In 2009, Mike Williams and his friend Lee Lawrence sat across from the impossible client. This client was so prestigious in the Fresno market that many thought there was no way they would advertise in Fresno State’s Collegian newspaper. But Williams had a plan.
Up until this point, being an advertising sales representative for the Collegian had been pretty straightforward. Identify a client, call them up, and set up an appointment to pitch newspaper advertising placements. But this client was different. He needed a strategy. Williams called a meeting with the Collegian faculty advisers, other sales representatives, and a video crew and began tackling the possible objections. They planned, then rehearsed the whole pitch — they were ready.
“At the time, pulling in people from around the Collegian to focus on a single client was not something that was typically done,” said Williams.
Sitting across from Scott Biehl, Mercedes-Benz of Fresno owner, Williams and Lawrence pressed play on the video. The video was simple. As the camera went through a couple of parking lots at Fresno State, a counter appeared, indicating each Mercedes-Benz in the parking lot. As the video played, Williams slipped a map of Fresno State and, with a tap of his finger, showed which parking lots they had filmed and, more importantly, the number of parking lots that had not been filmed.
“We nailed it!” said Williams about the meeting.
Biehl ended up buying a schedule of full-page, full-color ads in the Collegian. Also, he insisted that they do the copywriting for the ads. Both Williams and Lawrence now work in New York City — Williams as a Manager of Client Partnerships at Oracle Data Cloud, and Lawrence is a copywriter at VaynerMedia.
“It was a big moment. Our first big win towards our respective industries,” said Williams.
Jan Edwards, Collegian adviser and adjunct lecturer agreed. “This is one of the great Collegian success stories that I still share to this day.”
It was this type of big thinking that guided Williams on his latest project. In the wake of George Floyd’s death, Williams felt he had to do something, and being isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic gave him plenty of time to think about it.
“I’ve always thought about the concept of doing something impactful for my people, just to help with our systemic challenges,” Williams said.
In his online research, he noticed that a large percentage of African American college students drop out and that the most significant driver in those dropout rates was due to financial constraints. He also thought about his annual trip to Fresno State to guest lecture and the students he has mentored over the years. That’s when he thought of the idea of launching his scholarship.
Williams then took a week off of work to focus on the project. He got in touch with Betsy Hays, chair of the Media, Communications, and Journalism Department and the College of Arts and Humanities Development office. By the end of the week, he had the Michael Lamar Williams Endowed Scholarship set up which supports students majoring in MCJ with preference given to those in the advertising and public relations option who demonstrate a significant interest in African-American culture and/or history and a career in advertising.
Born in the Bay Area, Williams moved to Fresno with his parents and played football at Bullard High School. He went on to Fresno City College, where he continued to play football and was a sportswriter for the Fresno City College Rampage newspaper. With a football scholarship as his primary motivation, Williams moved to North Dakota to attend the University of Mary as a Communication major.
During his time at Mary, he took an advertising course and was hooked. Once his final football season had ended, Williams began looking around at his options. At the end of 2008, he picked up the phone and called Fresno State’s MCJ department during a slow day at work. While other schools he had called wouldn’t give him the necessary information and would get off the phone as soon as possible, his call to Fresno State was much different.
“I was working at Blockbuster, and I wasn’t supposed to be on the phone. I was on the phone because the store was empty, but as I was talking to Dr. Asahina, she sold me on the Fresno State MCJ department,” Williams said.
The call went on so long, a customer came in and was waiting for Williams to get off the phone. That call not only brought him home to Fresno State but was also the beginning of a wonderful and sometimes rigorous relationship with Dr. Roberta Asahina, professor emerita.
“Attending Fresno State was the best decision of my life, and I credit Dr. Asahina for making my decision an easy one.”
At Fresno State, Dr. Asahina pushed Williams and didn’t allow him to cut corners.
“It’s important to expect and demand a lot from students who are going to lead, who are going to be executives, who have the talent and foresight and goal to go all the way,” explained Dr. Asahina. “Mike Williams has always had that spark, that engaging personality, and insightful intuition to know how to make his own breaks.”
At the same time, his professor Jan Edwards was also pushing him towards greatness. His media sales class with Edwards combined the theory with application in the advertising field. Edwards explained how the study moves beyond the hypothetical situations—students have real meetings with real clients, and real money is exchanged. Edwards said it was clear that Williams grasped the concepts, and he is a “very likable guy,” which is vital in sales. But something was missing.
“Mike wasn’t staying focused,” explained Edwards. “I knew he was a former athlete, so we talked about what successes he’d had on the football field and what misses he’d had there too. I think Mike realized that the same focus and discipline that led to his success as an athlete were necessary for him to move to the next level in this game called sales.”
“I owe Jan to this day,” said Williams. “Because Jan would apply pressure to get the most out of me. I showed her flashes of great work, and she didn’t accept flashes. She wanted me to be consistent by doing great work full-time.”
Edwards rewarded his effort by putting him in touch with the General Sales Manager at ABC30, who offered him an internship. Williams credits his ABC30 internship with helping him land his first job at USA Today in San Francisco.
Three years later, Williams went to New York City for vacation and fell in love with the city. When he got back, he resigned from his job at USA Today and bought a one-way ticket to New York City.
“My parents were really upset because I was moving to New York City without a job. They eventually got over it because, on my second business day in New York City, I landed a job.”
That job was for a startup called AddThis, which was later bought out by Oracle Data Cloud. Shortly after the AddThis acquisition, Williams resigned from Oracle to go work for another startup company called Grapeshot, which was also acquired by Oracle Data Cloud. After working for two startups and being acquired by the same company twice, he decided to stick with Oracle Data Cloud the second time.
As a client partnerships manager, Williams and his team help brands and ad agencies reach their marketing goals through digital programmatic advertising. His team, along with marketing, engineering, and business development teams, work to find the right people on their devices, with the appropriate advertising message at the right time.
“That’s why you see ads online and say, ‘Oh, I was just searching for that,'” Williams explained. “Oracle Data Cloud captures different data points and empowers our advertising partners with data so that they can target people at the right time when consumers are in the market for products.”
While Williams has had an impressive career since graduating from Fresno State nearly 11 years ago, it’s his scholarship that’s been getting him recognized lately.
“I really didn’t want to promote the scholarship to my network when I first created it,” Williams said humbly.
But slowly, people began finding out about it. One person on his team thought the scholarship was fantastic and put it on a Slack channel with about 80 Oracle employees. A short time later, he received a shout-out on a call with about 50 other people.
“It then bubbled up to our chief revenue officer, along with some other high-level Oracle executives. They asked, “Would you be open to presenting your scholarship during our next Town Hall meeting?”
In the late summer at the Oracle Data Cloud Town Hall meeting, Williams presented the Michael Lamar Williams scholarship to an audience of over 700 Oracle colleagues. After the presentation, his messages exploded with accolades. After a moment, he sat back and reflected.
“Wow, I just made a difference in the world.”
To contribute to the Michael Lamar Williams Endowed Scholarship, visit Fresno State’s secure online donation form, click the “View All Giving Opportunities” button and select “Other.” Write in “Michael Lamar Williams Endowed Scholarship” and put in your amount, then follow the remaining instructions.
To send a check:
Make it out to the Fresno State Foundation.
In the memo line, designate the donation is for the Michael Lamar Williams Endowed Scholarship.
Mail checks to College of Arts & Humanities at Fresno State, Development Office, 2380 E. Keats Ave. M/S MB99, Fresno, CA 93740-8024