As an influencer, navigating contracts with brands and agencies is inherently challenging, given lack of stringent protocols. However, the process can be even more challenging for minority influencers, who are largely underrepresented in influencer marketing.
Jacques Bastien made it his mission to change that. He founded the multicultural marketing agency, Boogie, with his wife, Dahcia Lyons-Bastien, in 2011. Recently, the two followed up by launching Shade Management, a company dedicated to providing guidance and consultative services to influencers of color working with brands in a variety of fields, largely fashion and beauty.
“We just made a realization that we’re young people of color in the marketing space,” Bastien said. “We’re the consumers these brands are trying to reach, and these influencers are friends of ours. As it relates to representation, if anyone is going to do things that will help people of color, it’s going to be people of color.”
The company launched quietly in October 2016, and within days of opening, it already had nearly 100 client applications. Bastien said that was indicative of the void of services for influencers of color. Shade currently has 20 clients on its roster and has helped facilitate projects with brands including Square, Daniel Wellington, and Dark and Lovely. In addition to helping influencers manage contracts and negotiate fees, Shade is planning to dive deep into what makes black consumers tick by commissioning a consumer report on spending habits and engagement with brands.
A client of Shade Management, featured on its Instagram account
At its core, Shade is devoted to increasing the share of minority voices in the media to more accurately reflect the population and foster dialogue. Bastien, who is also a professor of UIX design at the University of Albany, said the aim is to expand to provide a wider range of resources for influencers and help them develop their careers. He is also in the process of launching Nappy, a nod to the colloquial term used in the black community to describe hair, which will be a free photo stock website for people of color.
“Personally, it’s a matter of scratching my own itch,” Bastien said. “I’m a black guy in media. I’ve been around the game for ten years, I see how things are. It’s 100 percent true that in advertising, while there are many advances in diversity and things are getting better, what we see on TV doesn’t fully represent the world we’re in today.”
In addition to Shade, other services have also been cropping up in recent months in an attempt to support influencers of color, including Divergent Media. Divergent Media was founded by Austin Null, a full-time YouTube influencer himself, who had grown frustrated by the lack of opportunities for people of color. Though Null is white, he is married to a black woman and the father of three biracial children, and said he felt compelled to do his part to increase the voices of people of color on influencer channels.
Austin Null and his family, who are often featured in his YouTube videos
As a result of his following on YouTube, on which he has shared several videos of his mixed family, he said he is constantly barraged with requests from brands asking to include him in various diversity initiatives. He said he was growing frustrated by agencies and brands tokenizing him and his family for diversity initiatives, rather than integrating people of color into their daily projects.
“It was all good stuff in theory, but they were all major brands,” Null said. “Why is this a special thing and not like all the other campaigns you’ve done during the year?”
Null said, in light of recent events — including Pepsi’s launch of a tone-deaf campaign featuring Kendall Jenner in the middle of a protest that looked troublingly similar to a Black Lives Matter event — agencies like Shade and Divergent are more necessary than ever.
“When I saw the Pepsi campaign, it was a reminder that, while I knew things were bad, when a company that massive can be that tone-deaf, it’s another moment of realizing we have a long way to go,” he said.
Though Null launched the company five months ago, he said business has been slow, but he is confident the platform will resonate with black creators and hopes to work collaboratively with them to elevate their voices.
“I want this to be another platform for people of color to tell their stories in a raw, honest way, without being hindered by brands,” he said. “It should be another outlet for people to create content that they’re passionate about. I just want to be there to help empower them to do that in whatever way possible.”
Photo courtesy of Urban Bush Babes