Millennials are creating and establishing experiential event spaces to increase engagement, awareness, knowledge-building, and most importantly, including the “culture.” At 27 years old, Kerry Smalls is a director at public relations firm The Chamber Group, and creator of lifestyle event Cigars & Whiskey. In an interview, he discusses his career trajectory and what it took to build his event brand.
Describe the concept behind your brand Cigars & Whiskey.
The sole basis for the creation of Cigars & Whiskey is the idea of connection. Through living and working in New York, I realized how many people were in my network, and also, who they were connected to but would never have the opportunity to meet because of their differing careers and personal lives. My aim is to bring different minds together to forge nontraditional relationships while enjoying a nontraditional luxury experience that millennials do not often experience: cigars and whiskey—a personal favorite.
Cigars and whiskey are associated with financial gain, wealth, business, and the pleasantries of life—things young millennials, specifically my community of African Americans, are not traditionally exposed to if they don’t go out seeking it and that’s an issue. I want to be able to provide that atmosphere for those people—an atmosphere that inspires someone to change their life.
As a millennial entrepreneur how important is an experiential event to the culture?
Experiential events are key, especially to culture. In fact, I can’t see a brand reaching their maximum potential without some type of tangible activation or experience that the consumer can latch on to in order to connect the dots to the product or service that is being offered. We live an age where, thanks to social media, visuals mean more than anything. People want something they can feel, touch, and see for themselves.
How has your job, as head of a celebrity public relations firm, prepared you for your latest venture?
My job, at least nowadays, is connecting the culture to the masses. Creating untraditional scenarios and narratives in order to move a brand from point A to point B. In order to do that effectively, I have to at all times know what is going on in the streets. My career in the business has taught me strategy, it’s taught me timing, it’s taught me execution. But most importantly, it’s forced me to stay ahead of trends and understand the generation that I essentially am marketing to and inviting to my events.
How does Cigars & Whiskey differ from other events geared toward millennials? If you create the environment, the people will come. Simple as put. We don’t want Cigars & Whiskey to just be seen as a party or mixer. Yes, it is social and the events are being created so that you have fun but we want our guests to walk away feeling more inspired than when they entered. We want to send our guests on their way with new relationships and experiences that they can utilize for the betterment of their personal and professional lives.
What tips can you provide to any up-and-coming millennial entrepreneurs who wish to work in your field?
There are many tips and tricks that I’ve learned that keep me going but the few I focus on the most lately are the following:
- Work hard, at whatever it is you do and expect nothing in return.
- Build with like-minded people. As you get older, everyone takes up space. Surround yourself with people that offer something to your life both professionally and personally. You will see that this is effective when you are taking that first leap of faith with your business.
- Take nothing personally when doing business. You will get hurt when things don’t pan out the way you’d wish they had.
- Consider your pros and cons but don’t ever let the cons deter you away from making an actual decision. Usually, that means that the move is risky, and typically, that is where you could see the most reward.
- Balance. Don’t go at that thing so hard that you burn yourself out and jeopardize your creative thinking. Self-care is real. Find enjoyment in your work, even if in small bits. And outside of work, learn to relax. Turn it off. Have fun. The second you stop having fun, you need to go back and re-evaluate why you started doing it in the first place. In that space is where you find the inspiration to keep going.