Lessons from Russell Simmons at Digitas xCulture

April 1, 2013

A year ago, Digitas Chicago decided to take its cross-cultural marketing efforts to the next level. They had a vision for equipping employees to deal with a changing multicultural marketplace. It was they who introduced the Digitas xCulture platform last spring, leading to similar programs that launched in New York City and Boston in the fall.

Digitas xCulture frequently hosts speakers ranging from researchers and industry professionals to public figures such as Olympic athletes and singers. To celebrate its first anniversary, hip hop mogul and uber-successful entrepreneur Russell Simmons took the stage with Tricia Clarke-Stone, co-President at GlobalGrind.com, to speak with employees about his experience working with diverse audiences on March 27.

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Simmons is a bona fide jack of all trades, able to spot trends long before they go mainstream (in fact, it’s just that talent that helped him succeed in music, fashion and content). He is also known for his emphasis on spirituality and faith in life and business, a perspective that certainly sets him apart from the many numbers-driven magnates we’re used to.

It was precisely this point of view that I found at once intriguing and inspiring as I heard him speak to the hundred or so employees crammed into Digitas’ event space last Wednesday afternoon. Here are some of his best lessons:

 

  1. It’s not about “multicultural.” Based on his experience, Simmons sees advertising’s approach to multicultural characters as more inclusive than Hollywood’s. “You see it in advertising because you have research that proves, engagement that proves, a singularly-cultural, multi-racial phenomenon in mainstream America,” he said. This insight is not only valuable for marketers, but also for how we acknowledge Millennials as a whole.

  2. Be in the moment. In typical fashion, Simmons shared some of his mantras and guiding philosophies. Having built an empire out of recognizing excellent, creative work, he shared his way of inspiring himself. “It’s not about being nervous or disaffected or worried about results,” Simmons said. “Anything that takes you away from the moment is going to take you away from creativity.”

  3. Hard work, dedication and faith. Simmons is known for saying “You can’t fail until you quit.” He elaborated on this point at the event, saying that perseverance and belief in your own cause can motivate and drive you to put in the work you need to make miracles happen. Faith in this case could be spiritual, but more likely it’s a faith in yourself and your goals that will make things happen.

In addition to this conversation, Simmons and Clarke-Stone introduced two new companies they’ll be launching soon. The first is Narrative, a digital marketing, technology and media sales company that will give brands a way to connect with Simmons’ vision of mainstream America through immersive experiences. The other is All Def Digital (ADD), a YouTube for music, comedy, poetry and more, that will be produced in partnership with Awesomeness TV CEO Brian Robbins.

With insights and advice from Simmons jotted down in notebooks and recorded on smartphones, the Digitas employees seemed pleased by the conversation. The talk was well-aimed at this audience of mostly young advertising professionals, but I’d love to know your thoughts. What are your experiences marketing to a multicultural audience? Share any insights, reactions or tips in the comments!

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