Team Epiphany, a marketing and creative agency that’s been around for 15 years, is responsible for conceptualizing the idea of an “influencer” before the social media we know today even existed. They’re also the creative force behind collaborative projects like the Heineken 100 and Coca-Cola Energy x Camp High’s campaign, a brand that was featured in the latest issue of the Highsnobiety magazine. Coltrane Curtis and Lisa Chu, the agency’s managing partners, work, commute, and live together, now even more than ever. Pretty much the only thing they’re fighting about is sharing office space within their NYC apartment. The duo joins host Jian DeLeon on this episode of ‘Vibe Check’ to talk about recent projects and the steps they’re taking to keep small businesses up and running.

Lisa Chu: In addition to running the agency’s event production, I’m also chief financial officer at Team Epiphany. Which means I’m reading anything and everything that has to do with the stimulus package because this pandemic is having a huge impact on culture and community. We’re an independent, small business that employs over 70 employees so I’m doing everything I can to ensure their financial security as well as the agency’s. I’m on the phone with our friends that own companies like Vosges, Cosabella, LEDE PR and our network of influencer friends to share stimulus information that may help keep our NYC community of small businesses afloat.

The agency’s accomplishments from their Coca-Cola and Camp High collaboration is up on Coltrane’s list as one of Team Epiphany’s top five collaborations (5:22). Jian picks his brain on the project’s execution and how brands can speak to an audience during a time when people are increasingly in tune to what's happening in the product landscape (7:26).

The below interview is a transcribed version of ‘Vibe Check.’ It has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Coltrane Curtis: I think, when you think about how brands have to move, I think it’s the way brands should have been moving all along, which is to listen. I think brands do a lot of advertising and shouting at consumers, but very few listen. And I think the role of the agency is going to be, after we come out on the back end of this, even more important now than ever, because we represent the consumer, we have respect for the consumer, we are the consumer.

Jian DeLeon: For sure. Well, one of the things that stuck with me about an analogy you made about marketing, around culture, is you said that culture is sort of like a shelf where, whether it’s an agency or a brand, anybody who touches something on that shelf, it’s not totally theirs. It’s like they’re borrowing it for a moment. And when they put it back, they’ve got to ask themselves, “Is this in a better condition than when I took it off in the first place?” Can you speak about that, and how that applies now more than ever to this notion of where we’re at?

CC: I think you’ve got to have respect for the community. And I think time after time, when you really feel about African American communities being hit by the coronavirus, you can kind of look back and look at the way in which our brands, our insights, our culture has literally been pirated and stolen and misappropriated, if you will, for huge brands. And you’ve got to be able to continue to grow those communities. So it’s like, when you plant, you harvest, you take something out of the ground, you put more seeds back in. Otherwise, that land will be barren in the future.

Community seems to be an increasingly elusive concept in this day and age, and Coltrane expresses a need to value and protect such a word from falling to the same fate as hollow terms like “influencer” (13:22). This line of thinking is essential for marketing agencies that aim to activate an entire team alongside their boss — treat it almost like a mob business, as Coltrane suggests. After all, there’s an undeniable strength in numbers.

Stay tuned for new episodes of ‘Vibe Check’ releasing every Tuesday and Thursday.

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