When Cristal wanted to engage with the consumer market in the U.S., something it hadn’t done in 10 years, the company turned to 19th & Park, a full-service creative agency launched by Tahira White, Nicole Januarie and Whitney Headen in 2016.
Cristal, the Champagne brand based in France, lost favor within the African-American community in 2006 when Jay-Z declared a boycott against the company following comments made by an executive at Louis Roederer, which produces the Champagne, that the mogul considered racist.
19th & Park put together an event at the New Museum Sky Room in New York that introduced Cristal 2008 to a diverse array of influencers, athletes and creatives who experienced food and Champagne pairings.
“It was a very unique and empowering moment,” said Januarie. “Being asked to take a brand that as a community we thought was elevating us and now we are elevating them was an experience.”
For the 19th & Park team, the event confirmed that they were no longer working for other companies, but entrepreneurs running their own business. It also emphasized how important their services are for brands that want to avoid tone deaf marketing and include all perspectives in decision-making around communications. And because of this, in the span of a couple of years they’ve executed on marketing initiatives with corporations including McDonald’s, Colgate, Nike and Walmart.
“The whole idea is to bring us together so we can see what’s missing and what voice is being silenced,” said Januarie. “We like to come from that perspective because we know what it feels like to be excluded from the conversation.”
Januarie and Headen met while working in marketing at Essence where they decided to launch their own agency, which is named after each founder’s former addresses. White, who produced events and content for fashion brands including Express, Diesel and Dior Homme, knew both Januarie and Headen through work projects.
The agency covers everything from strategy and ideation, which is led by Januarie, to project management and execution, which is led by White. Headen looks over business operations. They are women of color who emphasize that they understand how to appeal to multiple audiences.
“We are multicultural women running a full-service agency, but we don’t only service black women,” said Headen. “We have a specialty for finding great stories and content.”
According to Januarie, brands no longer view diversity marketing as something made specifically for multicultural audiences, but as a message that resonates with the masses, something that fashion brands in particular are starting (or trying) to understand.
For the brand relaunch of Anna Sheffield, a New York-based fine jewelry designer known for her wedding bands, 19th & Park utilized real people in the campaign and showcased love in a way traditional jewelry marketing usually doesn’t. Headen said consumers are looking for authenticity and they don’t always need to be sold a product.
“The focal point was not the jewelry, it was the feeling that jewelry gives you and storytelling,” said Headen. “We wanted to show that this is what love looks like and what it feels like. It doesn’t just have to be a romantic relationship between a man and woman. It can be friends. It can be family.”
This storytelling also comes into pop-ups and experiential spaces, another facet of the agency that Headen said many brands get wrong. 19th & Park was responsible for Frank Ocean’s surprise pop-up for the release of his album “Blonde” in New York, and Madison, a pop-up in Columbus, Ohio, run by Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard Evan Turner.
Turner, who is originally from Chicago, noticed a dearth of men’s streetwear brands in the region and hired 19th & Park to build a temporary experience that had impact. On the most basic level, Headen, who views pop-ups as one-time-only concerts, said that meant stocking the shop with exclusive product, finding a location on a highly trafficked street and coordinating appearances from influencers and celebrities such as Chance the Rapper for buzzy, social moments. But Headen said the success of the pop-up, which did so well that Turner opened a permanent store, also hinged on timing.
“The main thing with pop-ups is the art of surprise,” said Headen. “When you have a pop-up in the middle of fashion week it’s not as effective as when you do it at midnight when not much else is going on. That offers a feeling of exclusivity.”
The 19th & Park agency used local influencers to drive communications and bring more people to the space, but their approach to influencer marketing isn’t only contingent upon how many followers they have, but their impact and engagement.
“There is a big misunderstanding about how influencer marketing works, but just because you have followers doesn’t mean you can sell product,” said Headen. “Having a big basketball player is great, but getting the community involved really helps amplify the message.”
The optics of inclusivity are important, but as mentioned by actress Ellen Pompeo in a video for Net-a-porter that went viral, making sure that the crew is diverse is also integral. 19th & Park helps make those connections for its clients.
“It’s so important,” said White. “There are so many jobs and roles that people don’t know exist and it’s important for those to be diverse as well. We really want to offer the education on that.”
Going forward, they want to continue to partner with fashion brands and make sure all viewpoints are accounted for.
“It’s a space that we’ve influenced for so long, but I’ve watched us be boxed out of it,” said White. “I’m happy to see black creatives doing well in the industry, but that’s a very small dot on a huge surface. I’m excited to use our skills to bring some more excitement to what these brands are already doing.”