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This is a full transcript of the conversation which has been lightly edited for clarity.
Jamarlin Martin: You’re on GHOGH with Detavio Samuels, the president of Interactive One. How’s it going Detavio?
Detavio Samuels: What’s up JM? How you doing man?
Jamarlin Martin: Pretty good. Pretty good. Thanks for coming on GHOGH. Let’s dive right in and GHOGH. So tell us about your background. You know, your path to get to the president of Interactive One, over 30,000,000 of revenue, over a 100 employees growing your business in a very tough market. How did you get here?
Detavio Samuels: Yeah. So how far back do you want me to go? I can go back to college. So I grew up in born and raised in Denver, Colorado, left Colorado for college and went to Duke University. My truth is that I’ve always been one of those kids that was pretty good at school. Pretty good at academics. I didn’t buy books and I barely went to class and was a solid B+ student as someone who was just trying to hang out and party. That formula worked for me. Then second semester, senior year, I take a marketing class and it just blows my mind, it’s the first time where I ever felt passionate about the subject. That was the first time where I wanted to not just own the book but read the book and know everything about it. And so that sets me on this path that I decided I want to be a top marketer in that point in time. I imagined that I want to be a CMO for a fortune 500 company and as I do the research, you know, the one commonality is they all have MBAs. And so the average person was going to business school at 28. I was 21, didn’t want to wait. I went to work at Duke’s Business School so I could sit in on classes and start learning early. Anyways, used that experience to get into business school. I get into business school at 23, go to Stanford Business School. There I study courses that have all to do with marketing as well as entrepreneurship. Come out, go to Johnson & Johnson and do global marketing. On the Johnson & Johnson and marketing side. I loved the experience, but I felt like a lot of what I was doing was just becoming a good filter. The agencies would bring us ideas. My job was to say those five ideas aren’t great. Only two of them are great. Let’s tweak them and then take them to the CFO who would approve them. And I didn’t want to be on the filter side and wanted to be on the ideas side. So I left global marketing at Johnson & Johnson and I went to a company called GlobalHue at the time GlobalHue was the number one multicultural agency in the nation. We won multicultural agency of the decade, they were the only agency where you had a black capability, LatinX capability and an Asian capability all in one. We turned that multicultural experience into becoming the first multicultural agency that ran a quote-unquote general market brand. We ran Jeep. Took all that we knew about multiculturalism and brought it into the general market or total market, which really helped shape my thinking at the same time. I got tired of making commercials. We were making Superbowl spots with Oprah and doing really amazing work. But the work that was really exciting to me was the stuff that was closer to branded entertainment. So we did a mini movie with Lenny Kravitz. This is before Beats by Dre had blown up. We put Beats headphones in Chrysler vehicles, Dodge vehicles, etc. So anyways, I just started falling in love with branded content and branded entertainment. So from there I started looking for opportunities there. Urban One came and recruited me to come to this company where I came on as the president of One Solution, which is their cross platform sales and marketing company, built a branded entertainment studio, built a creative agency, and then after 18 months was promoted here to take over the digital media division. And so for the last two years now I’ve been running One Solution as well as Interactive One. And that’s how I got here.
Jamarlin Martin: Did you have a job between Duke and Stanford? Did you work anywhere?
Detavio Samuels: Between Duke and Stanford? Yep. So between Duke and Stanford, I worked at Duke’s career management center at the Fuqua School of Business. And so for there I was doing kind of two things. My core job was working with people who were hiring Fuqua students, so I worked with all the consulting firms, the McKinseys, the Bains, the BCGs, the investment banks, the Goldmans, the Morgan Stanleys, etc. And my job was to help grow their footprint at the business school and get them to hire more students. It’s also how I got my first internship at J&J, because I’d been working with those corporations and then, like I said, when I was playing and not doing my day job, I was sitting in on classes. Going to events and forums and learning what the business school students were learning prior to getting into business school.
Jamarlin Martin: Including yourself, I know three Duke MBA graduates, black MBA graduates, and they’re running digital media businesses just like you, think that’s a coincidence?
Detavio Samuels: I do think it’s a coincidence because I don’t know if there’s anything that’s necessarily Duke that is feeding us into that space, but the black Duke Fuqua alumni network is unlike any other out there, period. And so just black Duke alumns are a super-powerful group and I love hearing that that group is interested in this digital media space, which is clearly the future of media.
Jamarlin Martin: Do you know the brother who is running SheKnows?
Detavio Samuels: I do. Um, Aki. Yeah, I know. I can. I know who else is there. Who else?
Jamarlin Martin: Devon Johnson, I believe he graduated from Fuqua. He’s working with the Lebron James media company. How intentional was it for you to work as an at scale African American media platform?
Detavio Samuels: Absolutely unintentional. So when I was thinking about what was next after GlobalHue, and again, where we had just specialized in multicultural marketing and translated that from marketing to marketing the multicultural consumers to marketing to a multi-cultural nation. My goal at that time was never to pigeonhole myself back into black or LatinX or demo that I wanted to stay total market, quote-unquote or general market and bring that expertise to the bigger playing field. I ultimately ended up here because the opportunity was great, and because I loved the chance that I was going to get to build my own branded content studio and a space that I really believed in, which is leveraging the power of black culture to drive general market business.
