Lewis Williams’ impact and influence on advertising goes well beyond his decades of award-winning work. In addition to his leadership, he has mentored and helped shape some of the most influential voices in our industry today.
Recognized as one of Adweek’s 2018 Creative 100, Lewis spent the majority of his career between two iconic agencies; first as SVP, Creative Director at Leo Burnett, and then as EVP, Chief Creative Officer at Burrell Communications. He has also served on jury panels at The One Show, Cannes Lions, and The Clio Awards, just to name a few. Two months into starting his new role at Weber Shandwick as Head of Brand Impact, we were honored to catch up with him as part of our Invisible Shoulders series.
If you’ve ever had the opportunity to meet Lewis or hear him speak, you’ll know the presence and wisdom he brings to a conversation. It’s no different looking throughout his portfolio. From household brand names to small nonprofits, Lewis has always found a way to turn simple, human truths into powerful ideas that provoke us to think, act, and oftentimes do both.
For him, it’s about looking beyond the brief.
As creatives, we tend to get excited about the big briefs and the contagious energy surrounding them. It’s always seen as an opportunity. But Lewis reminded us that oftentimes it’s the overlooked, unexpected, and often unassigned briefs that can present the biggest opportunities. He looks to the passion it’s pursued with, “If you care enough about something, chances are someone else is going to care about it, too. And when it comes from a place of wanting to make a difference, sooner or later that idea is going to find a home.”
That’s exactly what happened with his Black is Human campaign at Burrell Communications. In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s killing in 2014, a young copywriter came to Lewis with an idea bigger than any brief.
“To inspire change, we knew we needed to move beyond assigning blame to creating stories that provoked empathy – and outrage – among both Black and non-Black viewers.” So, Lewis and his team took a small camera crew to a local elementary school in Chicago, interviewing young Black boys about their own aspirations for the future. “Our goal was to show those caught in the crossfire, not as victims but as lovable kids with hopes and dreams; to help America see them as someone’s son, not just a statistic.”
In one of the spots, a young boy opens up about his fear of getting shot while coming home from school. Soon after the spot aired, this fear became a reality. He survived the shooting, while placing national attention on the campaign.
Williams recalled the moment he got a call from ABC News wanting to air the spot, “Now you’ve got a national spotlight, and we’re talking about how Black boys are judged harsher. How Black boys are more at risk with gun violence. And now it becomes a much larger conversation about the treatment of young Black men.” Lewis’ team had the perspective to see the problem in a way that much of America couldn't, helping to unravel a truth that millions needed to hear.
In talking about the importance of perspective and what diverse minds can do for advertising, he pointed out “Being a Black creative is interesting, but then again, being Black is interesting. What you go through as a Black creative doesn’t just happen when you walk inside an ad agency, it happens when you walk through life, each and every day no matter what you do.” He continued, “Think about it, we’re all different no matter who we are. We quickly shift to the matters of race, gender, identity, and more – which is important – but at the same time, we’re all unique individuals in our own right.”
I think we can all agree that diversity fuels creativity, and our conversation with Lewis was a reminder to continue pushing the boundaries of our comfort zone. As he said, “It’s ok to have a difference of opinion or come from different places. Diversity opens you up to a different way of thinking, allowing us to see things from both sides. That’s how we grow.”