Diversity & Inclusion

Brand-Building in the Black Community: “It Felt Like My Calling”

Goodby Silverstein & Partners (GS&P) is no ordinary advertising agency.

Briana Patrick Image

“How can VCs evaluate a business properly if they don’t understand the community it serves?”
– Briana Patrick, Senior Brand Strategist at Goodby Silverstein & Partners

Between 2004 and 2015, the San Francisco-based full-service advertising company received four Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Commercial.

Briana Patrick is no ordinary employee, either.

In 2020, the Senior Brand Strategist was awarded GS&P Employee of the Year – the highest honor the company can bestow upon an employee.

Briana recently served as a mentor to the Mentorship Circle program at the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, specializing in business and personal branding.

In our interview (which has been edited and condensed for clarity), she discusses:

  • Branding being top-of-mind for entrepreneurs;
  • Why she wants to use her expertise to pay it forward to Black founders; and
  • Her hope that increased VC exposure to Black voices will eradicate racially discriminatory funding practices.

Do you have (or have you had) a mentor(s) and, if so, what impact has this relationship(s) had on the trajectory of your professional life?

BP: I’ve had a few mentors.

Each one had a different impact on my personal development and my professional career. I wouldn’t be at this agency without these women taking me under their wing and guiding me.

One of my mentors helped me navigate the advertising and marketing industry, which is historically all-white. She outlined the blueprint for how a young Black woman can negotiate some of the obstacles we’ve seen emerge over the last couple of years.

Why did you decide to mentor at this time?

BP: I’ve always been a big proponent of mentors, which stems from the fact that I’ve always had one.

I know quite a few people don’t have the luxury of coming from a marketing or strategic background like I do. When I talk to entrepreneurs, branding and how to build a brand are always the first topics they mention. So, I feel obliged to pay it forward, especially to Black entrepreneurs, because they face a unique set of challenges.

I feel obliged to pay it forward, especially to Black entrepreneurs, because they face a unique set of challenges.

I was excited when my colleague reached out and asked me to mentor with him on the program. As a Black brand strategist, it felt like my calling.

What attracted you to the Mentorship Circle program?

BP: I received a list of the Black founders and entrepreneurs who had been selected to participate in the program and I was stunned by their projects, businesses and their openness to being mentored.

What are your expectations of a mentee?

BP: I try not to have any, but one thing I’d say is an expectation of a mentee, which is one that I also have of myself, is to be open. Generally speaking, mentees should also be curious, flexible and open to being wrong.

What are the biggest obstacles facing Black founders and what is one thing that must be changed immediately?

BP: The biggest obstacle impacting Black founders is when they have a great idea, but the people in charge of VC funding opportunities may not necessarily understand their business – especially if it primarily serves Black and brown communities. In this instance, how can VCs evaluate a business properly if they don’t understand the community it serves?

Programs like this are a good first step in changing the narrative. VCs need more exposure to Black ideas, Black experiences and Black lives. My hope is that, with more exposure to Black voices, we can start chipping away at racial prejudice and systemic discrimination.

VCs need more exposure to Black ideas, Black experiences and Black lives.

How can we better support Black founders?

I talk to people in my industry about this and the first thing they say is, ‘We don’t know where to find Black businesses?’

But having mentored on the program, the Black founders that immediately come to mind are the husband-and-wife team that started SHOPPE BLACK – an online directory of Black-owned businesses. By supporting their company, for example, we’re supporting a whole suite of other Black entrepreneurs.

In addition to mentorship, what else is critical to an entrepreneur’s success?

BP: Self-care.

I’m reading a book called ‘Non-violent Communication: A Language of Life’ and one of the things that has stuck with me is the importance of boundaries.

Entrepreneurs can put up boundaries. It’s their business, so they can set their own pace and move at the rate they’re most comfortable with. I’ve seen lots of people start businesses within the last couple of months – in the middle of a pandemic – and I can just imagine the toll it may have taken on their mental health.

Entrepreneurs should definitely think about their business, but also keep in mind that they are their business. They need to take care of themselves, too.

What was your favorite moment of the program?

BP: Branding can be quite esoteric at times.

So, it was interesting to figure out how to take this complicated information and make it digestible. The questions the founders asked in our session were very insightful. They were also instructive about how we can do a better job of explaining what we do to entrepreneurs.

Did you reap any unexpected benefits or face any unexpected challenges and, if so, what were they?

BP: An unexpected benefit was that the program expanded my knowledge pool of Black founders, entrepreneurs and their companies. There are some businesses I learned about that I could never have conceived.

The program also made me think about challenges in my life and the potential business that could come out of it. I left our sessions feeling inspired to become an entrepreneur myself!

How did the experience differ from any previous mentorship programs you may have been involved in?

BP: When I think about a mentoring relationship, it tends to be long-term. But this program was quite quick.

The challenge was to develop a rapport with the cohort in a short period of time with minimal exposure to them. This called for me to cut back on inessential information and get to the core of who they were as entrepreneurs, who they were as a business entity and tailor my content to best serve them.

What advice (if any) did you give your mentees on the last day of the program?

BP: I told them that I’ve given them the tools to build an iconic brand, but this process doesn’t have to happen overnight. I have a saying: ‘Agency is like a muscle.’ It’s something you have to work at daily.

What excites you most about this new class of founders?

BP: Just how honorable the stories associated with the companies were.

These founders aren’t people who just want to be entrepreneurs for the glitz and glam. Their businesses are deeply personal to them.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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Kieron Johnson

Kieron Johnson is a content/communications consultant to emerging and established brands.

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