Jamarlin Martin: Alright. So people inside the game. Approximately two years ago, an executive said, hey Detavio’s moving to run Interactive One. He’s a very strong executive that’s coming over. People in the game know that you’re a strong leader. Why haven’t you had a kind of a public presence where a broader group of people know about the stuff, the interesting stuff that you’re doing?
Detavio Samuels: Yeah, that’s just a phenomenal question. I’m actually glad that you asked me. The reason people don’t know who I am is because I’ve personally chosen not to be out on the forefront. And so the blessing from my careers and I was a young exec at a very young age. I was probably like a president at like 30 years old. But what comes with that is people begin to critique your intentions and whether you’re there to build your own career, whether you’re there to do the job and so in order so that people didn’t get it twisted to make sure people knew that I was here to do the job and that I was passionate about performing and actually elevating the genius of everybody else there, I’ve personally taken a step back and now you’re going to see a change in 2018 as my Interactive One teams have said we don’t need you in the trenches anymore. That your version of being in the trenches is not doing the day to day operational work. But it’s actually clearing a path for us and clearing a path for the power of black culture. So in 2018, I am actively trying to change that. But I’m only changing it because I’ve gotten permission from my teams who are asking me to step out onto the forefront.
Jamarlin Martin: How many employees roll up under you?
Detavio Samuels: That’s about 160 between Interactive One and One Solution.
Jamarlin Martin: For the young founders and executives out there. What can you share in terms of your experience running a larger organization, growing a larger organization? What can you share in terms of advice for young executives out there?
Detavio Samuels: Yeah. The first one, I’ll just jump off of what you just said, which is I think it’s important that you build a public presence. You know, my team has done a really good job of educating me over the last six months to a year about how much that leadershIp presence is necessary, that the Revolts get to walk into the room because people know Diddy, that the All Def Digitals get to walk in the room because people knew Russell Simmons and that if you aren’t clearing that path for your team, you’re making their job harder. And so I shrunk because I was afraid of what people would think and my advice to them would be, you shouldn’t shrink for anybody in that actually, your business needs you to do the opposite of shrinking, which is be big, be tall, be present and clear the lane for the people who you’re hiring to deliver on their jobs.
Jamarlin Martin: When you’re interviewing employees and executives, what are the things that you’re focusing on?
Detavio Samuels: So the three things we focus on are, one, just performance and capability. So that’s what everybody does, right? Do we think this person can do the job? The next two pieces are what I think might be a little bit different to us from everybody else. So the second one is culture. Everyone is going to say culture. But when I tell you that I am super passionate and intentional about the culture we’re building and the types of people that we were bringing in to help run this company, it would be an understatement. So making sure that we get the right cultural fit for what we believe in and the vision and the passion, and what we want to create here, and then the third one is just taste profile. So when you’re in this business and you’re leveraging culture to connect with audiences and to build brands, you need people who have a certain taste profile that we are using data to help direct us, but it’s this combination of the art and the science and so you need people who have that art, you need people who just get the culture, know the culture, can see where the culture is and where the culture is going. And so that’s the third component that is really important for us.
Jamarlin Martin: OK got it. So you come in to Interactive One, probably within 12 months or so you acquire Bossip, MadameNoire, Hip Hop Wired. You guys execute that deal and you launch Cassius. Talk about coming into an organization and getting things popping right away.
Detavio Samuels: Yeah. It’s been a tornado. We’ve been in a storm for the last two years, but every day we do something that we believe is going to set us to set us up to be successful in the future. Hands down, I would say that the acquisition of Bossip, Hip Hop Wired and Madame Noire is the best thing we did last year. I believe that I undervalued even what was in those assets, so it was a pleasant surprise to see, the quality of the brands, the quality of the audience and the talent that we were able to bring along with us. So that was amazing. And I would also say that what I would never do again is acquire a company and launch a brand at the same time. Right? Like I think brands, I always tell people, if you wander off all plants, all the flowers are going to die. And so what ends up happening is you are doing an acquisition and a major brand launch and people get distracted and so there were just a lot of things that we wanted to accomplish last year that didn’t get accomplished because we’re trying to do too many things at once. So I believe in Cassius, super excited about where that brand is going. If I could do it again, I probably would have held off on Cassius for a second while we locked in the acquisition, and then took on Cassius once things were more stable here as a company.
Jamarlin Martin: Talk to the audience about the name Cassius. How did you think about a new brand arriving to that meme and what you’re focused on now?
Detavio Samuels: Yes. I love how the team got to the Cassius story. So we were looking at names. Naming a company in 2018 is incredibly difficult. Finding something people haven’t already trademarked, etc is incredibly hard. So after going down that path for a little bit, what ends up happening is the team has this insight that there have been lots of media companies named after little white boys and little white girls, El Marie Claire, George, etc. But there’s never been a media company named after little black boy, or a little black girl. And so because we want Cassius to skew male the team was looking for male names that come out of black culture, that would fit the north star and we land on Cassius because ultimately Cassius embodied everything, Cassius Clay embodied everything that we wanted Cassius the brand to stands for. And so the way that I would say that in the shortest way possible is to represent the best of black culture on a global stage unapologetically with the goal of moving culture forward. That’s who Cassius Clay was. And that’s what the Cassius brand is here to do.
