Black-owned agencies asphyxiated by media buyers, advertisers

By Howard Robertson – CEO and president, Trust Marketing

When it came to watching "Mad Men," the TV drama about the ruthless, win-at-any-cost ad agency world in the 1960s, I was one and done.

I watched one episode, and it was enough for me. My friends love it, and some are shocked because they know I dearly love the marketing and advertising industry in which I have been blessed to spend most of my 45-plus-year career.

They thought since I could readily relate, it would be one of my faves and “must see TV” for me.

I can relate — and for that reason I can’t stand the show.

When I watched the show’s lead character (Don, I think), I didn’t see cool, creative, and confident. I saw exclusion, racism, and privilege. Black people were disregarded, discriminated against, and disrespected as people and as consumers. Sadly, vestiges of that same character exist in too many agencies now, 60 years later.

There is more diversity in advertising and marketing agencies today. There are many more women in positions of responsibility and power now. The unequivocally smartest people in most agencies back in the day were women relegated to careers as assistants or maybe topping out as media buyers.

Now there are more people of Asian descent, more Latinos and Hispanics, and more people who identify as LGBTQ. But, not more African-Americans and even fewer Black men.

There are privileged positions and places in agencies, including creative departments and C-suites, that are white, exclusive, and reminiscent of the “good ol’ days” of "Mad Men." In the creative spaces it seems better to employ white people capable of appropriating Black vernacular, style, and originality in ads. But of course, the dearth of Black people “has nothing to do with race.” By all means, they’d love to hire more African-Americans … if they could find some or if they were qualified or if there’s a good fit.

That reminds me of the time after the Voting Rights Act and Blacks showed up at a great many Southern polling places. White election officials would say, “Sure, y’all can vote IF you can pay the $50 poll tax, or IF you can pass this little test, or IF you can tell us exactly how many jelly beans in that jar over yonder.”

The media ecosystem, while nourishing and nurturing those who happen to look like agency decision makers, is toxic and asphyxiating to Black-owned media. Like those Southern voters, Black radio stations, for example, show up at agencies ready to do business, only to encounter a barrage of barriers; — with agencies doing what NFL teams pay big offensive tackles to do: block.

Black-owned media groups are blocked if they are not rated (because they can’t afford to subscribe). They’re blocked because, typically, media buyers don’t buy as many urban-format stations as non-urban formats. They’re vigorously blocked when their cost per points (cpp) or cost per thousands (cpm) are higher than agency target costs that apparently are etched in stone pillars, sent by God and must never be broken. This systemic exclusion is punishing and pervasive, but protocol.

It’s asphyxiating Black-owned media because advertising dollars constitute their oxygen, and when major brands and advertisers spending billions of ad dollars every year with everyone else but not one buck with Blacks. … We can’t breathe. Sound familiar?

"Mad Men" is short for Madison (Avenue) men. Today, many mad men are talking the talk against racism and discrimination, but precious few are walking the walk.

One who is walking the walk is neither a "Mad Man" nor in New York. He is the chief marketing officer of the biggest advertiser on earth, Procter & Gamble’s Marc Pritchard. So far, he is the drum major for advertising justice, but his band and brand, though substantial, are alone. More band and brands are invited and needed.

In the meantime, I’m starting with the mad man in the mirror. I’m asking him to be patient. After all, it’s only been 400 years.

Howard Robertson is the CEO and president of Trust Marketing, a Black-owned marketing and advertising agency located in Memphis.


USA TODAY: Women of the Century on Tennessee list

Beverly Robertson Businesswoman, philanthropist

(1951- )

Beverly Robertson.

No matter where Memphis native Beverly Robertson's career took her, she always managed to rise to the top of her peers.

Starting as a part-time reservations agent at Holiday Inn Worldwide, Robertson moved up the corporate ladder and ended her 19-year career with the global hotel company as its director of communications.

She left the corporate world behind for nonprofits and became president of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

There, she led a philanthropic effort to raise $43 million that funded a massive renovation and turned the museum, built alongside the hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, into an internationally known destination.

Between career ventures, she was also an entrepreneur who started a marketing firm with her husband, Howard Robertson.

It was that varied career that led her to being named the first Black chief executive of the Greater Memphis Chamber in 2018. In that position, Robertson led the chamber's first-ever effort to focus on community education in hopes of including Memphis' poor and middle-class residents in the future financial growth of the city often reserved for the wealthiest business leaders.


Trust Marketing and Spotlight Productions Win Big at the Telly Awards

Trust Marketing and Spotlight Productions Win Big at the Telly Awards TV and video work is recognized among the best in America. 

