As the popular saying goes, there's power in numbers. However, sometimes a smaller group packs the biggest punch as long as the ideas are top tier. In the marketing world, one can assume that the bigger the brand, the bigger the agency. As black culture continues to shape the overall look and feel of pop culture, well-known brands are looking to sell to the urban community in a way that is authentic and non-offensive. Beyond that, these same brands are looking to matter and be a part of the ever-evolving conversation that is "the culture."
What differentiates the marketing agencies capable of helping push brands to the forefront of authentic conversation, from the ones who just can't seem to crack that code? Active participation is the x-factor when it comes to effective cultural marketing. To be an active participant, you must have a personal stake in the well-being of the culture to which you serve, whatever your profession may be. This allows for a small agency like Timeless Eye to compete with the biggest and most reputable agencies out there. For Luke Wright and Cole Cook, there's power in smaller numbers. I spoke with the duo on how they've quietly built a respectful clientele, tackling huge projects with a small team, and their latest work with Bally and Swizz Beatz.
What are your individual work backgrounds?
LW: My work background is based heavily in video production. I was mentored by legendary hip-hop video director Rik Cordero, where I adopted every role on set in order to serve the production team. Everything from grabbing Rik a special gluten-free meal to writing scripts for Migos. I was lucky enough to be exposed to multiple levels of production at an early age, and entrusted to help create content that would be seen by millions.
CC: I started off as a busboy in Longmont, Colorado, then to shingling houses in Iowa. I finally made my way over to New York and started audio engineering at Jungle City Studios. I found out that music while in my blood, it just wasn't for me. After doing that I started modeling with RED, through that I found of love of production. I quickly realized I was much more passionate about being behind the camera.
At what point did you both decide to join forces and start your own agency?
LW: I had been working closely with one of my good friends. He was starting his own business and I was learning from him everyday. I was frustrated with my own work situation, I knew I wanted to level up. I saw Cole post a video of himself levitating his wallet, and I had remembered that he was a video nerd too. I had an epiphany and called him. We spoke on the phone for hours plotting on how we can take over the game. We wanted to empower all of our most creative friends by building a strong, diverse team that could tackle any obstacle in our path. A month later we had an LLC and a logo. All we needed was content to back up our dream.
CC: I met Luke back when he was 14 working with Rik, shooting videos for some of our good friends Baby J and Pryde. I always knew Luke was a dope creator, but at the time I didn't know where I was at. Once I finished school I knew it was time for me to find my own lane. Who better to do it with than Luke? Two young men of color disrupting the industry, what's better than that?
Describe the experience of building your clientele.
LW: The majority of our clients come from personal relationships that we've developed in our past jobs. After we had a small collection of work, we held a launch party where we showcased our work. That event led to an email list of potential clients and a few videos right off the bat. From there it was just a matter of networking. Going to events, showing people our videos on our phones, talking to people about our services, getting our friends to share our work, and a lot of emails.
CC: For me, our clientele started first started with my family. I've been building my clientele since I was young, I just didn't know it. Having family that is in the industry is definitely a plus, but we had to prove ourselves. We had to go out on our own and actually make dope content. Once we had the content it was just a matter of getting it in front of these people that I've known for years.
You guys are two young black men who are doing contracts with brands that would typically work with mid-size to large agencies. To what do you guys attribute your success in being able to work with such culturally significant clientele?
LW: Our strength lies in our ability to understand urban markets. We're able to work with brands like Nike and Bacardi because we are a part of the culture. From the way we dress to the aesthetic of our content, were able to be ourselves unapologetically and it translates. We collect creative geniuses we meet in the streets and on set. Most agencies are populated by middle-aged white guys with marketing degrees, run by older white dudes who are even more out of touch. When brands see two, well-educated black men with their shit together pitching them amazing content, they have faith. We've mastered the art of social content and making decks to prove that.
CC: I think that it's our diverse base of work. We've done videos with all kinds of brands from nonprofits like Keep a Child Alive to liquor brands like Martini. At the end of the day, these companies trust us because they see the vision. Our messaging is clear and purposeful. We don't put out videos just to put them out, they always serve a greater purpose. We're just lucky enough to be able to put our work in front of people who see the vision and believe in us.