Jamarlin Martin: Do some people perceive Cassius as a Complex killer? Complex Media for the audience.
Detavio Samuels: I think that definitely the past, the president before me who was talking about launching a brand, that was his intent, he wanted to launch a Complex killer. I don’t know that I see it as, I’ve never talked about it in terms of being a Complex killer. I do believe that Complex has a monopoly on cool and that there’s an opportunity for another brand to come in and play. I definitely think Cassius does that, but I also think Cassius is approaching it completely different. I think we’re super focused on a new America mindset, this belief that culture was moving forward, now in this kind of Trump America there’s a bunch of people who have historically been disenfranchised and who feel like culture’s moving backwards. That’s blacks, LatinX, LGBT, women, etc. And so Cassius is not just trying to be cool, but they’re trying to move culture forward for all of the people who have been marginalized, disenfranchised, etc. And so the stuff that we’re going to talk about on Cassius, there’s going to be some overlap with Complex, but a lot of it is going to be completely different.
Jamarlin Martin: Would it be fair to say Complex is a culture vulture?
Detavio Samuels: In our world, we would say yes. I think while we were creating Cassius, I remember looking at this clip that we circulated that had two young white males who were talking about, I don’t know if it was Remy Ma or Nicki Minaj or something, but everything about the video and how they were talking about the culture felt inauthentic, and we were watching and social media on Twitter as black people were calling them out. And so again, that just gave us belief that there’s an inauthenticity here that’s associated with Complex, not all the time. And I think things like Everyday Struggle with Joe Budden, when he was there. Those things felt authentic, but there was also a bunch of stuff that felt inauthentic to the culture. And so we saw them as being culture vultures. One of the other things that I define a culture vulture is if you’re going to borrow the culture or lean on the culture, what are you doing to put back into the culture and deposit into the culture? And I don’t know that I believe that Complex is doing anything in that world, so yes, we see them as culture vultures and believe that there’s an opportunity for an authentic voice beside them.
Jamarlin Martin: I’m gonna give you a scenario, and I want your point of view in terms of how the game has worked with my prior company. We have a brand, it has enough Comscore uniques in terms of traffic. We go to Burrell, at the time, this may be five years ago, we go to Burrell and there’s a white guy managing the McDonald’s account. His name is Patrick. Ok. So he’s like, ‘hey, you know, this particular digital brand is too edgy. We need something that’s more brand safe’. And so we launch another brand, a women’s lifestyle brand that is brand safe. And we have 10,000,000 Comscore uniques. We come back to Burrell. He does not give us any money for two years. This white guy, he’s with the white lady on the side. We’d come to Chicago. We’re pitching the brands and stuff is growing. We have a lot of engagement, we have real organic traffic, but he locks up the McDonald’s money at Burrell, and I’m like, ‘what’s up with this guy? You know, what’s going on?’ So he leaves Burrell. He goes to Complex. What do you think is going on there?
Detavio Samuels: Yeah. So in that world where you’re trying to get to, you believe that there was some sort of relationship between him and Complex?
Jamarlin Martin: Well, my experience in the game is, you have buyers who are looking for concert tickets. They’re looking for you to take care of them. A lot of the young buyers, they’re underpaid. They’re looking for some extra something. So there’s a lot of bias in the market. And so Complex, of course it’s venture-backed, they got investors, so when they’re competing against a lot of the black organizations. They got a bigger wallet to bribe essentially. I felt that this white guy at one of the largest black agencies, he was paid for.
Detavio Samuels: Yeah. And so first I say, because Burrell is still a client and a partner and they’re great partners to us and there’s still a white guy who runs a lot of that digital business who I have a great relationship with and I believe he comes at it from an authentic place, which is what you’re talking about, which is when you’re not doing it authentically. For me, I think Complex is this. Back in the days they used to have a saying, IBM, no one ever gets fired for hiring IBM. Right? So what happens is when you have people from the culture, CMOs, etc, trying to validate what is right for the culture, Complex is the one that rises. It’s got enough scale, they see it, they know it. So nobody black, white, purple or blue is going to get fired for hiring Complex. And then to your point, Complex also has the deep pockets to make sure people are taken care of. Meanwhile, there can be very credible, even brands who are more credible to the black community, more credible to black culture, but because they’re not on the radar of the 55-year-old white CMO, they don’t get it. So I also think that for that guy Patrick, to hire a previous company or to leverage your previous company is actually a risk for him as well. So for him to hire Complex, iIt’s risk free, they’ve got deeper pockets, the CMO and everybody’s going to be ok with it even if it goes wrong. So everybody leads you there. Even though there may be another brand or another property that’s better for the culture.
Jamarlin Martin: What about black agencies sending probably tens of millions of dollars to Complex over the years? But when you look at, when I used to look at their Comscore, they didn’t have any black people. The Comscore would come up like less than 20 percent Black for at least a few years. When I was looking at it, is that an issue where Complex, the culture vulture, they were taking a lot of black budgets that black media could have received, but the black agencies are getting taken care of, Complex has a deeper wallet. They’re probably executing better than the smaller sub scale black organizations, and they can live with only 20 percent of the audience being black.
