A person doesn’t wake up one day esteemed as a Visionary without reason. Visionaries like Daniel Cherry III, SVP & GM at adidas, and Coltrane Curtis, Founder & Managing Partner at Team Epiphany, have earned their spot. These are the type of people you want in your corner if you want to cultivate creativity and courage in your career – they will pour their heart, mind, and strength into your success, as they did in this conversation.
Without a clear path or guide, especially as people of color in the marketing and creative industries, Daniel and Coltrane have overcome much. From finding their way through personal and professional challenges along with fears, setbacks, and failures, they have created uncharted pathways for others to succeed.
Daniel and Coltrane are family-first leaders and overflow with wisdom learned through real-life experiences. They speak from their soul and abound in cultural equity.
It was a privilege for MTM to host them alongside Kory Marchisotto, CMO at e.l.f. Beauty and President at Keys Soulcare for our first episode of Visionaries Unplugged.
In 45 minutes, we covered how to see obstacles as opportunities, win with cultural equity, move through fear as a black voice in corporate America, build muscles through trial and failure, and much more. Below is their inspiring journey; may it be a guide for your career.
Meet The Visionaries
Daniel Cherry III describes his career: “I have worked on both sides of the brief. I worked in advertising at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Wieden + Kennedy and became a managing partner at Anomaly. Then, I went client-side and worked at Diageo, Activision Blizzard, and DC Comics. I’m currently at adidas, serving as the Sr. Vice President & GM of Originals, Basketball, and Partnerships. Essentially, all the cool kid stuff you see in the market. Our collective group’s work comes from downtown LA (DTLA) and Germany, but my remit is global.”
Coltrane Curtis started his career in celebrity fashion but had an “epiphany”: “Throughout the beginning of my career, I was always involved in New York City culture, and I decided to start an agency like my dad. That was 19 years ago. When my wife and I started Team Epiphany, we had no money. But now we have this 100% independently owned, 70% minority, 70% female agency. Most agency guys talk about their clients; I mainly talk about the work we do for them: listening, understanding culture, respecting it, and putting in work that allows brands to dialogue with consumers.”
So, You Want to Make it in Corporate America?
By Daniel Cherry III
Coltrane and my journey began with no capital except our cultural capital and relationships. Our first marketing vehicle was our connections, an old Blackberry contact list, and some vinyl stickers.
For those who aspire to make it in corporate America, one of the things Coltrane and I have in common is that we started pre-corporate. We started before the suits came into the conversation – that’s when culture really starts.
Now that we are in these boardrooms, we have credibility. We come from the world of, ‘if you don’t wanna do it, we’ll do it ourselves.’ Folk needs to recognize that everything you do is a choice; every time you show up to work, it’s a choice. Culture is something you create over time, not something someone buys.
Bonafide Cultural Equity
By Coltrane Curtis
It has become challenging to hear stories of people who throw cultural equity around without having anyone credit-checking it. For me, cultural equity is the core of who I am and what I look for when I bring people into our organization.
I started my agency without money; we bartered our services to larger holding companies and agencies for nine years. My agency had about 45 people before we could afford our office space in New York and Portland. Things that I experienced had more value than the celebrities I knew.
My pops always told me, ‘The thing about culture is if you take something off the shelf, put something back of greater or equal value.’ If you are always thinking about growing and nurturing culture, it will give back to you. It’s a symbiotic relationship. If you blindly give, it will pay you back tenfold.
But the reality is, we live in a ‘take culture’ where things people say and do can’t be credit checked. That’s challenging at times, but for some strange reason, Team Epiphany karmically found our way to the seat we are in. And the beautiful piece about it is that we earned it. Once you earn it, you can’t take it away, even if you have challenging days.
Cultivating Creativity in Your Career: Bring the Real Influencers to the Table
By Coltrane Curtis
The challenge with social media today is that you have these socially born influencers who claim many things, but when the rubber meets the road and you’re in real life, those things need to be true. There is no Equifax for culture or ‘cool.’
