By Asia Nail
The Truth Reporter
In the world of design and advertising, a remarkable journey unfolds—one characterized by resilience, diversity, and a determination to overcome challenges. This is the story of Valerie Thompson, whose path illuminates the importance of representation and empowerment for black women in industry.
The Toledo Chapter of the American Advertising Federation (AAF), formerly known as the Advertising Club of Toledo, has recently appointed Thompson, president. With this groundbreaking appointment, the organization embraces a new era of representation, diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Founded in 1905, the AAF stands as the oldest national advertising trade association, uniting 40,000 professionals in the dynamic advertising industry. The AAF’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., serve as the epicenter of an expansive national network, comprising 200 clubs nestled in advertising communities across the country.
As part of the Fifth District, encompassing Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky, AAF Toledo has long played a pivotal role in fostering creative excellence and industry growth in its vibrant region.
Born and reared in Toledo, Ohio, Thompson is a celebrated graphic artist who discovered her artistic flair at an early age. “I was encouraged at a young age to sketch and strengthen my voice through art,” she recalls. “With an artist father and grandfather, it’s no wonder creativity runs in my veins.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing from the get-go. Despite her natural talent and love for drawing, it wasn’t until college that she stumbled upon the mesmerizing world of graphic design and art as a business profession.
“When I was a freshman at The University of Toledo, I entered the school of business and marketing,” she recalls. “It wasn’t until I took a graphic design class that my whole world lit up! I changed my major and the rest is history.”
Intrigued and enticed by the fascinating world of graphic design, Thompson began freelancing part-time while juggling her college coursework. Like a determined painter, she blended colors of ambition and dedication to create a one-of-a-kind career.
The more she painted her dreams onto the canvas of her life, the clearer it became that graphic artistry was her true calling. “I also love teaching, presenting, speaking and pouring into up and coming designers within the industry,” shares Thompson.
Fast forward to graduation, armed with her degree and her heart full of dreams, she decided to embark on an artistic adventure. With Columbus, Ohio as her chosen canvas, she dived headfirst into freelancing full-time. Her design firm Leap Graphics was born. The brushes of experience began to stroke the canvas of her life, painting a picture of passion and commitment.
But, like every compelling story, there were twists and turns that shaped her journey. “I eventually found myself back here in my hometown of Toledo,” shares Thompson. “I joined the ranks of ProMedica as a graphic designer and have had an amazing experience working with them for the past nine years.”
After dedicating five years to the realm of graphic design, Valerie embarked on a transition to environmental design, where she further honed her expertise for an additional four years.
“It was during this phase that my presentation of a particularly impactful project caught the attention of ProMedica’s philanthropy department head,” explains Thompson. “Impressed by my work, he extended a remarkable proposition: the role of executive director of FairWays.” This pioneering initiative by ProMedica was committed to addressing and eliminating disparities in women’s social health outcomes.
“As an artist it’s important to learn your signature style and how to capture what a client really wants to see even though they can only describe a partial picture of what they want,” says Thompson. “This is a skill you only develop through real client experience. This journey has expanded my skill set in team building, presentation, administration, and strategy.”
The transition to environmental design was a smooth ride. Just as she did in graphic design, Thompson continues to put the audience front and center in her creative masterpieces. Like an artful puzzle solver, she pondered who would experience the space and what emotions it should evoke.
Representation matters. As a Black woman in the art world, Thompson is determined to shine a light on the importance of diversity and inclusion. Like an artist adding layers of depth to their masterpiece, she continues adding her unique perspective to local initiatives while making her presence felt.
“I like to explain environmental design as graphic design and interior design having a baby,” explains Thompson.
As an environmental designer, Thompson orchestrated the visual and spatial elements within ProMedica’s healthcare settings to enhance the overall experience of patients, visitors, and staff. She is a maestro of ambiance, using her artistic prowess to craft spaces that not only look appealing but also foster healing, comfort, and efficiency.
