The McCann Time Capsule: The Black History Legacy of Tom Sims
With February being Black History Month, we decided to look back in our archives at McCann New York’s black history, especially 50 years ago when African Americans began to take on senior roles at the agency.
Some executives from that era have been extensively written about, including the Advertising Hall of Fame Music Director Billy Davis who joined in 1968 (the subject of a McCann Time Capsule post last October), and Georg Olden, the famous graphic designer who joined McCann’s creative department in 1963 as a VP-Senior Art Director. Olden, who also created the Clio awards statue still in use today, in 1963 designed the U.S. postage stamp commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, making him also the first African American to design a U.S. postage stamp, according to the USPS website.
Less well known today, but equally acknowledged a half century ago, is Thomas L. Sims, who Jet magazine described in his 1978 obituary as a “Black pioneer in the field of advertising.” Sims, who joined McCann in New York in 1963 as a member of the Marketing Plans Board, was also a founder that year of the Interracial Council for Business Opportunity and then served as its president. Sims had joined McCann from Pepsi, where he had been Manager, Special Markets, since 1961, before that working at the Elmo Roper research organization and then as a grocery marketing and ethnic markets specialist at BBDO.
Because Sims and his contributions both to McCann and the industry are not familiar, we quote here at length from an Ad Age editorial, headlined “Tom Sims’ Legacy,” that the publication ran in 1978 at the time of his death.
“While Tom Sims became one of the first black men ever to earn v.p. stripes at a (major) ad agency way back in 1965, that was by no means his only claim on our attention. Paul Foley, chairman of IPG, where Mr. Sims served for 15 years, put it into perspective when he said that Mr. Sims was more than a ‘perceptive marketing strategist.’ He was ‘a warm and dedicated worker in behalf of social justice and education.’
“The fact is that whether he was working in the agency field or lending a hand to his fellow man on his own time, Tom Sims chose to operate without fanfare, without an eye on personal publicity.
“We know there are many, many people, black and white, who need no newspaper story to remind them of Tom Sims. They know the name and they cherish it, for they are the ones who were helped by his quiet determination, his patient guidance in the cause of social justice. To help push open doors in his low-key manner, Mr. Sims was a founder of the Interracial Council for Business Opportunity and served as its president at one time. He also served with groups that helped black youngsters develop their talents, get into colleges, and fostered civil rights work. He got involved. The full story of Tom Sims isn’t ‘in the clips.’ It’s out there today, very much part of the lives and careers of the many people he helped from that modest office of his at the McCann-Erickson ad agency.”