3 Entertainment Execs on Finding the Right Brand Partnerships and Working With Underrepresented Talent

Head honchos from Showtime, Beats by Dre and Lyft

Brands and talent need to find the right balance to work together. Getty Images
Headshot of Ann-Marie Alcántara

Brands working with entertainment is nothing new. But with a seemingly unending string of brand and talent mishaps plus the power of social media calling out a celebrity or creator for something offensive they’ve said or done (and the loss of business that comes with that), the stakes have never been higher for brand partnerships.

It’s a topic that three entertainment executives spoke about at the fifth annual ColorComm conference in Maui, Hawaii, an event for women of color in communications. In a panel called “Working with Hollywood!” Johanna Fuentes, evp, communications of Showtime Networks Inc., Jason White, evp, global head of marketing at Beats by Dre and Jessica Zhang, manager of culture and entertainment at Lyft, touched upon how they approach partnerships and working with underrepresented talent in their jobs.

Find partners that are a good fit for the brand

For White, who works at Beats by Dre, finding brands and creators that fit with the same mission and values is what drives partnerships.

For us, first and foremost, we look for those who have the same viewpoint, who have the [same] kind of voice and stand for something,” White said. “For that reason, we don’t have a lot of long-term partnerships. We believe in the word partnership and the word partner.”

On the brand side, that means learning to share and change a strategy if a creator or partner doesn’t love the first ideas presented to them.

Fuentes of Showtime views partnerships similarly; it has to make sense for the show and the product.

It’s always finding the right marriage between storyline and what makes sense for the product and ultimately the brands that we believe in,” Fuentes said.

It’s an incredible moment to find underrepresented talent

Showtime isn’t a stranger to bringing diverse voices to its platform, as the network is known for shows like The L Word and Weeds. Fuentes, however, thinks there’s more of an opportunity than ever for diverse creators to tell their story.

“I think the beauty now of television is there so much more television to consume, there’s so many more platforms,” Fuentes said. “It’s kind of a unique time for someone who has a unique point of view and a story to tell.”

For example, Zhang of Lyft said celebrities and talent are being discovered outside of traditional methods, where they aren’t waiting for their big break or additions anymore.

“If you’re an actor, producer, you can leverage technology,” Zhang said. “I’m excited to see the next generation of creators to see how they leverage the new media and technology to make sure their stories are told however they’re told.”

That doesn’t mean it’s easy for companies to know who and what to look for. That’s where Zhang said educating her team is important.

“At Lyft, we are very committed to working with diverse talent that really represents our diverse communities of drivers and passengers,” Zhang said. “As a woman of color on my team, I very much think it’s my responsibility to educate the teams internally on who are the rising stars, who are the diverse, underrepresented talent, writers, creators or whatever it may be and make sure those opportunities are evenly shared in the team, so we can support these stories being told financially or just giving them an opportunity to be considered.”

Talent and brands are more aware of their platform than ever

The fast pace of social media and the news has put extra pressure on both talent and brands to form the right partnerships.

“For both the brands and the creators, you have to be really thoughtful about what you put out into the world,” Zhang said. “That’s why organic partnerships are so important, that’s why representation is so important.”

For brands, it could mean evolving the organization to work with talent and learn who their audience is.

“Talent is so incredibly aware of their platform,” White said. “My theory is be first or be best. If we’re not on track or breaking the story, make sure that what we do come out with is hot.”

@itstheannmarie annmarie.alcantara@adweek.com Ann-Marie Alcántara is a tech reporter for Adweek, focusing on direct-to-consumer brands and ecommerce.