Boomerang,” did an internship with Graves.

In 1992, Bill Clinton selects Graves to serve on the national ad team for his presidential campaign.

In the late 90s, Motown’s Andre Harrell also taps her to be senior vice president of creative for the legendary label. When she returns to the advertising world, Graves brings her music industry  expertise, starring rapper Ludacris in a Pepsi spot that was unjustly harassed by FOX News.  She later proves FOX wrong by starring Ludacris in a successful Pontiac Solstice commercial.

Under her creative helm, in 2000, Black Enterprise named UniWorld Group the nation’s #1 African American ad agency. The posh firm was situated on three floors in downtown Soho with $250 million in annual capitalized billings. She later became creative chief at multicultural agency Vigilante/Leo Burnett.

Advertising Age magazine named Graves one of the “100 Best and Brightest” in the entire industry, and she was nationally recognized as the creative director of such Fortune 500 accounts as Ford, General Motors, AT&T, Burger King, General Foods, and Pepsi.

To Graves, there is a creative formula in making memorable commercials and ads directed at Black consumers. “There are certain themes and cues that tend to resonate more consistently with Black consumers. We never tire of seeing attentive, involved fathers, for example, because it goes against the prevailing perception,” explained Graves. “Depictions of success and personal style, appropriate use of celebrities, music and humor are elements that are common in advertising but especially effective in communicating with Black consumers,” she stated. .   “A commercial that my team created for Buick Enclave, featuring the African American lead interior designer of that vehicle, shattered the research records for changing brand perception among Black consumers.”

Some of her most high profile commercials spotlight celebrities. Like Wyclef Jean in Rio” for Pepsi, Busts Rhymes for Mountain Dew, Steve Harvey for Burger King and Marlon Wayans for AT&T.

“Authenticity is key. It’s important to get beyond superficial elements like slang, or a way of dressing, and know the underlying values of a culture.”  In 2007, recognizing Graves’s stellar career and public service via the Advertising Council and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, industry coalition ADCOLOR granted her the title of “Legend.”

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Source : Akashic Books

CATEGORIES : Advertising


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