Our History
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Our History

Meet Dr. Jesse Lewis, Black Advertising Visionary and Birmingham Times Founder

“I was the first Black person the Coca-Cola Company ever hired to represent them. I did the first ad with the Coca-Cola Company involving a Black person, the first one in the history of Coca-Cola. … It was on national TV, radio. … In that job, I learned a lot and gained a deep passion for the marketing industry. My life took a turn toward this path, and the rest has made me who I am today.” — Dr. Jesse J. Lewis

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Our Timeline


After representing companies such as Phillip Morris, Leham Brothers and General Motors (Cadillac Division) during his time at Miles College, Dr. Lewis founded one of the first black-owned public relations and advertising agencies in America— Jesse J. Lewis & Associates.


Having heard about Dr. Lewis’s success with elevating and expanding small black-owned businesses in Birmingham, Alabama, Coca-Cola Bottling Company enlisted the services of Jessie J. Lewis & Associates to launch Coca-Cola’s first series of campaigns targeting and featuring blacks– from celebrities such as Willie Mays, Sugar Ray Robinson and the Harlem Globetrotters — to Mary Alexander, the first African-American female to model in Coke advertisements. 


Dr. Lewis founded the Birmingham Times to document the Civil Rights Movement and celebrate black achievement. The newspaper continues today as one of the Southeast’s most significant weekly papers.


Jesse J. Lewis & Associates grew steadily, attracting reputable clients, such as, Cadillac, Chesterfield, Chrysler Motor Company, Golden Flake, and R.J Reynolds Tobacco Company.


Jesse J. Lewis Jr. was named President and CEO. Notable work included marketing for the new Civil Rights Institute – a museum of the Civil Rights struggle. JET Magazine featured this marketing campaign.


The Lewis Group was established as a consulting firm, gaining contracts with the BJCC and the Roebuck Municipal Golf Course.


Jesse. J. Lewis & Associates renamed Elements Communications.

1996-Early 2000’s

The corporate client roster expanded with the State of Alabama, the city of Birmingham, Alabama Power Company, Regions Financial Corporation, Birmingham Water Works Board, and others enlisting marketing services. 


Elements Communications merges with The Lewis Group to become a full-service marketing and advertising agency.


Dorian G. Kendrick named Sr. Vice President of the Lewis Group. In her role, she altered the company’s culture towards innovation and digital engagement, renaming the organization Agency54


Agency54 partnered with the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, Birmingham-Jefferson County Convention Complex, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Talladega Superspeedway. 


We also developed and assisted with notable campaigns involving Birmingham Water Works, Jefferson County Commission, Housing Authority of the Birmingham District, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, and Jefferson County Department of Health. 


Dr. Jesse Lewis was inducted into the Birmingham Business Hall of Fame in 2019.


Building on our rich legacy, Agency54 continues to evolve in realms of strategic communications, creative concepts, dynamic public engagement, and overall client satisfaction– celebrating 69 years of serving the Birmingham community and beyond.


Dr. Jesse Lewis was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame during the 2023 NABJ Convention in Birmingham.

"PR campaigns for the Black community should be steeped in cultural references and nuances. Speak our language, resonate with our experiences, and we'll listen."

Jelani Cobb, Writer and Professor

"Black marketers and PR professionals have a responsibility to call out injustices and push for equitable opportunities within the industry."

Tonya Lewis Lee, Marketing Director of the NAACP

"Marketing to Black audiences is not about stereotypes or tropes. It's about understanding the nuances of our culture, our history, and our aspirations. It's about building authentic relationships that resonate on a deeper level."

Keith Black, Advertising Executive
I’m truly proud of the growth Agency54 has experienced throughout the years. What once was a small dream to represent a small community has now become a reality for a global community.