You need to be connected to the gatekeepers of culture, know who they are, and have a relationship with them. From there, you can hand-to-hand combat and roll up your sleeves to do the work.
Hopefully, that’s what we do for brands – allow them to traverse a sea of lies and activate trustworthy people to do things that nothing else in a marketer’s toolbox can do.
When everybody talks about social media, the first thing I talk about is word of mouth. Word of mouth is trusting the person you’re talking to. And they may not be an expert on anything, but if they are trusted sources about one particular lane in their life, then you believe ’em for that.
That’s the piece that is missing in influencer marketing: trust. If someone’s being paid to tell you something, it is distrust worthy.
Brand marketers shouldn’t look for an algorithmic, created social influencer. They should be looking for the people who are actually driving it, the people who’ve inspired that person and brought that person into the fold.
Engaging Culture: Do It Yourself
By Daniel Cherry III
6 Tips on Engaging Culture:
1. Don’t be like other companies who try to buy their way in; just because you have a budget doesn’t mean you get access to culture.
2. See from the culture’s point of view in real life. Do you know a consumer? Do you hang out with people in the community?
3. You can’t just sponsor; you have to be an advocate and a patron of the culture you wish to engage, influence, and market.
4. Come humble. Ask your way in; don’t buy your way in.
5. Social media is the land of great pretend. How do you cut through? You physically go there.
6. There’s a lot of marketers out there that make stuff up. Try to actually make something, not just make something up. When you produce things that exist in culture, it will be a key differentiator between you and those who are all talk.
Seeing Obstacles as Opportunity in Your Career
By Daniel Cherry III
One of the things that I tell my mentees and people of color is that being young, black and brown, and cool is not a skill set; it’s a life stage.
In this life stage, you gain information unique to you, and it’s valuable. But unfortunately, in business, they take that for granted. They take our culture for granted. They don’t believe there is a science to it, so they will discount your voice in the room, even though you are the closest to the answer.
The key for me was figuring out how to package and vocalize what I see in culture from an economic standpoint. Once I packaged it in terms of value to the business, and top and bottom-line growth, the CMOs and CFOs started to perk up.
I used to get frustrated by being unable to sell ideas when I was younger because I was packaging them in a way that made sense to me and the culture at large but not to those suits in the boardroom.
What I’d say to young marketers is: figure out how to speak the language of growth in your company and package it accordingly.
Moving Through Fear as a Black Voice in Corporate America
Daniel Cherry III: My career wasn’t easy. Even though Coltrane’s dad was in advertising, he was my mentor in many ways. There are not many of us in this game; there was no nepotism, trust fund, guide, or North Star. One of the things that makes guys like Coltrane and me resilient is that we only had one option: go.
Our superpower is, more than anything else, that we don’t fear failure. Building resilience through failing fast is the one thing that kept me motivated and excited for the future. I get anxious and excited, but what I don’t do is get fearful of what I don’t know.
Coltrane Curtis: Growing up, I was fearful a lot. I was afraid of my environment but never really scared of the unknown. Many things that I’ve done in my life have prepared me for the things that most people fear. Most leaders are afraid of people seeing them fail and being misperceived. But if you turn that into a positive and think of it as ‘failing up,’ people can learn from that. Then you don’t have to be fearful because everything is transparent.
The Importance of Community for Black and Brown Marketing Leaders
By Daniel Cherry III
One of the things that helped me fight fear is that I realized I was never going through it alone, even though I thought I was.
When I was going through tough times, I once said that all I had was my character, my community, and the love of what I do. And that community is what helped me overcome personal and professional issues.
Not only do I have people like Coltrane in my community, but I have my wife, two girls, and generations of people that came before me.
