As we continue to celebrate the legacy of black music, let’s remember that the business of black music has experienced many financial challenges and setbacks over the past decade. Fortunately, the ability to harness new marketing strategies has managed to keep this music at the forefront of culture, thanks to marketing agencies like This Is Dope (TID).
Who Is Wendy Washington?
With a career spanning more than 20 years, Washington is known for having played a significant role in building the careers of global superstars like 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 that this position would mark the start of her successful career in the music industry.
Little did she realize that this position would mark the start of her successful career in the music industry. The ambitious, young assistant went on to hold numerous positions in PR—and later, in marketing, sales, and distribution—for recording giants like Universal Music Group; Universal Motown Records; Sony’s Red Distribution and Red Associated Labels; and Sony Music’s Jive Records, where she served two tenures.
But what inspired Washington to boldly branch out on her own to launch the marketing agency This Is Dope?
“I never saw myself as an entrepreneur,” Washington says. “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,” she says.
What’s So Dope About This Is Dope?
TID is an experimental, multifaceted marketing agency that was launched by record industry veteran Wendy Washington, in partnership with Anthony Ellis and Shirronda Sweet. The agency has found success via its innovative approach to traditional grassroots marketing. In doing so, it has created a new business model that involves tactics for reaching underserved 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, postsecondary education, as well as nonprofit and faith-based organizations. The agency offers clients a wide range of customized services, including the collection of consumer data; direct-to-consumer sales; promotional giveaways; brand sponsorships; content creation; civic and charitable initiatives; and consultant services that include publicity, digital marketing, social media, sales solutions, and merchandising optimization.
Building the Company
The seeds for this new agency were first planted in 2015, when Washington, who was executive vice president at Sony’s Red Associated Labels at the time, 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.
While these trucks did help successfully generate consumer awareness, something was still missing. Although record labels had recently suffered massive losses due to the decline in CD sales across all genres, Washington noticed that R&B music was actually experiencing a slight spike in CD unit sales. However, the mobile trucks advertising at ESSENCE Fest failed to provide a designated point-of-purchase to take advantage of this spike and 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 Campaign Activation in Action at ESSENCE Fest
This Is Dope was present at this year’s ESSENCE Festival with a mobile pop-up campaign, in partnership with Sony Music brands Certified and The Thread Shop.
(Photo Courtesy of TID)
With an interior designed emulating a cozy-chic lounge environment, the air-conditioned, 18-foot truck provided ESSENCE Fest attendees with free Wi-Fi, in addition to offering promotional giveaways and access to a selfie booth. It also hosted celebrity meet-and-greets with Common, Ro James, and others.
Celebrity visit with Common (Photo Courtesy of TID)
In addition to the exquisite pieces of neck art from the Sheila Gray Collection, the Brownstone Essentials Candles, and other specialty items available for sale at the pop-up truck, music fans were also able to purchase vinyl records and CDs from artists like Solange Knowles, John Legend, Michael Jackson, OutKast, and Sade. Re-issued vinyl copies of Luther Vandross’ album, Never Too Much, were even on sale exclusively at the pop-up truck.
However, the campaign activation at this year’s ESSENCE Fest wasn’t This Is Dope’s first time at the festival. In 2016, TID launched a similar mobile, pop-up truck promotional campaign on behalf of an album by Maxwell, Black Summer’s Night. In a partnership with Columbia Records, TID wrapped the truck with Maxwell’s new album artwork and created. Maxwell also visited the truck and engaged with his concert goers.
Music by Maxwell and other festival headliners was available for sale in both vinyl and CD formats at the truck, in addition to other customized items created by African American vendors.
“My theory was that music is very personal, and what we saw at ESSENCE was that women that didn’t have turntables were still buying vinyl. The vinyl was autographed, and it was beautiful. We are marketing to women [that also appreciated that],” Washington says.
(Photo Courtesy of TID)
The success of this particular campaign at ESSENCE Fest led to more opportunities for more promotional campaign initiatives during other Maxwell appearances, including during the artist’s performance on ABC’s Good Morning America. Fans and V.I.P. guests were invited inside the truck, where they not only had the opportunity to purchase Maxwell’s new music, but were also able to take selfies with images Maxwell to share on social media.
BET’s ‘Voice the Vote’ Campaign
In fact, TID has racked up a long list of satisfied clients. For instance, in the midst of the 2016 U.S Presidential Election, Viacom hired TID 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.
(Photo Courtesy of TID)
When the BET Vote Your Voice campaign was later featured on ABC’s The View, there was even a segment in which Raven-Simoné was featured inside the truck, while it was parked outside the network’s television studios.
Other Campaign Activations by This Is Dope
TID has also developed a successful activation 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.
(Photo Courtesy of TID)
(Photo Courtesy of TID)
“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.”
Gwendolyn Quinn is an award-winning media consultant with a career spanning more than 25 years. She is a contributor to BlackEnterprise.com, Black Enterprise’s BE Pulse, Huffington Post, EURWEB.com, and Medium.com. Quinn is also a contributor to Souls Revealed and Handle Your Entertainment Business.