“I design spaces for people to have an experience in,” explains Thompson.
Imagine stepping into a hospital where every corner feels like a harmonious sanctuary. That’s the magic an environmental designer weaves. They consider the hospital environment as a canvas, carefully selecting colors, textures, lighting, and even the arrangement of furniture to create an atmosphere that is conducive to one’s overall well-being.
You can see examples of Thompson’s work throughout Toledo’s landscape. From signage, to art plans for new construction, to commissioning art from all around the world, Thompson does it all.
“My personal project at Toledo Hospital is the History Hallway, leading from inpatient to outpatient. This hall brings rich visual representations from Toledo’s history, and I’m very proud of it,” says Thompson.
From the moment you enter the hospital lobby, Thompson’s work becomes evident. Her conceptualized welcoming spaces ease anxiety and promote a sense of calm. Whether it’s the choice of soothing colors or the arrangement of seating that encourages conversation, every detail is meticulously crafted to offer a positive first impression.
As you journey deeper into the hospital, you may notice thematic elements that resonate with the hospital’s identity. Thompson infused these elements seamlessly, turning corridors into avenues of inspiration. Murals, artworks, and even interactive installations are all a part of her designer’s toolkit, offering moments of distraction and engagement that contribute to the overall healing process.
The impact of an environmental designer is not limited to patients. Hospital staff benefit as well. “Our workspaces are optimized for efficiency and collaboration, contributing to a sense of community and camaraderie,” shares Valerie. In essence, I’m both an artist and an architect of experiences.”
After many years on YWCA’s Milestone Event Committee, Thompson also encouraged decision makers to consider including up and coming women in the community who make a huge impact. “We thought it was important to honor Women on the Rise, too, and a category was born,” she says.
Something as small as adding a category has made a big difference by way of community engagement for the YWCA. “Women of all ages can now see themselves as a part of the YWCA’s mission, not just a supporter, but an active participant,” explains Thompson.
Today as CEO of Leap Graphics, Thompson, like a skilled conductor, orchestrates design choices driven by the needs of her clients and their audiences. It’s like composing a symphony of visuals that dance with the desires of the organization’s call-to-action. “I’ve been coined the Client Whisperer,” says Valerie with a giggle.
Understanding your client’s vision and marrying their goals through the customer’s experience is a skill that’s hard to find. Valerie is top tier.
With the appointment of Thompson, the trajectory of AAF Toledo (American Advertising Federation) is set to transform. As an African American woman assuming the esteemed position of President, Thompson becomes the trailblazing torchbearer of representation, a significance that cannot be overstated.
By welcoming Thompson to the helm, AAF Toledo is signaling its unwavering dedication to amplifying underrepresented voices and breaking the glass ceiling that has long persisted in the advertising industry. Valerie’s ascent to leadership paves the way for a new generation of professionals, who can now envision themselves achieving the highest echelons of success within the organization and beyond.
Thompson’s vast expertise in the advertising landscape, combined with her unique perspective as an African American woman, brings an invaluable and multifaceted approach to the table. With her at the helm, the organization stands poised to set new standards of inclusivity and innovation, cultivating an environment where diverse perspectives flourish, and creativity knows no bounds.
In a world where representation matters, Thompson’s presidency is a transformative beacon, calling on other organizations to embrace change, evolve their mindsets, and embrace the mosaic of talent that exists within the advertising landscape.
As an influential figure in the advertising community, Valerie Thompson’s leadership will ripple through the entire industry, inspiring other organizations to champion diversity and create an environment that empowers all professionals to thrive.
Her story, like a tapestry of colors, is a reminder that diversity is the cornerstone of innovation. Thompson invites others to join her in embracing change, celebrating differences, and allowing creativity to flourish. Just as her journey has inspired a generation, let it be a call for all to paint their narratives with perseverance, representation, and a touch of artistic brilliance.