MEMPHIS, TN (5/28/2020) – Trust Marketing and Spotlight Productions have worked together creating and producing outstanding video productions for over 20 years.  The two Memphis-based companies won multiple awards in the 41st Annual 2020 Telly Awards competition that honors excellence in video and television as well as recognizing the best across all screens, as judged by leaders from video platforms, television, streaming networks and production companies. 

Their winning entries were conceived and written by Emmy-nominated copywriter Howard Robertson, president and CEO of Trust Marketing & Communications. Three-time Emmy Award winner Fabian Matthew, CEO of Spotlight Productions, directed, recorded and produced the commercials.  

The Memphis FED Up anti-gun campaign was selected as a Gold Telly Award winner in the “General-Local TV” category for public service/PSA and the Silver Telly Award in the “General-Online Commercials” category for public Interest/awareness. The City of Memphis Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) video for the Uptown community was selected as a Bronze Telly Award winner in the “Craft-Non Broadcast” category for use of archival footage.  A :30 Christ Community Health Services commercial was awarded a Bronze Telly Award in the “General-Local TV” category for fitness, health and wellness. 

The FED-Up campaign was done in collaboration with The City of Memphis, Shelby County Sheriff Office, Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, Shelby Country District Attorney and the United States Attorney Office for the Western District of Tennessee. “The local Safe Community Plan to reduce crime calls for effectively communicating the consequences of gun crime to the street level. As reflected by these awards, through the talents of Trust Marketing, we are achieving that,” states Bill Gibbons, President of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission. 

“We at Trust Marketing continue to be blessed to create marketing that matters for nearly 30 years,” said Howard Robertson Trust Marketing founder.  “It’s gratifying to receive these Telly Awards and we especially thank Christ Community Health System, the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Memphis and of course the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission for the opportunity and their trust in Trust Marketing.”


About the Telly Awards

The Telly Awards is the premier award honoring video and television across all screens. Established in 1979, The Telly Awards receives over 12,000 entries from all 50 states and 5 continents. Entrants are judged by The Telly Awards Judging Council—an industry body of over 200 leading experts including advertising agencies, production companies, and major television networks, reflective of the multiscreen industry The Telly Awards celebrates. Partners of The Telly Awards include Catalyst, LAPPG, NAB, Stash, Storyhunter, NYWIFT, Production Hub, IFP, Social Media Week and VidCon. For full list of winners please visit

For more information, please contact Jasmine Phillips by email at or by phone at (901) 521-1300. 



Powerhouse Beverly Robertson: Elevating Memphis at Every Turn

With a background as an educator, corporate executive, entrepreneur and nonprofit director, Beverly Robertson has delved into every facet of Memphis’ workforce. She rose from a part-time reservations agent at Holiday Inn to become the company’s Director of Internal and External Communications. When the hotel chain moved its headquarters to Atlanta, Beverly and husband Howard realized the time was right to transfer their knowledge to their own company, TRUST Marketing & Communications. Not long after, she was asked to take on leadership of the National Civil Rights Museum, where she spent 18 years and made a dramatic positive impact on the institution. This rich and distinct range of experiences made Beverly uniquely qualified to take on her newest role as interim CEO of the Greater Memphis Chamber, the advocacy and leadership organization for the Memphis business community. Meet this week’s accomplished FACE of Memphis, Beverly Robertson!

Meet the former President of the National Civil Rights Museum and the current Interim CEO of the Greater Memphis Chamber, Beverly Robertson!

Meet the former President of the National Civil Rights Museum and the current Interim CEO of the Greater Memphis Chamber, Beverly Robertson!

Where were you born and what was your upbringing like?

I was born in Memphis, TN. It was a wonderful upbringing, very much anchored spiritually in the church. We went to the church right down the street, so it was hard for us not to go. We couldn’t make up excuses about that. I was really in the Orange Mound community, the Beltline sector, so I was very close to the Coliseum and the stadium and the fairgrounds. I had all of those things to look forward to. I was the first graduating class at Hanley Elementary, which was newly built at the time, and then I went on to Melrose High School.

What were your first expectations of your career path?

I went to the University of Memphis, where I actually majored in special education. I taught school for three years, then left there to work for Holiday Inn Worldwide. I’d gotten accepted at Columbia University in New York to pursue a vocational rehab degree, and New York went bankrupt the year I was going to go, so I ended up coming back to Memphis. I started a pretty significant rise there in corporate America at Holiday Inn.

What drew you to the marketing industry?

