Although he’s a media mogul and a New York Times bestselling author, Charlamagne tha God is committed to keeping it real with the public.
Charlamagne, best known for being a co-host on the nationally syndicated radio show The Breakfast Club, sat down with Danny Wright, Adweek’s chief brand officer, at the magazine’s Challenger Brands Summit in New York on Wednesday to discuss what having a personal brand means for him and those who follow his career.
Charlamagne began his radio career at a station in Charleston, S.C., in 1999. He said he was inspired by radio hosts like Howard Stern, Doug Banks and Tom Joyner to make his career bigger than just announcing “the time and the temperature and introducing the next song.”
“When I heard all of these people, I said to myself, ‘I want to be on that level,’” he said.
The Breakfast Club prides itself on asking its guests thought-provoking questions because, Charlamagne said, “There’s nothing that makes you stand out than your actual unique individual story.”
The idea to implement that into The Breakfast Club is not something he consciously decided to do though, Charlamagne told Adweek after coming offstage.
“It’s just that I’m a curious person by nature. I like to discover new things,” he said. “Sometimes people get offended because you ask them certain things. Sometimes they open up. Either way, I just did my job. I’m not going to keep being pushy.”
Charlamagne’s personal brand is not only interviewing and being open about going to therapy for anxiety and depression, but also giving back to the community. He recently began a scholarship at South Carolina State University called The Ford Family Endowed Scholarship. The Ford name is in honor of his mother’s maiden name—she also attended the school—and is designed to support black women majoring in English, communications and studying to become mental health professionals.
Charlamagne’s also working with two companies that align with things he’s passionate about: mental health and a legal space for cannabis businesses.
He recently invested in Inception, which he calls the first “mental health gymnasium,” in Farmington, Mich. The other company is Citizen’s Room, which he said provides “relief for people who have been victims of the war on drugs” by allowing people to grow marijuana in their homes and make money from it.
“I like doing things that actually make people’s lives better,” Charlamagne said. “We love symbolism nowadays, and I think that we love to embrace things that make us feel good. I like to be involved in things that actually make us good.”
When it comes to his relationships with major brands, Charlamagne said he only likes to endorse things he actually uses.
“A lot of it does come organically because I’m the type of person that if I’m into something, I’m going to talk about it,” he said.
That means Charlamagne’s 3 million Instagram followers won’t see him promoting things for the sake of making a few extra dollars.
“I think it’s so fake and so see-through when you see certain people standing next to certain things and [I’m just] like, ‘Bro, you know you don’t use that. First of all, you’re 7 feet tall. You’re not going to fit inside a Kia,’” he said.
Charlamagne told Adweek his advice to brands that want to have an authentic connection to consumers is to partner with people who already possess that characteristic.
“You’ve got to get with people who already have that personal connection,” he said. “You can’t buy your way into a personal connection with somebody.”
And in order to do that himself, Charlamagne told Adweek, he can’t “overthink the position too much” because when he does, “it starts not being authentic.”
“You can start to become manipulative and I don’t ever want to be that,” he said.
For now, it’s all about staying informed on every aspect of his career.
“The more I accomplish, the less I know,” he said. “And I’m always willing to learn more. That right there keeps me a student of the game.”