Posted on February 3, 2023 by Institute for Public Relations.
Barbara Gardner Proctor was born on Nov. 30, 1932, in Black Mountain, N.C. She grew up in an impoverished neighborhood there without electricity or running water. After graduating in 1950 she attended historically Black Talladega College in Alabama, earning a degree in English and education after three years, then staying an additional year to earn a degree in psychology and sociology.
Proctor did social work with the Urban League in Chicago for about a year and then fell into a completely different line of work. She often listened to the radio while working late, which led to a shift in her career. Proctor began writing liner notes for Vee-Jay Records which scouted local jazz talent in Chicago. In 1962, she traded records by the Beatles, who had not yet made an impact in the United States, and arranged for Vee-Jay to sign the group to a limited contract.
In 1964, Proctor took a job with the Post-Keyes-Gardner advertising agency, which forced her to begin using her married name, Proctor. Years later, Proctor founded her own advertising agency called Proctor & Gardner. She was the first African-American woman to establish her own advertising agency in the US.
Just a few of her clients included Kraft Foods, Sears, and Roebuck & Company. Proctor cared deeply about whom she represented and refused to represent products such as cigarettes and hard liquor products. In early 1984, “60 Minutes” broadcasted a segment about her, and a few weeks later, President Ronald Reagan mentioned her success as a business successful woman who started from very little.
Barbara Gardner Proctor died at age 86 on Dec. 19 in Chicago. Her survivors include a son, Morgan Proctor, and two grandchildren. Proctor’s success as the first Black woman to create her own advertising agency continues to be exclusionary.
IPR is featuring some of the many Black pioneers who have had an impact on the field of public relations in celebration of Black History Month.