How did you get started in advertising? What's been your career road map?
Everyone is surprised to learn that I began my career on Wall Street in finance. I was an investment banker in the media and entertainment industry where there is a very close connection to advertising because it is the primary revenue stream for the television, magazine, cable, and digital media companies who were my clients.
After a big stock market crash, I jumped from Wall Street to Time Warner where I worked in strategic planning for the magazine publishing division. I worked on some groundbreaking projects building digital brand extensions for titles like InStyle, Real Simple, and Time. I also worked on some amazing new business launches in the multicultural space with brands like Essence, Sports Illustrated Latino, Suede Magazine that focus on African American, Hispanic, and multicultural consumers respectively.
After a successful career in corporate America, I decided to become an entrepreneur to marry my passion for working with diverse voices in multicultural media with my love for the innovation in digital media and technology. The result is my company, Mirror Digital, that I launched six years ago. We are a multicultural ad network, and the largest digital media company focused exclusively on Multicultural America.
What keeps you motivated? Do you have a personal motto?
My personal motto is derived from a quote by Henry David Thoreau: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” Being an entrepreneur is an incredibly challenging path. Additionally, being in the “Ad Tech” sector there are very few women and even fewer women of color represented. That said, every day I remember that I am privileged to be able to run a company doing something that I love.
What excites you most about this industry?
I find it exciting that our clients and agency partners are beginning to realize the tremendous business potential of the multicultural consumer market (African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanics). Through our work at Mirror Digital, our team shares insights on how multicultural consumers contribute to our culture and economy and grow our clients’ businesses with our innovative digital campaigns.
Photos: Steven F. Heuer Studios
Where is advertising heading? What do the next five years look like?
The industry will have to decide the fate of publishing and whether advertising can be as effective without these partners who deliver our clients’ marketing messages.
Being a female, African-American CEO in advertising must not always be an easy journey. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far?
When I launched my company, there were almost no black women visible in the technology start-up world which made it impossible to secure venture funding to grow my business like my white, male counterparts do.
When things are difficult, the most important thing I do is just keep going. I stay focused on my purpose and the reason I started my firm. Experiencing success thus far with creating jobs for young people of color in our industry, helping clients achieve their goals, and building a profitable business make it all worthwhile.
What advice do you have for young, black professionals just starting in advertising?
My advice to any young professional starting his or her career is to find a firm where people will train you and invest in helping you build skills. From that point forward, don’t ever stop learning. Be a constant student who is willing to learn from everyone: read the trades, sign up for free webinars, understand the latest trends.
Everyone is extremely busy in our industry, especially in the agency world. If you can build expertise around a topic that no one has figured out yet (whether it be a new social media platform, new advertising technology, or a new media partner) you can make yourself valuable to your team and your company beyond your specific job title.
For young black professionals and other under-represented groups, my advice is to find allies early on in your career to help you navigate some of the political situations that you don’t learn about in a text book or in school. Also, remember: these allies do not have to necessarily look like you. Find people you get along with and who are willing to help.
What should our industry be talking about in 2018, 2019?
We should be giving some hard thought to the ongoing consolidation within the media industry and the continued growth of the dominant digital technology and advertising platforms. These changes will have a lasting impact on the economics of our industry as fewer companies amass buying and selling power.
Any closing thoughts for the ThinkLA community?
Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities on the planet. We cheat ourselves by not fully leveraging the dynamism of this diversity in our industry. I love that ThinkLA helps us by bringing disparate groups together as a community. From this shared sense of community we can see that there is a lot to be gained by offering everyone a seat at the table.
Sheila Marmon is Founder and CEO of Mirror Digital.