For Kenya Hardaway, the experiential launch event for the FX show Pose was some of the most rewarding work she's ever done and ended up being so much more than a party. The immersive Harlem event celebrating the underground ball culture of the 1980s was part of what led to her 2018 Brand Genius Award in the Media category and what set a new standard for authentic and community-fueled brand events. Now, Kenya talks about what she learned from her win and gives advice on how marketers can deliver their best work.
What have you been up to since receiving your award?
"...we want to move beyond what they see in the experience and focus on how we want it to make them feel."
Keeping busy. Once you receive an acknowledgment like Brand Genius, there is definitely a pressure to live up to it! My team and I are always challenging ourselves to explore new concepts and creative approaches. This year is no different. We are passionate about what we do and we like to keep it interesting. Creatively, we are putting a new focus on creating events that produce an emotional connection for our fans. We are looking to leave an impression inspired by the shows, which may call for us to pull at their heartstrings, get inside their heads, or under their skin. Either way, we want to move beyond what they see in the experience and focus on how we want it to make them feel.
What was most eye-opening or memorable, for you, in creating the campaign that earned you the Brand Genius award?
The projects that led to my recognition represent some of the most rewarding work I’ve done. With Pose, we were given the opportunity to collaborate with legends and leaders from ballroom culture and the transgender community. Learning about the history and culture behind those depicted in the show was an incredibly rewarding part of the experience for me. Then to produce an event that was so well received by the audience made it all the more memorable.
How do you ensure a successful partnership between your brand and agency & media partners?
Communication. It’s very important to set expectations and maintain a productive dialogue. I like to work with partners that are willing and able to collaborate. We know our brand, so we have to maintain an active role in managing it. Through communication, we can ensure we are aligned with our partners and that everyone is working to deliver the best program for the brand.
What are you working on now that truly excites you?
I’m doing research on a project for a new series we’re launching later this year. It is challenging me to establish an understanding of some very interesting theories. It’s a new way of thinking for me, but it’s necessary because we have to get the approach just right. This project is pushing me to think differently and that’s what really excites me.
What experiences helped get you to where you are today?
To be honest, it is all the things that didn’t go according to plan that landed me here. The opportunities that didn’t deliver as I had expected and the roles that were less fulfilling than I’d hoped. Each time a position left me wanting more, I’d evaluate the situation, identify the issue and chart a new course. I took risks that paid off in a big way- thankfully. I believe if you aren’t happy then you’re in the wrong place.
Looking back at your career, is there anything you would have done differently?
I wish I had jumped into the tech world early in my career. I tend to be a late adopter, but I’m always curious what might have been if I had explored that industry.
What one piece of career advice would you offer brand marketers today?
My advice is to listen. As marketers, we are focused on pushing the message. As individuals, we long to be heard. But when you listen you are learning, you are gaining advantage and you are better positioning yourself for an appropriate response or course of action. So, I encourage everyone to listen and use what you learn to deliver your best work.
If money or talent were no object, what would you be doing?
I would be a philanthropist. If I ever win the lottery, I’m going to make it rain.
When you’re not creating genius campaigns, where can we find you?
Outside of work, you can find me planning my next remodeling project. I just finished updating my kitchen with a custom island. Next up, I’m updating my guest bathroom. After that, I’m looking to install a studio shed. My project list is never ending!
What is your favorite movie?
Get Out, the movie was great but what I really loved was how it offered a fresh take on the genre. It’s so easy to follow an established path or fall prey to making comfortable choices. I love when I engage with something that reminds me that the best experiences come from the unexpected.