Detavio Samuels: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. Now I am nervous for any black agency that would play that game. I fundamentally believe that if you’re in a black agency, you have to play the game differently than the general market agencies, so even though they’re playing that and sending the money to the Complex, I think that is a short-term strategy that in the long run will do them a disservice because all it’s going to take us for the general market media agency to come in and say that now they own Complex and now that company doesn’t even need to do the media-buy anymore. I’m so in the short term, I think it works for them and long term, I think it’s problematic. I think that if you are catering to these small, like these multicultural demos, then everything about your strategy, your execution has to be different than the way that the general market agencies would play it and anybody who’s not playing it that way, I think that it’s a scary future for them.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. I had a conversation with the CEO of Complex, Rich, and we’re talking about a sales partnership and I was in his office with his top sales guy, in 2012 and I said, hey, your stuff looks pretty good, but I noticed that on your ads they had a big Gillette Tiger Woods campaign. They had like African American campaigns on Complex dark. And I said that, your Comscore numbers are very low on African Americans. And you know what he told me was you’re not giving us enough credit. We have systems in place that are very sophisticated that gets the ads to the right people, black people.
Detavio Samuels: That’s just what he has to say. Yeah. That’s what they tell him. The media agencies gave you the party line. Right? And again, I think that’s just what happens when you deal with people who are coming from outside the culture instead of inside the culture.
Jamarlin Martin: Is DJ Vlad a culture vulture?
Detavio Samuels: I don’t actually follow him enough to have enough to talk about that. No, I love the culture conversation. And honestly, I also think that we do need to call them out. I think that it is unfair, not right, that there are a bunch of people who are leveraging black culture for financial benefit and for commercial benefit, but at the same time not depositing back into the culture in a positive way and to your point, taking money away from the people who are actively trying to service the people who represent that culture. So I’m all about calling them out. So if you want to run through a bunch of names we can, but I can only speak on the people that I 100 percent know and follow.
Jamarlin Martin: Ok. So Facebook has been in the news a lot lately, related to how they handled user data, the Trump campaign used Cambridge Analytica, they downloaded data from 50,000,000 user profiles. Do you think Facebook deserves a lot of the pushback from republicans, from democrats, from pretty much everybody across the spectrum? Do they deserve a lot of the criticism that they’re getting?
Detavio Samuels: A thousand percent. With great power comes great responsibility. You can’t sit in a position that Facebook is where you are taking 50 percent of the digital revenue, where you are owning data for hundreds of millions of consumers, where literally 99 percent of every new dollar is going to either you or Google and not take responsibility for the platform that you’ve built up. So 100 percent I think that they need to own up and be accountable.
Jamarlin Martin: So Spike Lee is coming out with his show and he’s framing it as this kid, he’s a black Zuckerberg and you know, I talked to some folks and they believe Zuckerberg, he’s the model, but do we want black kids to be like Zuckerberg?
Detavio Samuels: What is the model? The model in terms of what?
Jamarlin Martin: In terms of, he’s getting rich, he’s known as a genius. He has one of the biggest companies on the planet. We need more black founders, entrepreneurs to be like Zuckerberg, putting black and Zuckerberg together as like a model. Do you have a problem with that?
Detavio Samuels: Yeah. So what I can say is, we do we need more black entrepreneurs building generational wealth and helping our community build wealth across the board? Absolutely. When we talk about Zuckerberg as a personality and as an individual, I don’t know what we’re aspiring to, that just sounds like we’re aspiring to white success or white greatness or…
Jamarlin Martin: But the worst in white success. You know, early on there were emails about him cheating his co-founder, he stole the idea from the Winkelvoss twins. He doesn’t seem like he has an empathy for humanity. I just find it troubling that people would want to model after him. It doesn’t matter how much money someone has, if they’re going to oppress you or exploit humanity or go around destroying things.
Detavio Samuels: Yeah, I mean for me, I think it works on a superficial level. It doesn’t work when you put meat on the bones. In general, I don’t want anybody aspiring to be like anybody else. From a personality level, I believe that we’ve all got our own genius. We’ve all got our own magic and that our job should be to aspire to be the best versions of ourselves. Now God willing there’s a big group of us who are doing that and creating platforms and again, allow us to build financial wealth, family wealth, generational wealth for ourselves and multiple people, but there’s nothing in Mark Zuckerberg that I’m looking at saying I want to be like, or that I’m gonna recommend to these young people that work with me. Then I’m like, you guys need to chase that dream or that vision.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. I think if my son came to me and said, ‘hey daddy, I want to be like Mark Zuckerberg’, I would sock him in his chest. I really do. Do you guys have a relationship with Facebook?
Detavio Samuels: Small.
Jamarlin Martin: Small? Have any of these executives reached out and said, ‘hey, we want a partner, we want to give you some of these tools that we’re giving’, like clickbait operations like Buzzfeed or some of these other folks?
Detavio Samuels: Absolutely. So I’ve got good friends over there. We work and talk. The truth is that when you are a company, even though we are at scale for the populations that we service, we’re like a blip in the radar to a Facebook, right? So their whole thing is, unless you’re spending x of millions of dollars with them, right, you can’t get into the game where, you know, you make it onto the Facebook watch tab where you get some of the treatment that we see some of these publishers getting like the, the New York Times and the Complex. So because they’re not looking at culture in totality and they’re only looking at scale, people who are not in businesses that scale as easily don’t show up on their radar. And so it’s been really difficult for us to get a real win with Facebook, because in their world we’re too small. Meanwhile we got 80 different websites, millions of Facebook followers.
