Eric Thomas (28) and Marcus Burrell (29) are senior partners at Saga, a storytelling agency focused on developing authentic narratives for their clients so that they can have stronger connections with their target audience. With five full-time employees, 19 contractors, and an impressive roster of clients including— Greater Detroit Area Health Council; UAW-Ford; Black United Fund of Michigan; Story Worldwide; Cornerstone Schools Association; City of Detroit; and the Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation, to name a few, the power players are making boss moves in the marketing industry.
Recently, the Detroit-based duo was featured on ‘Crain’s 20 in Their 20’s list.’ Black Enterprise caught up with the millennials to find out what it takes to stand out in your industry.
BlackEnterprise.com: What are the qualities that define your brand and set you apart in your field?
Eric: It’s definitely the storytelling piece. And the fact that we’re honest with our clients. We’ll call them out in a heartbeat. But we’ve learned that in a room where leadership is rarely challenged, we become the beacon of truth. Because at the end of the day, it’s our job to create their true story; not what they want it to be—- what it actually is.
What did you do prior to launching Saga?
Eric: I’m 10 years in as a designer. That’s where I started. I owned a company called Mystic Essence and after meeting Marcus I decided to come on board as a 3rd partner in a local marketing agency.
Marcus: Well, I’m the business guy. I’ve owned companies since I was 6 years old. Investment Kids Incorporated was the first company I had where I took the money from selling candy and invested it in the stock market. Since then, I’ve co-owned record labels, real estate firms, investment groups, and another marketing agency. I even did some time in corporate America as a financial advisor and a business banker at JP Morgan Chase. A lot of years and a lot of lessons later, we have Saga turning into a sustainable firm that’s growing very rapidly.
Describe the work you’re most proud of?
Eric: We restructured as Saga a little over a year ago. Since then, I think our biggest win is our Crain’s Twenty in their 20s Award, which is a big honor that definitely validates our approach towards marketing. On the business side, I’d say our involvement in the Detroit ’67 Project, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Detroit Riots, is a big accomplishment too. It’s a 15-month program with the Detroit Historical Society that involves some big names in our industry and large community partners too. It definitely puts our name on the map.
Marcus: Lastly, it’s probably setting up health coverage for our employees. Along with hitting revenue goals, that was a big move for our small firm.
Thomas and Burrell also shared a few tips on how to use storytelling to build an attractive brand. Stay tuned for part 2.