How Jessica Garrett Modkins Advocated For Miami’s Black Servicemen And Built The Hip Rock Star Brand

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Hip Rock Star Advertising
If there’s an ad that doesn’t sound like you, look like you, or talk to you, why are you spending your money with them? That question comes to you from Jessica Garrett Modkins, founder and president of Hip Rock Star Advertising. Photo courtesy of Goldman Sachs

Catching up with Jessica Garrett Modkins is not an easy task. She’s listed as one of Legacy Miami Magazine’s Most Influential and Prominent Black Women in Business and Industry is quite busy doing big things for the NFL or working with U.S. Census 2020 Task Force for the Miami-Dade Board of Commissioners and the Economic Growth Task Force for the Town of Cutler Bay, Florida.

Garrett Modkins is the founder and president of Hip Rock Star and stays on-the-go juggling her brands, award-winning Hip Rock Star Advertising Marketing and Communications, Hip Rock Star Media Company and Hip Rock Star Images. In addition to running these brands, she is the executive director for the Miami Chapter of ColorComm, a speaker, and the author of three books. One of her books, “Images of America: Miami’s Richmond Heights” was made into a documentary. Her nonprofit, The Historic Society, celebrates the Black servicemen from World War II who settled in the Miami area.

Even with these many ventures, Garrett Modkins finds time to advocate for people of color in the Miami area. She is one of the founding members of the Black Owned Media Alliance. “It’s my job as being in the advertising space to talk to a potential advertiser to help them to understand what African Americans can do for their ROI if they were to ask for the business,” she said.

Jessica Garrett Modkins, founder and president of Hip Rock Star Advertising, is pictured with Jawan Strader, anchor at NBC 6 South Florida, Miami. Photo: Hip Rock Star Images

Garrett Modkins said she does little to officially market her brands, instead crediting her success to word-of-mouth. “I think what growth boils down to is just doing quality work — being very honest, even when it’s a hard conversation with a client on whether something is going to work or not. And our reputation on these things has really preceded the company.”

Garrett Modkins shares her path to success, why companies need to advertise with Black publications and how to change the way companies market to Black and brown people.

Moguldom: Why did you start Hip Rock Star?

Jessica Garrett Modkins: I launched it in 1993 and at that time it was called 2 Groovy Production. I started the agency because there was a void in the industry. I didn’t go to college thinking I was going to grow up and have my own firm. It wasn’t a dream of mine, but it was something that evolved into that. I began as the news director and on-air talent for WEDR 99 Jamz. As a result of being a personality, I was being called in to endorse various products and host events. Eventually, I was asked to coordinate entire events. It then went from doing on-site logistics to developing brands. Clients wanted a certain look and quantitative and qualitative feedback. It was something I wasn’t doing with my nine-to-five and so I left and continued working with those clients. They pretty much wanted me to continue to guide their brands. I realized I couldn’t see myself doing anything other than this. I would love to just work for someone else from nine to five, and at five o’clock be done working, but that isn’t how it worked out for me. I didn’t get my bachelor’s degree in marketing. It was in broadcast news. In my mind, I thought broadcast news would be the industry to work in. But I realized as technology began to evolve, it was one and the same, because in my mind social media is communication. It all falls under communications marketing and brand development. It is the story of a brand, both visually and verbally, and in the written form.

If there is a product you see in a magazine, billboard, newspaper or on the radio and they don’t sound like you, look like you, and they’re not talking to you, why are you spending your money with them?

Jessica Garrett Modkins, founder and president of Hip Rock Star Advertising

I said to myself, “If this is it, I need to go back and get my master’s degree.” I went back to school and got my master’s in integrated marketing and communications from West Virginia University. Around that same time, I transitioned my company’s name based upon research. The three words that immediately connected with people – hip, rock and star. That’s how we got started. Today we are very deliberate on who we take on as a client. In the beginning, I worked with a lot of different products and I would be up late at night trying to figure out how to penetrate a certain marketplace, but not today. If it is a project that is going to take time away from my husband and my children, it has to be something that’s worth it. It has to be a product I believe will sustainably assist society in some type of way. Our mantra is that it has to do good for society. If it’s not going to do good for society, then it’s not worth us taking it on as a client. We made the change in 2014. I thought we were going to lose money because of being deliberate but we ended up making probably somewhere between $300,000-$400,000 more.

Moguldom: They say there is more money in nicheing. Do you think that has to do with your growth?

Jessica Garrett Modkins:  No, because I’m not focused on one industry. I will say the only thing common among most of my clients is about 85 percent of my clients are targeting African Americans. However, the biggest client I have right now is the NFL, and I can’t necessarily say they are targeting African Americans. They’re targeting anyone who plays football. CNN, the same thing. I think what growth boils down to is just doing quality work, being very honest, even when it’s a hard conversation with a client on whether something is going to work or not. And our reputation on these things has really preceded the company.