Jamarlin Martin: They care about diversity though.
Detavio Samuels: Yeah. But again it’s superficial, superficial right now. Do they say they care about diversity?
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah they really say that they care about diversity, but how…
Detavio Samuels: It is going to be harder for any diverse player to reach the numbers that Facebook wants them to reach, unless they come in and help them get there.
Jamarlin Martin: They’re looking at everybody the same, they’re like you don’t have a big enough wallet. We’re not trying to mess with you.
Detavio Samuels: Exactly, which literally is like you have to spend with them to get into the game. Right? So it’s a minimum amount of money that you have to be able to make together to be able to get into the game.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. I had experience. We spent millions of dollars on Facebook but they wouldn’t support us at an account executive level.
Detavio Samuels: Exactly. Because their big clients are the PNGs that are spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year with them. Right? Or the Walmarts or again some of these other publishers that just have deep pockets. And so unless somebody comes in and trains them to see the marketplace differently, and then if you’re really trying to build a platform for the new America, then you have to find a way to center some of these people who today may not be at the scale that you want, but tomorrow can get there if you play a role and do good and contribute, which kind of goes back to maybe what you were saying about Zuckerberg, which is eyes on the prize and the revenue and not necessarily really about building the most inclusive, fair system for their audience and for the people who they want to interact with their audiences.
Jamarlin Martin: So the founder and CEO of a social publisher called Little Things, I was talking to him at an industry event and he said look, we pay a very low cost per click when we’re marketing on Facebook, and we spend millions of dollars a month, and Facebook gives us kind of the secret way this algorithm works. What are your thoughts of Facebook opening up the algorithm and helping social publishers who are spending on the platform and then if you’re not spending, we’re not telling you how the algorithm works, how could that contribute to exacerbating the inequality problems in society?
Detavio Samuels: Yeah. And you know, I’m never the one to use words like, but that’s exactly how systematic oppression works, right? We use filters that don’t have to do with race off firsthand superficially, or don’t have to do a demo superficially, but we use different filters and we say we’re going to help social publishers but not these publishers, but all of it is just ways to help prevent multicultural publishers and media companies from being as big as they truly can be.
Jamarlin Martin: I was sharing with this a CEO, publishers were getting drunk on becoming like viral publishers, social publishers, and I shared with him the story of Zynga. Facebook changed the game on them early on, pretty much killed their business. Also Demand Media. Google changed the game on them with their Panda algorithm update, kinda killed their business based on the traction that they had. But he was very dismissive. A couple months ago, Little Things announced that they closed down. A lot of people were chasing, becoming a social publisher. It’s the hot thing, you know, Buzzfeed, they have all this traffic, but at the end of the day, if Facebook blocks Buzzfeed from their platform, probably employees can’t go to work the next day. Right? Can you talk to young publishers out there who may be drunk on social media and like, hey, nobody goes directly to a site anymore. You really just have to build your brand on the social platforms.
Detavio Samuels: So at the time I think that viewpoint kind of made sense, right? So what we were seeing is that social was the number one place for engagement and was also the number one traffic driver. And so it was smart for a lot of brains that come in and build social first platforms, a couple of watch outs, which is that social is more difficult to monetize, right, than dot coms. Finding ways where you can insert ads, you’re basically betting on a sponsored model and a branded content model, right? You lose all the opportunities to just show ads pre-roll etc. So we recognze that that model in and of itself is limiting from a business model or financial opportunity. The second thing is that viewpoint has to change now. So when you’re seeing places like Google being beat up by advertisers for not being brand safe, when you see Facebook and the space that we were there and where people are talking about regulatory policies that may come in place because Facebook wasn’t doing their job right, we’re literally on this place where I don’t actually know where culture’s going, but we’re in a place where things are moving. And so that model might have been a smart model five, six years ago, I think for the last two or three years, if you were in a brand who watched your traffic die because of the Facebook algorithm and didn’t decide that it was imperative that you owned your own audience, if you didn’t make that move in the last two or three years, you’re kind of in trouble. And then I think even right now watching what is getting ready to happen to Facebook, I just think there’s more danger on the other side. I actually hope there’s more danger for Facebook on the other side.
Jamarlin Martin: Some analysts say that Facebook generates about $20 of revenue a year on U.S. users. That translates to between 600,000,000 to a billion on African American Facebook users in the United States. Do you feel like Facebook pimps out the data so much, monetize the data so much, monetize the content so much? They take a lot out of the communities and they’ve executed well. They’re crushing everything, but that has had a big impact on black media organizations. So they’re like running over everything. We’re trying to get this money. We got the politicians, we got everybody, we got the biggest wallet, we’re crushing everything. Do you feel like they have a responsibility to black media in terms of, hey, you guys are just pretty much crushing all the media organizations?
