A Different Perspective On Steve Stoute/Jay-Z Ad Agency


I came across comments made by my colleague and friend Hadji Williams in his blog where he says about the Stoute/Jay-Z Interpublic deal

And to think Interpublic won’t hire black people who are trained ad professionals, but they’ll hire Jay-Z and Steve Stoute–a former record label exec–as ad men?

Screw going to portfolio school, getting an MBA and learning the ad biz inside out. Aspiring Black ad professionals should just work on making hit records…. that’s clearly the best way to get hired in the ad biz.

Though I am one who has had issues with the love affair brands and largely disconnected and clueless executives have had with Stoute, I have real issues with Hadji’s comments. For me, my issues revolved around the countless times I went into a meeting and faced what I would call the “Stoute Halo.” It would usually take place in a pitch meeting with a brand where they would look at my background and celebrity relationships and ask, “Can you get X-Celebrity and/or Jay-Z on the phone or involved in our program?” Here I was a small business owner trying to prove my worth as a legimate brand strategist and once again I was dumbed down to the black guy who was being looked at to “wrangle a celebrity.”

Hadji’s comments would lead one to believe that ad execs with MBA’s automatically equal “talented” or “smart.” Unfortunately I have been sorely disappointed in many business settings with the lack of depth and creativity that “so-called” Wharton or Harvard MBA marketing “geniuses” possessed. Similar to the record business the advertising agency is crying out for new blood and innovation. Why not Steve Stoute or Shawn Carter? At the end of the day, Interpublic made the right move because this is a “business man” and the Stoute/Jay-Z duo, call it what you want, equates to biz dev doors opening and yes white, black, green, puerto rican and hatian CMO’s dying to meet with them. And as far as Black ad execs inside agencies or worse those that are at black agencies; generally I have come across a giant hole in the areas of creativity, innovation, and strategy.

As a former record executive andd now interactive agency Vice President I go toe-to-toe with “well-degreed” and “pedigreed” execs on both the client and agency side. My experience at a record label gave me P&L responsibility, International exposure, and even new media innovation opportunities that all of my clients and co-workers appreciate. The skills those of us formerly in the record business acquired “breaking artists” come in handy across so many different business segments. Whether it is packaged goods, financial services or even travel/tourism I have never felt better about my ability to craft a solid plan that is innovative, on budget, and on strategy.

Young people. There is no record business to go to so that is not your entry point but I caution you on emulating your career around a dead model known as traditional advertising. Go to a place that screams innovation, bleeds creativity and inspires you to pour your gifts into it on a daily basis. Those qualities used to exist in this “ol thing” called the record business. Go get a great gig and make sure you buy Hadji’s Book


1 Response to “A Different Perspective On Steve Stoute/Jay-Z Ad Agency”

  1. March 10, 2008 at 3:18 am

    James – While I certainly agree with you about guys like Stoute/Jay Z. bringing “new blood and innovation” to the table, Hadji’s frustration with corporate America’s love affair with celebrity driven marketing agencies is a valid point.

    While we often faced the frustrations of dealing with clients that we had to “educate” on the subject of cultural relevancy, the real grief I have is the fascination that the most people in corporate America have with “celebrity.”

    We often see celebs from Ashton Kutcher to Jay Z. parlaying their celebrity status to creating a marketing company, or an ad agency. While they may bring a new innovation to the table, it’s not as if their ideas differ from something that an internet-savvy college students, or first year business school, can bring to the table. What Steve Stoute’s case really says to the world is that it doesn’t matter if you actually have any type of skills, it’s more important for you to be a celebrity’s groupie/best friend. Just look at Kim Kardashian, she got a TV show for being Paris Hilton’s BFF. You will get the meetings that you could never have gotten with the companies, if you have a famous celebrity friend that you can get on the phone.

    For young people, the record business of the old doesn’t exist. But thankfully, there’s another interesting field where they can emulate their career around – streetwear industry. There are thousands of young men and women, sitting around daydreaming about becoming the next Marc Ecko, or Jonas Bevacqua.

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