The business of black music experienced many financial challenges and setbacks over the past decade. Fortunately, new marketing strategies have kept black music at the forefront of culture, thanks in part to marketing agencies like This Is Dope.
The Budding of a Music Marketing Innovator
With a career spanning more than 20 years, Wendy Washington has played a significant role in building the careers of superstars including Erykah Badu, Nelly, Lil’ Wayne, R. Kelly, Stevie Wonder, Britney Spears, Pink, Chris Brown, and numerous others.
Once a paralegal with plans to attend law school, Washington’s interest in music and journalism landed her an assistant position in the publicity department of Clive Davis’ Arista Records in New York. A graduate of Vassar, Washington initially pursued the position to further her career as a freelance writer.
Little did she realize this position would mark the start of her career in the music industry. The ambitious, young assistant went on to numerous positions in public relations and later–in marketing, sales, and distribution for recording giants such as Universal Music Group; Universal Motown Records; and Sony’s Red Distribution and Red Associated Labels.
“I never saw myself as an entrepreneur,” says Washington. “What inspired me to step out was watching the millennial generation, and how they move without fear. They also take more control over their destiny, because they’ve figured out how things are going to work for them. When you’re older, there are greater risks, because you could potentially have more to lose. However, you also have more to gain, too. That’s what helped me take the leap into entrepreneurship. I also have great partners.”
What’s So Dope About This Is Dope?
This Is Dope is a multifaceted marketing agency launched in partnership with Anthony Ellis and Shirronda Sweet. The agency takes an innovative approach to traditional grassroots marketing. In doing so, it has created a new business model that involves tactics for reaching under-served segments of the marketplace in more effective ways.
Founded in 2016, TID not only targets clients and brands affiliated with the music industry, but also those in other sectors, like film, television, sports, beauty, fashion, theater, publishing, government, post-secondary education, as well as nonprofit and faith-based organizations.
The seeds for this new agency were first planted when Washington, attended the annual Essence Festival in New Orleans. Always seeking opportunities to generate revenue from music, Washington noticed several mobile trucks roaming throughout the French Quarter that were advertising and promoting on behalf of recording artists and their brands.
These mobile trucks failed to provide a designated point-of-purchase to take advantage of the slight spike in R&B CD sales at the time and did not increase CD revenue.The trucks also lacked a social media-based call-to-action. Washington viewed all of this as missed opportunities to reach an underserved group.
“It was apparent that there was a gap, with a lack of concentration on micromarketing to the African American demographic, especially [those ages] 40 and older,” says Washington, whose first industry gig was in the publicity department at Arista Records. “I thought we needed to create an agency that does general services, but with a specialty [focus on] urban [demographics].”
When she returned to her office in New York City and shared her findings with the senior executive team, their reaction was not what she expected. Disappointed, she then asked herself, “Why don’t you just do it?” After fleshing out the concept with Ellis and Sweet—who are also former music executives with extensive backgrounds in marketing, public relations, and sales—This Is Dope was born.
“We started the agency around conceptualizing a mobile solution,” Washington continues. “And when we say mobile, we don’t mean a phone. It’s [also] not a telecom [brand]. It’s grassroots marketing.”
This Is Dope On The Road
This Is Dope was at this year’s Essence Festival with a mobile pop-up campaign.
With an interior design emulating a cozy-chic lounge environment; the air-conditioned, 18-foot truck provided festival attendees free Wi-Fi in addition to promotional giveaways and access to a selfie booth. It also hosted celebrity meet-and-greets with Common, Ro James, and others.
Other Innovative Campaigns
In midst of the 2016 U.S presidential election, Viacom hired This Is Dope to promote its highly publicized BET Hip Hop Awards, in addition to kicking off the network’s Vote Your Voice tour. For this campaign, the agency visited HBCUs across 20 U.S. cities.
Students were invited on the customized BET truck, where they were able to register to vote via iPad stations. Then, they could venture into the hip hop lounge and get a one-of-a-kind, curated, interactive multimedia presentation, which exposed students to series legendary works of African American literature and music, in addition to providing information about BET Hip Hop Award nominees. TID also recorded the students’ election concerns and frustrations, to be incorporated into future TID college-focused campaign presentations related to post-election discussions.
When the BET Vote Your Voice campaign was later featured on ABC’s The View, Raven-Simoné was featured inside the truck while it was parked outside the network’s television studios.
This Is Dope also developed a successful marketing campaign for gospel music legend Hezekiah Walker in Brooklyn, New York; for hip hop star 2 Chainz at SXSW in Austin; and at Afropunk Fest in Brooklyn, New York.
“The adaptability of having a mobile solution is that we’re able to service our clients’ demographics right there in the moment,” says Washington. “We get scalability because we have a social media activation as part of it. As the digital world becomes bigger, the physical [world] becomes more precious and sacred. It’s not going to be the same as it was [years ago]. Many recording artists will not have the ability to move one million physical units in the first week.”