When I was in corporate and I moved out of reservations, I moved into a management training program where I had the opportunity to work in marketing research and development, national advertising, national promotions and eventually worked in strategic planning on the sub and separate brands you now know of as Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza and Homewood Suites. Marketing was fascinating, and it was steeped in research, which I always find very interesting.

Beverly Robertson

Says Beverly of her Memphis childhood, “It was a wonderful upbringing, very much anchored spiritually in the church. We went to the church right down the street, so it was hard for us not to go.”

What motivated you and your husband to create your own path in the industry?

We were on a business trip in Florida. We were walking on the beach, and we had this conversation. We’re lending all this expertise — of course, for which we get paid — but if we can do it for corporate America, certainly we can do it for ourselves. We got the bug to become entrepreneurs at that very moment, and decided that because I had a lot of experience in a whole lot of areas, having worked in corporate America for about 19 years, and he had a lot of experience in the media and broadcast industry, because he worked for radio and television, that’s a really great combination for a business.

What were your primary goals when you took on leadership at the National Civil Rights Museum?

When I stepped in to that job, the museum was really more of a local museum. It just didn’t seem appropriate to fit the moniker — the National Civil Rights Museum. For me, one of my goals was to elevate the standing of the institution to where it belonged.

I decided it was important to bring Nelson Mandela to Memphis, and that was a road that I had no idea I was going to go down or that it was going to be quite that difficult. But we achieved that goal.

It took me a while to convince the board that we needed to launch a campaign, and they started with $10 million, and I said that’s never going to do. When I left, I had raised $33 million; $28 million of that was to pay off the renovation, the other $5 or $6 million that we raised was to seed an endowment that we had never had before.

Beverly Robertson

One of Beverly’s driving mantras? “You’ve never lived a perfect day until you’ve done something for someone they could never do for themselves,” she says.

Having seen the National Civil Rights Museum’s journey to an international destination, what do you feel the museum adds specifically to the Memphis character?

It captures an important segment of Memphis history. The sanitation workers’ strike made Memphis the epicenter of the nation during the time the strike took place. It adds a deep-seated historical perspective of the movement and Memphis’ place in the movement. That’s significant because there is no other institution here or elsewhere that does that.

Business growth is critical to Memphis’ success, but it does risk leaving some citizens behind. How can the Chamber influence inclusive progress?

We traditionally have viewed the Chamber as an organization that’s a two-legged stool: government and business. But where is the role of the community? All of us have a role to play if we want Memphis to grow and to prosper, all of us need to be working together to make that happen.

There’s a lot of work that we will be engaged in over this year, and you’ll be able to see how the community will buy in. This has got to be something that everybody begins to feel. Crime goes down, poverty goes down, new businesses want to come, people thrive in this marketplace, and people smile and are happy again. What we’re doing is giving people hope, and that’s what I’d like to see us do more of in conjunction with business, government and community. I think that’s the winning combination.

What is your biggest personal goal for 2019?

In the middle of all of things that I have on my plate, I’ve got to commit to taking better care of myself. I’m a visionary and a person who says that nothing is impossible, and so not only do I say it, I act in that way, so I work very hard. That kind of work ethic requires something and takes something out of you, too. I’ve got to learn to add much more balance, personally.

Beverly Robertson

“Where is the role of the community? All of us have a role to play if we want Memphis to grow and to prosper, all of us need to be working together to make that happen,” says Beverly.

What makes you most proud of Memphis?

Really, the growth and the change that I’ve seen reflected in everything that is happening now — there is a feeling that people have never had about Memphis. The excitement of having that fresh new energy, new eyes looking at Memphis through a new lens, new leadership. Gosh, what’s not to love about Memphis?!

What is your best advice?

You’ve never lived a perfect day until you’ve done something for someone they could never do for themselves.

Other than big things like faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?

The ability to nurture and create broader relationships and connect with people, the ability to travel and meet lots of new people and go lots of new places and an understanding of the political nuances of this or any job

Thank you, Beverly! To learn more about Beverly and her work with the Greater Memphis Chamber, visit

And thank you to Mary Kate Steele of Mary Kate Steele Photography for these fabulous images of Beverly!

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WKNO: Behind the Headlines

Beverly Robertson, the new President and CEO of the Greater Memphis Chamber discusses her priorities for the Chamber, with Bill Dries, reporter for The Daily Memphian, and host Eric Barnes.

Bluff City Life

Interview by Janeen Gordon of WMC-TV5 of Lynn Walker, First Tennessee Bank, Female Executive of the Year


Beverly's Legacy

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A look at the legacy that Beverly Robertson is leaving on the National Civil Rights Museum.

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