For 33 years, Margo Williams operated one of Detroit’s minority and women-owned, public relations agencies. Williams’ 20+ year relationship with White Castle is one of the longest in the market, and most importantly, Margo E. Williams & Associates (MEW&A) has personally given rise to the careers of dozens of minority professionals in communications, marketing, sales and more.
As an award-winning communications leader, Margo provided best of class client services, often burning the mid-night oil to deliver innovative proposals, presentations, and outcomes. Her office in downtown Detroit’s Ford Building was covered in wall-to-wall photography with Hollywood’s A-listers as well as Detroit’s Who’s Who. With plush carpeting and furnishings, the former news reporter moved about the city, with her clients and team members, as top of mind.
Starting her workday at 5:00am, Margo E. Williams would make dozens of calls to journalists, and producers, to secure the right storytelling opportunity – for clients.
Dr. Pam Perry was looking for ways to automate her 100k social following at a recent industry conference and ran into Keisha L. Barksdale. While reminiscing, Perry – a media innovator, founder and editor of SPEAKERS Magazine – realized that a common thread for so many professionals they knew was one person: Margo Williams. The duo began working on the reunion.
“I am a firm believer in recognition when it’s due and giving people their flowers,” said Perry. “Margo just really needed to know what a difference she’s made – she impacted the industry in Detroit through employing, mentoring and steering the next generation with an amazing ripple effect.”
Several of these local practitioners recently reunited with Perry and Barksdale on Zoom to share memories and speak with Williams about her influence.
Tamekia Ashford Nixon went on from MEW&A as a senior advisor and communications director to Mayor Duggan’s Detroit Health Department to Vice President of Marketing at the Detroit Regional Partnership where she was the first African American hire on the leadership team.
“Margo gave me an opportunity almost 20 years ago at the very beginning of my career,” Ashford Nixon began. “She brought me in meetings with top-tier clients developing strategy and innovation at a time when most people would not have given me that opportunity. I do know I am where I am today because of women like Margo E. Williams- taking the time to groom me – I’ll never forget it.”
Back in the late 1990’s – early 2000’s, the public relations (PR) industry placed a high priority on experience versus educational skills. For those newer professionals who were passionate and studied, there was pressure to land jobs and to begin paying student loans. Diversity and inclusion were just being discussed rather than implemented, and fierce competition leading to better positions only went to those who had connections or proven work experience. I majored in Public Relations at Wayne State and remembered seeing a very diverse classroom with several African American young women like me in those seats. We all were determined to change the game – but we just needed to get on the board.
Many former journalists or those behind and in front of the camera became PR pros as a new career. Like many of the professionals of the time, Margo E. Williams previously worked in television. With media connections and relationships that generated publicity, Williams was able to learn the industry from Joyce Davis Adams, one of the first black women to have a PR firm in Detroit.
Williams gained confidence in running a business from consultants who instructed her on operations. “I had never worked for someone who owned their own business before, so I didn’t understand the passion and the connection Margo made with every single aspect of the business, from the file folders to the staples,” Mattalyn Love-Jones remembered.
“Mattelyn changed my life,” Williams admitted. “She let me go in and mentor as well as helping me meet corporate clients.”
Williams quickly transformed her big personality and great ideas into successful campaigns, reputation management and media training for local leaders, corporations and nonprofits including Molina Healthcare, the African American Museum (now The Wright) and Wayne State University School of Nursing. It was going well, and Margo added to her talent base. Enter Sandra Ware.
Sandra Ware was Williams’ lead Account Supervisor for several years. Ware connected MEW&A’s people and projects into winning pitches. Currently the Founder and Education Engagement and Youth Technology Program Facilitator of the Powered to Dream Foundation, Ware also learned how to balance corporate and non-profit interests.
“My company did a major pivot from sports athlete representation to educating and training youth in STEM fields,” Ware explained. “The Powered to Dream Foundation gets kids excited about math and science while working with leading technology and innovation companies to create a pipeline of access.”
Williams’ father was a business owner and understood her desire to connect people. “My dad ran the first janitorial, maid and catering service in St. Louis for 40 years,” she recalled. “He was not well educated but he was well-informed. He told me that you don’t have to know everything, just find the people who know what you don’t – and I believe to this day it’s the key.”
Williams unquestionably believes in the value of interns – and recognizing their potential and talents. Between Williams and Ware’s connections to her peers, interns along with employees and freelance contractors, flowed easily through MEW&A.
“Internships are so important,” Williams explains. “Where I am now in real estate, they do not have interns. Let me tell you: When new people come into the business, and they don’t know the corporate world and how to do things, it’s a loss. I think people miss something when they don’t hire young people – we mutually learn.”
Mutual respect also was the dynamic at MEW&A. Williams brought in facilitators to ensure the employees knew they were valued. Many on the call also recalled the staff appreciation lunches she hosted at Shin Shin Chinese Restaurant in Windsor, Canada as time to bond and celebrate.
“I have very fond memories of working at Margo E. (Stress on the “E) Williams & Associates,” said Carla Rivers. “The first lesson Margo taught me was the importance of multi-tasking. I learned proofreading, editing, networking, and the art of writing concise, informative press releases and articles. I got my first byline in the Michigan Chronicle because of her.”
Being at MEW&A with Margo and other young professionals provided so many learning experiences. She always made time to talk about planning your career. When the next opportunity came, I was so prepared and was ready to move forward. Everyone who’s worked at her office at the Ford Building would agree: being an MEW&A alumni is truly special and Margo Williams deserves all the bouquets sent her way, no question.
“I was a communications major at Western Michigan University, freelancing and doing very well as a nail technician, but students need practical experience,” stressed Barksdale. “Through Sandra (Ware) you gave me an opportunity. I would ride down from Kalamazoo and work hours several days a week. Because of your attention to detail – correcting my writing, etc. I became a pro at it, and was able to land a second internship. Even in the pharmaceutical industry, I receive compliments on my writing and I owe that to you.”
Publishing consultant SR Boland was the first male hired at MEW&A, who Williams credits for improving her writing. “I started with the agency as an intern before finishing my degree” he said. “Learning PR on the job and under fire with Margo was always a fun challenge,” Boland shared.
NBC 3 (Las Vegas) Content Creator Shiree Woodey agreed, “She was always on top of us checking our writing, making sure we were accurate. Margo has always dressed incredibly – I remember her telling us to dress for the job you want, not for the job you have. I’ve shared that advice with every person I’ve mentored.”
“When we walked into those meetings to pitch for White Castle as a team, other agencies knew we were prepared and it was due to you guys,” said Williams.
“Margo empowered those of us who had the opportunity to work with her,” added Rivers. “She was an inspiration – a leader who openly shared her knowledge and talent and pushed you to do your best.”
Williams, whose love of home keeps her connected to Detroit, remains a helper. Now based in Las Vegas, she parlayed her communications skills into the real estate market and finds time to deliver bedding to the homeless in her area. Now in her mid-70’s, Williams is currently fulfilling a life-long goal to vacation around the world, but she issued a standing invitation to all the alumni reading this.
“If you come to Vegas and you don’t reach out, I’m coming to Detroit to get you,” Margo promised. “It never hurts to help people; it always comes back. Try to mentor someone so they’ll be ready to take the spot you’ve vacated.”