How did the relationship with Swizz Beatz come to be, and talk about your latest project with him and Bally.
CC: Well shit that is easy, he's my brother-in-law. Growing up around him for the last seven years I've grown to see his creative vision. Once we showed him our content and showed him that our shit was actually dope, it was easy for us to work together. Once he started to trust my team, it was a wrap.
Your company remains nimble while managing a huge workload. Talk about how you guys are able to keep your overhead low, and maintain a network of helping hands depending on the project at hand.
LW: We utilize the resources available to us through our family and close friends. We operate on a per project basis so we're able to keep our overhead low and our team lean. When we need help we call upon our collective to help us create something larger than ourselves.
CC: We're lucky enough to know some of the best people in the game. And when we get specific clients, we know they'll want a specific style. For each client, we look at our roster and build the strongest team for them. Because of that we're able to divvy out the workload so nobody is overwhelmed and the clients get exactly what they need.
What's your take on innovation? There seems to be nothing new under the sun, so how do you study trends, new technology, and shifts In culture to come up with innovative ideas?
LW: In this age of technology, everything is constantly changing and growing. I keep up on marketing trends by stalking our competitors. Watching their content and attending their events. I'm also a heavy reader, so I'm always keeping up to date with tech articles and changes in social algorithms. I wouldn't attribute any of that to our creative innovation. I'd attribute that to our trial and error process and surveys. Before we finalize any ideas our team has all had their two cents in, we've deconstructed and reconstructed the deck multiple times. We're constantly learning and growing from our environment and using it as inspiration for our next project.
What is the brainstorming process like before actually developing a pitch? Do you guys have a formula you follow, or does each project come to life in its own way?
I'd say each project formulates itself in a unique fashion. They usually begin with a smoke session. Get the old juices flowing. Bump some trap music and see what we come up with. We're always bouncing ideas off of each other and pulling visual references. We usually both have some kind of general vision for a project, we have these brainstorming sessions to kind of bring them together.
Describe two of your favorite projects to date.
The Swizz x Bally project is definetly one of the best projects I've ever had the luxury of working on. Being able to direct huge names like Joey Badass and Diddy and actually have them listen, its all I could've ever asked for. Beyond that some of the other artists we worked with like Shei Pan and Bridget Hearst we're really raising the bar for the photoshoot. It was amazing to have so many brilliant creatives in one space.
The second best project I've ever worked on was Backstroke. One of my oldest filmmaking buddies, Robbie Barclay, wrote and directed this short film. He sent me the script and I instantly knew it was a banger. I helped produce it with another one of my mentors Ryan Biazon. The film ended up winning Short of the Week as well as a Vimeo Staff Pick. It's starring one of my favorite actresses that I discovered on the Williamsburg Bridge, Josefine Christopherson. I had been waiting for the right role to cast her in and Backstroke was the perfect fit. We shot over the course of four days in Connecticut. It was freezing cold, and everyone was getting sick but nobody complained. Jo had to swim in an ice-cold lake but ass naked so we had no complaints.
CC: Definitely my most recent project with Bally and Swizz was the most memorable. It was beautiful chaos lasting 16 hours. When you start the day it goes by really slow you know, but by the time it's over you wonder where the time went. It was great to shoot some of these icons but we had so much new talent that was really incredible. So many new faces that really killed it.
Second to that has to be No Commissions Shanghai, but that was because of the culture. Really immersing myself in Shanghai culture in order to show it on the screen. Exploring Shanghai on a sampan was really incredible. I watched the process of a tea-maker, the attention to detail inspired me. It made me want to apply that same attention into our work.
Needless to say, Timeless Eye has no shortage of work coming their way as they continue to leave their unique footprint in the marketing space. As we already know, the set formulas for success across industries are being recreated. Timeless Eye is creating a part of the new norm. It's not about the size of the team, it's about the creativity and authentic voice of the team. It's the only way to create timeless work.