Detavio Samuels: Yes. So first things first, I think they should just adopt, I guess it’s the doctor rule, right, which is first rule is do no harm. When you’re that big you have to be super conscious about not doing harm, because the second you do, you get a target on your back. So if for nothing else other than for their strategy just to be seen as more inclusive and to be seen as doing good in the community, I think they should have been doing something. The other thing is I just think for black audiences, their job is to serve their audiences, and again, I think what ends up happening is that everybody ends up looking at their audiences in mass numbers, and when you do that, you lose sight of people and we always just see global. People end up settling on the lowest common denominator versus the highest common denominator, right? And so when you’re just looking at it in terms of …, a bunch of important people that fall through the cracks. And so again, just from a strategy standpoint, if your real goal was to serve your audience, isn’t the best way possible to have initiatives for the black space, the LatinX space, the LGBTQ space, the women’s space, all of that? And then separately, on top of that, because you’re making those bets on those consumers, it should lead you to the black media companies, the LatinX companies that are servicing those people in the best way and Facebook figuring out a way to amplify those people for the five of them on their platform and ensure that they have a strong presence. None of that we’ve seen from that giant.
Jamarlin Martin: I feel like Facebook has just done a drive-by in black media and they won’t help pick up any bodies, not our responsibility. When we were out getting this money, we’ve got better technology, got a big wallet, we won’t even help pick up the bodies out here. Last year it was reported that Google and Facebook take nine out of 10 new digital dollars. So these companies are coming in almost monopolies. Some people call them duopolies coming in, doing drive-bys on media organizations. What happens to the quality of content that black consumers get online? If the technology companies are kind of crushing everything, right, you can’t hire a really good journalist, you can’t do a lot of the things that you need to do to have quality, informative content for the people. What happens to the black content experience in the United States with these companies of doing drive-bys?
Detavio Samuels: I still think black audiences get high quality content. I think that we’re in a content explosion and there’s a huge opportunity for black and brown content creators. And so it’s going to be a small few. It’s going to be the Ava DuVernay’s, the Shonda Rhimes, the Lena Waithes, those types of people will benefit and that content will show up in places like Facebook and on big media platforms, but I do believe that the black media companies are going to suffer because, you and I had this conversation, a good piece of content costs what it is, no matter whether you’re servicing a hundred percent of the population are 15 percent of the population. And the problem is when all of our media companies that service a subset of this country, black, brown, whatever that is, don’t have the pockets to produce the super high quality work, then their content doesn’t raise up on the level that you will see the stuff coming out of the Fox, … etc. being. And so what that means is those companies will begin to disappear. And that’s a problem because I think it is imperative that the people who know the story tell the story. Lena Waithe yesterday just tweeted on Twitter, ‘I’m the only one who can tell, or black content creators are the only ones who can tell this black story. And there’s black lesbian story because I know it, I live it and I see the God in all of us.’ And so it’s important that as we move to a minority-majority country that we are funding those people who are the minorities to tell the most authentic version of those stories and it can’t be that the top one percent get funded. We’ve got to find a way to fund the top five percent, 10 percent, 15 percent of the content creators because their voices are needed and people are looking for that work.
Jamarlin Martin: From a consumer and business perspective, should black people really think about, hey, you know, Facebook is making close to a billion dollars in the United States off of engagement and data of black users. It’s crushing black media organizations. They won’t even pick up a phone to talk to black media organizations who are spending over a million dollars a year. they’re not checking for us. Why should we hold up this institution that looks very racist to me, at a minimum black neutral? Why should we support an organization like us?
Detavio Samuels: I don’t think that we have to jump out of the Facebook system, but I do think we have to do a couple of things. So I’m going to give you three. The first one is I think black people need to pay attention to their privacy settings. So pay attention to what you’re giving away and make sure that you’re not giving away anything that you value or that you don’t want them to have. So get your Facebook settings right. The second one is vote with your clicks. Follow black media companies. Click on their links, help them get those advertising dollars. It’s crazy because black people always want to raise hell when a black media company is disappearing. Or last year with us it was Roland Martin’s ‘News One Now’ going off the air. But if you showed up for those people when they needed you, if you gave them audience, If you gave them ratings then they wouldn’t disappear. So the second one is use the Facebook engine to support your black-owned media companies. And the third one is also, look for alternatives. You know, here at Interactive One we own Black Planet, we’ve been in the lab tinkering with it because once Trump came into office, we figured black people were going to need a safe space. We still do about half a million people a month on Black Planet working with some kind of cool pop culture people right now to see if we can make it pop back. But I think, fix your privacy settings, use that space to vote and help your black media companies and then look for the alternatives like the Black Planet, that are going to take good care of your data, that are going to be trustworthy and that are going to give black people those safe spaces that we all believe we need right now.
Jamarlin Martin: Do you believe most black people specifically understand what Facebook is doing with the data, who they’re giving you to?
Detavio Samuels: Absolutely not. In fact, I don’t think there’s anybody who’s in the publishing game or the media game who was surprised about what came out. We all know that that’s how Facebook has been leveraging data and allowing advertisers to leverage data. So the big surprise is from the masses, right, who learned about it for the first time.
Jamarlin Martin: In this very tough media and advertising environment. Do you believe there needs to be more consolidation among black media organizations?
Detavio Samuels: I just believe that there’s going to be consolidation across the, you know…
Jamarlin Martin: If you guys don’t form some type of alliances, buy each other, merge, you’re going to be smoke.