There’s a Grammy-nominated poet named Amir Sulaiman, and he said, “You will be someone’s ancestor one day. Act accordingly.” What that says to me is that I’m connected to a lineage of survivors that chose to wake up every day and overcome the worst of the worst, hoping and praying that I will be sitting here talking to you.
When you recognize that you’re someone’s ancestor, you now have a goal bigger than yourself.
Marketing: How to Break the Mold Through Your Career
Coltrane Curtis: We should demand that marketing and advertising speak to the beautiful things about our culture. The people I work with are my family. We share this weight together. All that we are really doing is creating opportunities to tell the best stories we can about people and who we are. We allow our diversity to impact the work.
Daniel Cherry III: When it comes to Black Twitter, social media, and fashion, what black and brown women like the world wants. I want to give a platform to those women to have a voice and seat at the table. That’s what I’m most excited about – using whatever I have to make more of that happen.
Visionaries, hosted by Nadine Dietz, airs every week and is brought to you in partnership with The Wall Street Journal. Each week, two new visionaries share their game plan and how that impacts today’s teams, talent, and hybrid work environment.
Co-Host Kory Marchisotto, CMO at e.l.f. Beauty: Kory Marchisotto is recognized for cultivating partnerships and building lasting relationships across the beauty and fashion industries, including executive-level communications within global organizations. She is an accomplished executive with progressive experience leading digital and traditional marketing strategies with a keen ability to steer brand vision, establish innovative programs, and create effective team development. At e.l.f. Beauty, she leads an accomplished team, and in 2022, her brand was rated #1 cosmetics brand in Piper Sandler’s “Taking Stock with Teens.” Check out Kory’s Visionaries episode on Exploring the Gen Z Revolution!
Coltrane Curtis, Founder & Managing Partner at Team Epiphany: Coltrane Curtis was one of the first employees at the first global streetwear brand Ecko Unlimited, the first to launch and run Complex magazine, and to understand the power that hip-hop had in fashion, forging a partnership with 50 Cent to create G-Unit Apparel. He was the first MTV Style VJ and lead all the coverage of the network’s red carpets and fashion news. Inspired by his father, who started one of the first black-owned advertising agencies in American history, Coltrane started the first modern influencer agency: Team Epiphany. It has become an award-winning powerhouse with one of the industry’s most diverse staffs of 75+ employees, offices in NYC and LA, and a roster of Fortune 500 clients including AirBnB, American Express, Apple, Audi, Coca-Cola, HBO, Glenfiddich, Hendrick’s Gin, Rémy Martin, JBL, and more. Today, Team Epiphany is celebrating over 17-years of being an independent, culture-first marketing agency under the leadership of Coltrane and his wife (and Co-Managing Partner at Team Epiphany) Lisa Chu. Coltrane has been a leader in the industry as a driving force for increased diversity & inclusion, culture and community in marketing & advertising, and is frequently touted by leading publications like Adweek, Forbes, Hypebeast, GQ, Wired, and many more.
Daniel Cherry III, SVP & GM at adidas: DC III is an SVP & General on the adidas Originals, Basketball, & Partnerships team. Prior to joining adidas, Mr. Cherry served as Senior Vice President and General Manager of DC Comics global publishing businesses and multi-media brand – a division of Warner Bros. Discovery. Prior to joining DC Comics, Daniel served as the Chief Marketing Officer at Activision Blizzard Esports, where he led global marketing, strategy, & communications duties for Activision Blizzard’s portfolio of esports franchises, establishing the world’s first-ever global, city-based esports leagues. Daniel also served as Senior Vice President of Marketing at Diageo North America for several years. Cherry’s expansive creative and brand innovation tenure includes serving as CMO of several sports clubs, including the three-time Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils and the legendary New York Cosmos. Daniel’s work has been recognized with numerous awards and recognition, including a Grammy nomination, a Cannes Gold Lion, Sports Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40, an Adweek Vanguard Award, an EBONY Power 100 List nomination, and several Effie Awards for advertising effectiveness.
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