Moguldom: You began with Hip Rock Star Advertising and now you have two other Hip Rock Star brands. What made you expand your brand to selling images and launching a media production company?

I was asked by Google to participate in Google Cameo. One of the questions on the platform asked about our success. Out of 10 companies we work with, one may have been a company that I pitched for the business. I didn’t go out and seek the other nine. It is word-of-mouth referrals. I can’t necessarily say that’s a smart thing to do. I think you should market your business. If I didn’t market it, then I wouldn’t have any clients. But I don’t normally spend a lot of resources marketing the company.

Hip Rock Star Advertising
Jessica Garrett Modkins is the founder and president of Hip Rock Star Advertising. Photo: Greater Miami Chapter of Links

Jessica Garrett Modkins: Again, a lack in the industry. We have been developing these brands, our companies, for the past five years. When working with clients, we found we either had to do a private shoot for a product, or we would buy stock images that really are not indicative of the culture. It does not serve the authenticity of Black and brown people when you cannot find images that resemble them. The idea for these other Hip Rock Star brands came out of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program in 2017. We vetted the ideas, did the research and we pitched it to other executives in the class that worked for Fortune 500 companies and top industries. We knew we had something when they agreed with the need to have images of African Americans.

Moguldom: In addition to launching Hip Rock Star, you help to found Black Owned Media Alliance.  Can you explain BOMA and how your work with BOMA began?

Jessica Garrett Modkins: The Black Owned Media Alliance (BOMA) is an organization that was founded by Black media owners voicing the value of advertisement to African Americans. I am not a publication. I’m on the other side of things where I am in the face of these companies who may not value the African American dollar as much as they should. And so, it’s my job as being in the advertising space to talk to a potential advertiser to help them to understand what African Americans can do for their ROI if they were to ask for the business.

Hip Rock Star
Jessica Garrett Modkins is the founder and president of Hip Rock Star Advertising. Photo: Hip Rock Star Images

Dexter Bridgeman, who is the founding president of BOMA asked me to come on board. I understood immediately the concerns from a publisher’s standpoint because they are also concerns I have from an advertiser’s perspective. It’s very hard for me in a silo to explain the power in buying space in Black publications as just one person, or as a single firm. But when I say the things that I think are important, with the publishers, then it becomes a much louder and powerful voice.

Over the years we have invited companies and other non-Black owned agencies to understand the power of Black media and why it should not be ignored. I did a study with West Virginia University on the lack of representation in advertising. The one thing that remains constant is, regardless of whether or not we have the opportunity to be solicited through an advertisement, until there’s somebody in the room that has brown skin, it is still going to be very hard to explain advertising to Blacks. The lack of diversity has a lot to do with it and hopefully, organizations like BOMA can assist in pushing the envelope with corporations to ensure that they’re spending money in Black publications.

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 68: Jamarlin Martin

Jamarlin talks about the recent backlash against Lebron James for not speaking up for Joshua Wong and the violent Hong Kong protestors.

Moguldom: Beyond spending money with Black publications, we still have an issue with the ads themselves. It seems companies stop thinking about diversity when it comes to creating ad campaigns. What will it take to actually see that change?

Jessica Garrett Modkins: Black and brown people need to stop spending their money with those organizations. If there is a product you see in a magazine, billboard, a newspaper or on the radio, and they don’t sound like you, look like you, and they’re not talking to you, why are you spending your money with them? You would have to stop spending your money to make a change. Until somebody affects your pocket, you’re not necessarily affected.

I transitioned my company’s name based upon research. The three words that immediately connected with people – hip, rock and star. That’s how we got started.

Jessica Garrett Modkins, founder and president of Hip Rock Star Advertising

Moguldom: Your businesses and activism are not the only things you do for the culture. One of your books and your documentary are on a historically Black neighborhood. Tell us about that.

Jessica Garrett Modkins: I co-wrote the book with my mother and it is called “Images of America: Miami’s Richmond Heights.” It covers the history and establishment of a Black neighborhood in Miami that was founded in 1949 by a white man. During segregation, he created homes for Black servicemen who returned to the United States from World War II and their families. The book covers the challenges of building homes during that time, the experiences the servicemen were able to have in building their homes to specification and more. I shot a documentary on it after the book. We also started a nonprofit called the “Historic Society.” We actually just honored seven women from that community since it’s the 70th anniversary of the community of Richmond Heights.  

Moguldom: What do the next five years look like for Hip Rock Star?

Jessica Garrett Modkins: Besides working with the upcoming Super Bowl coming to Miami, we are in the process of building. We will be moving from our current location into our own facility to house all of the brands under one roof. Hip Rock Star is going to be building out the media portion. A digital TV show will be launching, and a podcast expanded. I just did an interview with Anthony Hamilton on his book launch.  There are a number of different things that will launch in the next five years. The structure of the company is evolving and growing.