As Dwyane Wade’s Agency Grows, So Does the Urgency Around Fixing Marketing’s Diversity Gap

He sees CAA AMP as a brand's guide through the tough conversations needed for true inclusivity

Dwyane Wade launched CAA AMP in January before widespread Black Lives Matter protests took off nationwide. Bob Metelus
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NBA legend Dwyane Wade, considering his next move after retiring from the Miami Heat in 2019, decided to help marketers connect with diverse audiences. Doing so would fill a void he identified from years of firsthand experience with brand partnerships during his storied playing career.

Wade launched CAA AMP in January to serve as a gut check for marketers trying to reach what he calls “the new majority.” The startup, described as a “cultural strategy agency,” would “amplify voices and represent the audience that’s not often seen or heard.” In the months since its debut, the collaboration with powerful Hollywood talent agency CAA has assembled a senior leadership team despite the country locking down due to Covid-19

And AMP has hit the ground running with clients, advising about a dozen marketers so far, including gaming giant EA, alcoholic beverage conglomerate Constellation Brands and Wilson Sporting Goods. That kind of swift progress might have been expected, even amid the pandemic, given its A-list principals.

But this spring’s widespread Black Lives Matter protests accelerated the need for AMP’s style of expertise. There’s an unprecedented spotlight on brand behavior, and consumers increasingly expect accountability and activism from corporate America and are watching carefully for missteps like cultural appropriation and performative allyship.

“It just makes our mission more urgent,” Wade said. “The world we’re in today is different from January, but our goals are the same. We’re going to challenge people—which may be uncomfortable—because the [marketing] industry needs to do better.”

Brands can start by learning “more than data points” about diverse consumers and connecting with them “in a way that means something real,” he said. “They need to understand the entirety of their consumers’ lives and what motivates them.”

Marketers have a significant role to play in the national discourse, which goes far beyond pushing products, said Wade, a bestselling author, producer and philanthropist who will be among the speakers at the upcoming Brandweek Masters Live (Wade will be speaking at the event on Wednesday, Sept. 16, at 12:10 p.m.). “We feel like any brand not empowering its audience will soon find itself playing catch-up,” he said.

To that end, AMP has been guiding brands on how to speak out on racial issues and become advocates for people of color, which wasn’t baked into its original plan.

“We didn’t know that allyship would need to be a service offering pre-2020,” said Arlesha Amazan, a longtime member of Wade’s CAA management team who joined AMP, which was co-founded by CAA board member Lisa Joseph Metelus. “There’s a lot of reprioritizing from brands and their ad agencies, and we’re happy to see the shift.”

The team created a public service announcement this summer on behalf of CAA starring Wade, his wife and recent Adweek cover subject Gabrielle Union, Jamie Foxx, and other celebrities calling for action after George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

AMP has directed a full revamp for a sports brand and brainstormed concepts for a musical artist’s museum exhibit. The group has also been sharing cultural insights and “doing quite a bit of education” on how companies can support underrepresented communities, according to Desmond Marzette, an advertising veteran who’s leading AMP’s day-to-day activities with sports and music maven Shawn “Pecas” Costner.

The executives have consulted with brands on how they should respond to the police killings of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans and, more broadly, ways to structure their social impact programs. AMP sits within CAA’s brand consulting division, whose 250 agents work with companies like Bose, Google, JPMorgan Chase and Mondelēz.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 31, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@TLStanleyLA T.L. Stanley is a senior editor at Adweek, where she specializes in consumer trends, cannabis marketing, meat alternatives, pop culture, challenger brands and creativity.