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Living Legend: Spotlighting One of the Oldest Black-Owned Advertising and Public Relations Firms in America

Published on February 19, 2021, at 5:39 p.m. 
by Kris Scott.

Over 60 years ago, a supervisor asked an employee a simple question: “Why aren’t Black people drinking Coca-Cola?” To this question, the employee responded, “Because you aren’t asking us to.”

What seemed like a trivial answer then has become one of the most important questions of the employee’s life. That employee was Dr. Jesse Lewis.

Photo by Agency54

Specializing in communication that spans a multitude of markets, Agency54 is one of the oldest Black-owned advertising and public relations firms in America.

“I’m truly proud of the growth Agency54 has experienced throughout the years,” affirmed Dr. Jesse Lewis, the chairman of Agency54. “What once was a small dream to represent a small community has now become a reality for a global community.”

Legendary history
Agency54 began its operations under the name Jesse J. Lewis and Associates. In pursuit of completing its initial goal to increase representation among the Black community in advertising, the firm attracted notable clients that included Cadillac, Coca-Cola, Chesterfield, Chrysler Motor Company, Golden Flake and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

“Positive and accurate representation is important in any market,” said Lewis. “Without a doubt, the firm’s first clients positively influenced how African Americans were portrayed within the media and advertisements.”

Continuing this revolutionary trend, in 1995 Lewis established The Lewis Group, a public policy consulting firm. In the same year, Jessie J. Lewis and Associates was renamed Elements Communications. During this time, the agency gained further exposure when it provided Alabama Power Company an opportunity to commemorate the accolades of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Eventually, Elements Communications and The Lewis Group merged, culminating in Agency54. Today, Agency54 embraces its 60-plus years of experience, utilizing this experience to guide its relationships with clients and audiences alike.

Legendary culture
Martha Bozeman, the firm’s current and first female president, noted that Agency54 continues to “break barriers” because of its multicultural approach. “We understand the need for a multi-generational approach to communication.” Understanding this multi-generational approach, Bozeman said, aids the agency in truly understanding how to fulfill the needs of its clients.

“We understand how to truly connect and genuinely engage with the community,” Bozeman stated. “We believe in a multi-platform approach, where all forms of communication efforts are supported and valued.”

In addition to highlighting the firm’s diverse approach to supporting its clients, Bozeman stressed the firm’s diversity in individualistic talent. Bozeman said there are people of all different backgrounds working for the company. Even so, she proclaimed that they all share one similarity: “They are qualified and they are talented.”

Photo by Agency 54

In fact, this talent allows Agency54 to offer services related to public relations, public affairs, digital media, and advertising and design.

Tommy Palladio, senior director at Agency54, said that Agency54’s varied list of services is of immense benefit to its clients.

“The success of our clients depend on their ability to maintain mutually beneficial relationships with their target audiences,” Palladio said. “In order for these clients to reach their respective audiences, they must be specific in how they communicate. Whether it is a commercial, print advertisement, digital advertisement or news release, we allow clients the ability to be deliberate in their communication.”

Agency54 has served numerous clients that include the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, Birmingham-Jefferson County Convention Complex, Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Talladega Superspeedway. Along with these clients, the firm has developed and provided assistance on notable campaigns involving Birmingham Water Works, Jefferson County Commission, Housing Authority of the Birmingham District, Jefferson County’s Sheriff’s Office and Jefferson County Department of Health.

“We believe in dedicating an equal amount of time to each and every one of our clients,” Palladio said. “Whether long term, contractual or on a trial basis, we are devoted to creating campaigns that guarantee our clients are represented in the best way possible.”

Continuing a legacy
While small in comparison to other advertising and public relation firms, Agency54 is committed to succeeding in the face of adversity.

“Because we are a small firm and we are a Black-owned firm, we sometimes face unexpected challenges,” explained Palladio. “What makes us different is that we welcome the challenges with open arms. Here, we believe our resume and diverse portfolio of resources are more than capable of proving our worth in a competitive market.”

Accentuating its “diverse portfolio of resources,” Palladio said, will ensure Agency54 continues to experience growth.

In a similar manner, Bozeman embraces Agency54’s defining history. This history, she believes, is the reason why Agency54 remains innovative, inclusive and impactful.

According to Bozeman, who is honored to be the president of such a historic Black-owned company, Agency54’s legacy is just beginning. “What we have done thus far is only the groundwork,” she proclaimed. “We’ll continue to use our history as the platform for which we continue to grow this company.”

Lewis, reminiscing on Agency54’s evolution over the past 60 years, has high expectations for the firm.

“Agency54 was great, is now greater and will be the greatest in the near future,” he asserted.

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