Detavio Samuels: Hundred percent. That’s exactly right. Exactly. It’s strength in numbers, right? So, I think black agencies, Latin, the LatinX agencies, they’re all in trouble, right? So we’ve already started to see them disappear, shrink, etc. I think black media companies, are they going to be the exact same? And so unless they can pull …, you’re out there fighting with your 3,000,000 users, your 2,000,000 users, your 5,000,000 users against a Complex system of 50,000,000 against the Vice system of 80,000,000, those things don’t matter. You have to do strength in numbers.
Jamarlin Martin: And once the buyer comes back, they will play us against each other. So we’re playing for a smaller bucket. The market doesn’t want to rationalize and scale up and work together. And so what happens through the CPMs, the RPMs, the advertising rates where, hey, you know, you got all these people, there’s like 50 different publications that are sub scale. I’m Just going to play these people. It gives each other and get very low kind of hood, sub-prime pricing.
Detavio Samuels: Yup. That’s exactly where the model goes if we leave it the way that it is, but I think ultimately the opportunity is two things, to shift from selling black people that sell in black culture, because black culture is the hottest commodity out right now. People want black stories and so we have to leverage our ability to tell black stories with black talent and black insights, but to reach the masses. So again, we get the scale and the numbers from that. The second piece of it is exactly what you said, which is we have to pull together and go after the biggest dollar. So in this industry and the media industry, black dollars or black media companies have always gotten one to two percent of the market. I think that it is stupid that black people are fighting for one to two percent of the market when we represent 14 percent of the population, we need to be pulling together and going after the 98 percent and not letting them play us off against each other.
Jamarlin Martin: Mogul Richelieu Dennis recently purchased Essence. Do you think there’s an opportunity towards a more unified consolidated platform for you guys to combine?
Detavio Samuels: Absolutely. So the day after they purchased Essence, Richelieu was here with myself, with Alfred Liggins, my CEO, talking about how do we not make this look like competition, but how do we partner together to do something big and amazing again, on both sides for our audience. So now you take something like Essence, which is on black women. You combine it with the hellobeautiful.com, or madamenoire.com, and there’s a tremendous opportunity to do something amazing for black women if we work together, but then there’s also a tremendous opportunity for the money to follow from brands when again, we stop competing and we start partnering.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. Back in maybe 2014, I had a meeting with Alfred and Tom Newman and I talked about the concept of a gate, and I think the opportunity is still there, where if the black media organizations were able to work together, and the brands would need to target that audience, you’ve put up a gate where essentially you get 70 percent of the market and you have to come through that gate to reach black people and all these touch points so you have pricing power, and it would be very hard to get to this consumer outside of Google and Facebook, at scale, in terms of reaching all these touch points in terms of content branded video, social. Do you think that gate opportunity is still there or is that naïve now?
Detavio Samuels: So, no, I think the opportunity exists. I think it’s a great idea. I think that if not done right, it’ll only help you capture more share of the two percent versus the 98 percent that’s out there. Right? So for the handful of brands that are actually betting on black media companies, what that type of thing would do is force them to come to whoever had partners and so those people will benefit and steal more share from the two percent and the people who didn’t partner there will lose share. Ultimately I think the biggest way to do it is to figure out how to parlay that into a conversation that goes after the general market dollars and the 98 percent of money that’s out there. But I absolutely believe that that’s a smart strategy for those brands who are focusing on black people.
Jamarlin Martin: What are you going to say to the point of view that there’s criticism of Google, Facebook, Complex? ”You black media companies are just not hustling, right, you’re not executing, right, stop making excuses’. What would you say to them?
Detavio Samuels: I’ll just say that people don’t get the business model. So again, I come back to the fact that, let’s use TV, let’s pretend a good made-for-TV movie costs a million dollars. The economics of being in a black media business aren’t fair to you. Right? So because I’m smaller and let’s say my content budget is $20,000,000, that means I get to make 20 really good movies, right where you compare me to a Vice who raised $450,000,000 just for Scripted last year alone. That means they get to make 450 quality movies. Right? So what you ultimately ended up saying is vice makes 450 quality movies and because the black ones are trying to keep up from a quantity standpoint, they take their 20,000,000 and make, you know, 40 subpar movies for $500,000. The economics of the system are wrong. And unless advertisers step up and say we see value in companies who are telling black stories from an authentic standpoint and we want more quality content, until something like that happens, or a Facebook, as you’ve been talking about, or a Google, then we’re always going to be in this kind of dichotomy here. I’m trying to shift the narrative from, we don’t focus on black people, but we focus on black culture. So let’s create the best content we can with the dollars we can and go after the largest audience that we can, all rooted in our black DNA, our black storytelling, our black insights. For me that’s the only path to hopefully get there. But I definitely believe that we would get there faster if people like the Facebooks, the Googles or some brands just stepped up and said, we get that the system is broken. We see value in telling these stories. We see value in the people who tell these stories coming authentically from the culture. And so we’re gonna force it and make this happen.
Jamarlin Martin: For the young publishers out there who say, look, I want to produce content, authentic content for the people. I don’t want to compromise. I don’t see an opportunity in terms of just betting on Wells Fargo showing up for me, McDonald’s is going to show up for me. I don’t want to bet on these brands believing in my movement, believing in my audience. So I want to go hard at subscriptions. I want to change the game and actually get direct revenue, recurring revenue from subscribers. Can you talk about the developing subscriber opportunity for some of the publishers out there?
