William “Bill” Sharp, retired founder and CEO of Sharp Advertising Inc., is well known in the advertising community for his expertise and achievements in communications, for his community involvement and for his contributions to motivating minority youth.
Sharp became an advertising industry diversity pioneer who opened doors to prepare African-Americans to compete for roles in the industry through mentoring and by spearheading the industry’s first experiential bootcamp in 1967 – called the Basic Ad Course. At that time, he was working at JWT as their first Black group copy supervisor. The Basic Ad Course was co-sponsored by the American Association of Advertising Agencies. As of 2017 there are 3 former Basic Ad Course members in the AAF Advertising Hall of Fame.
In 1967, Sharp also wrote and published a book entitled, “How to Be Black and Get a Job in the Advertising Business Anyway.” The content of the book is still relevant today. In 1967, Blacks in advertising was 3%. Now, over 50 years later, African Americans are 5% of the advertising industry personnel.
In 1967, he founded and instructed the “Basic Ad Course,” an American Association of Advertising Agencies–sponsored program that prepared minorities for professional careers in advertising. Sharp also wrote and published a book entitled, How to Be Black and Get a Job in the Advertising Business Anyway.
Sharp cultivated a diverse career in advertising, working both agency and client side, as well as starting his own ventures. His career accomplishments and ‘firsts’ include serving as JWT North America’s first Black Group Copy Supervisor, the American Advertising Federation’s first Black Chairman of the Board; he was Coca Cola’s first African-American VP/advertising manager. Sharp was the former SVP & general manager, Burrell Advertising, and retired president & founder, Sharp Advertising. He was a noted lecturer and adjunct professor at Emory’s Goizueta School of Business, and a founding board member of the Marcus Graham Project.
Sharp opened his Atlanta-based agency in 1990 and served regional and national clients such as Southern Company, Georgia Power, Barnett Bank Inc., Burger King, Canaan Shoes Inc., Bell South and the Coca-Cola Company. Prior to opening his own shop, he served as Director of Communications for the Office of Economic Opportunity in Washington, D.C. and held a variety of roles at prominent advertising agencies. He was a Copywriter for EURO RSCG Tatham, Copy Supervisor for Leo Burnett, Group Supervisor for J. Walter Thompson (JWT), and Senior VicePresident and General Manager of Burrell Advertising/Atlanta. He also spent time client side as VP, Advertising Manager at Coca-Cola, managing all advertising for the company’s complete portfolio of soft drink brands.
Sharp was the recipient of numerous awards including, Ad Man of the Year for Southern Magazine and The Art Directors Club of New York Award. He is also a noted lecturer, having served as a consultant and adjunct marketing professor at Goizueta Business School at Emory University. Sharp’s past associations include chairman of the board of the American Advertising Federation, chairman of the National Academy of Engineering Telecommunications Subcommittee on Education, and past member of the Association of National Advertisers board of directors and the Federal Inter-Agency Media Committee that served to recommend communications policies to the president of the United States. His crowning accomplishment was being inducted into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame in 2009.
That year, Sharp and his cousin, Tom Burrell, became the first, first-cousins to both receive the honor of being an AAF Advertising Hall of Fame Inductee - in the history of the award. He posthumously received the AAF Lifetime Achievement Award after his passing in 2013.
While he is no longer with us, his influence remains and his message of diversity in advertising is something we are committed to carrying on.