Detavio Samuels: Yeah, I think that the subscriber opportunity is a huge opportunity. I think I would be cautious about launching with the subscription model. I think that feels difficult. When I was at GlobalHue, we had this amazing platform. It was the ‘Watch the Throne Tour’ when we going to be behind the scenes with Kanye, Jay-Z, etc., and it launches a subscription model. We had a really hard time getting people to buy into that subscription model off jump. You have to make sure that people can experience the content, whether it’s a freemium model or you’re free for a while and once you prove value and you get a super strong loyal audience, you try to flip 10 percent, 20 percent of that audience into subscription. But I believe in generating consumer revenue. I think that’s the future. You can’t rely on advertisers. You just can’t trust them like that. So I believe you have to go after this consumer revenue. I believe the subscriptions makes sense. I just don’t believe that you can assume that because you made one piece of great content or one great web series or anything like that, that people are just going to hand you over their credit cards.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. So are you saying, hey, you got to just make sure that your content gets to the level where users get charged for it?
Detavio Samuels: High quality content that is done consistently. You’ve got to prove that to people before they’re willing to hand over their credit cards and pay.
Jamarlin Martin: What African American-focused digital brand do you think is in the best position to start charging a $3.99 subscription for the content?
Detavio Samuels: We are of course. Yeah. I’m trying to think of who else I would say besides us. This year we’re definitely going to play with a subscription model on Bossip. The Bossip brand has a true loyal hardcore following. To my earlier point, they’d been producing great content consistently for the last, I don’t know, 10, 12 years. And so now we see that opportunity. I don’t know that I believe that anybody else has the type of loyal following times the scale for them to be able to launch a subscription model that’s going to be really meaningful to them.
Jamarlin Martin: It seems like popular culture would be a tough subscription play as opposed to news, politics. Do you agree? It would be a lot tougher in the popular culture space to charge for a subscription?
Detavio Samuels: Yeah. Because there’s so much popular culture and news out there. People have a million other places to get it versus paying $3.99 for yours. So I think that there’s two things you have to do. One, you have to make sure that your spin on pop culture is so valuable that people will pay for it. But then the other thing we’re doing is you just have to talk to your audience to see where they see value. So we’re playing with everything from looking at is it a new design experience. I’m always a fan of American Express, the benefits of membership, right? So how do you develop a membership package for the Bossip audience that goes beyond the dot com that’s valuable for them. And then also we’re just in a world of influencers, so we’re going to explore a pathway of our most loyal users or true Bossip ambassadors, like how do we celebrate them and is that worth a subscription model for them? So we’re going to play with a bunch of different pathways because we do agree that pop culture news is everywhere. And you know, you got to do something different if you’re going to get people to pay you 99 cents or $3.99 a month.
Jamarlin Martin: Take the audience to church and explain to some publishers who are kind of new in the game. They want to launch media properties and they think there’s black advertising waiting for them.
Detavio Samuels: Don’t do it.
Jamarlin Martin: Can you explain to them what the total market is? And hey, black budgets are going away. Can you talk to that?
Detavio Samuels: Yeah. So we launched Cassius last year, to be honest, I’m telling my team like I would never launch another new brand in this day and age, building a new media property. Forget black, brown, white or purple, it’s just difficult in 2018. If you weren’t around in 2012 to 2015 where Facebook was letting everybody build audience for free, you’ve essentially missed that boat. And I feel like unless you got a $10,000,000 marketing budget to come out and let people know that you’re there, you’re in the danger zone. So first of all, just getting in the game and building audience on your own is going to be incredibly difficult. You know, we’ve got 20,000,000 uniques on our digital system, a TV station, radio stations to help us do that, but if you’re not in that position and don’t have the assets, I think it’s a very scary place to be. Also winning where you have to win and be a great digital publisher, which means video is a very expensive proposition. Again, Complex launched with video, I mean five years ago with a $20,000,000 video investment, Vice raised $450,000,000 for video last year. Video is where the game is and then unless you can do that well, I think it’s also scary. Then fast forward to the piece where you’re talking about which is on the other side of build. Let’s say you built that audience successfully. I keep coming back to the stat that only two percent of advertising dollars make it to targeted black media platforms. So if you’re jumping into this, rule number one in terms of being an entrepreneur, is you pick good markets. I would never say that the best market is the market that’s only capturing two percent of the available dollars where you’re fighting with incumbents who have been there for a long time who are also struggling to figure it out. So anyways, I just don’t think it’s the smartest play. I think that there’s a lot of opportunity in this digital media space. I think that anybody who’s a digital media publisher in the black space that’s only looking to target black people is going to be in for unfortunately a very disappointing surprise. Church! Just kidding.
Jamarlin Martin: A special thanks to Detavio Samuels who is the president of Interactive One. Here’s a brother who’s leading an organization, over $30,000,000 of digital revenue, growing that digital revenue right now. You can check him out on Twitter. You want to give the audience your Twitter handle?
Detavio Samuels: Yeah. Everything for me is @Detavio, d, e, t, a, v, i, o, so @Detavio on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Want to say a special shout out to my brother, Jamarlin, it’s been such an honor to get to know you over the past year. I appreciate you for allowing me to be on your platform and make sure you don’t put it on anything that’s going to get me fired.
Jamarlin Martin: Alright, thanks. Let’s GHOGH. We’re still going hard.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
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