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Marketing Agency Exposed Podcast

Jun 10, 2020


When we launched our podcast and put together a list of possible guests, Calvin Nowell was part of that list. And today, the timing is perfect in light of the current social tensions. Calvin is a close friend and has worked in the agency world for a while now. Calvin recently started his own agency called, Cmon Creative (during the Covid-19 pandemic too!), and today we talk with him about the story of his start, the struggles he’s seen as a business owner, and his unique perspective as a black man in the agency world. In this episode we’re searching for the good, the opportunities, as we always do. No matter where you stand on the current social issues, education is key if you want to move in a positive direction. Calvin talks about his journey to starting Cmon Creative in April of this year, his experience in advertising, and what agency owners (and individuals) can do TODAY to begin moving towards broader perspectives of reaching an audience.


Top 3 Curtain Pulls in this episode: 

  1. The current climate of unknowns is an opportunity to positively reshape how you do business. Playing fields have been leveled in many ways, creating new opportunities to reach customers. 
  2. Diversity is an important topic in business not only because of social issues, but because it affords your business more opportunity and stability. It’s not about meeting quotas and shouldn’t be. It’s about expanding and challenging your thinking to produce a better product. A team of diverse backgrounds mean less blindspots and more awareness of opportunities and relevance to more audiences.
  3. Perception determines reception. Be genuine. Don’t just jump on a bandwagon because others do. If you want positive movement then your actions must be consistent with that outcome. Share information and help other agencies and businesses. Collaboration is more powerful than isolation


For more tips, discussion, and behind the scenes:


About our Guest: 

Calvin Nowell of Cmon Creative is a seasoned marketer, speaker, and niche influencer. He hosts a podcast called Show Up w/ Calvin Nowell which offers advice alongside industry-specific experts to help encourage people to reach their full potential. He’s an overall creative expert who assists in marketing strategies AND is also an accomplished musician, having worked with Grammy-winning artists Stevie Wonder, Tori Kelly, Michael W Smith, and more. He also provides branding, marketing management, and vocal expertise for those artists. We are so pumped to have him on the show today!


About The Guys: 

Bob Hutchins: Founder of BuzzPlant, a digital agency that he ran from from 2000 -2017. He is also the author of 3 books. More on Bob: 

Brad Ayres: Founder of Anthem Republic, an award-winning ad agency. Brad’s knowledge has led some of the biggest brands in the world. Originally from Detroit, Brad is an OG in the ad agency world and has the wisdom and scars to prove it. Currently that knowledge is being applied to his boutique agency. More on Brad:

Ken Ott: Co-Founder and Chief Growth Rebel of Metacake, an Ecommerce Growth Team for some of the world’s most influential brands with a mission to Grow Brands That Matter. Ken is also an author, speaker, and was nominated for an Emmy for his acting on the Metacake Youtube Channel (not really). More on Ken: 


Show Notes:

[1:05] Bob introduces this week’s guest Calvin Nowell. 

[2:17] Brad welcomes Calvin to the show, speaking about their history of friendship and working together. 

[2:47] Calvin speaks about his move to Franklin from Cincinnati 18 years ago. He initially wanted to get into working behind the scenes in the music industry, eventually being drawn to singing. Opportunities arose that allowed him to get into artist management, and eventually moved full time into marketing. 

  • Worked with Anthem republic and eventually made a move to create his own agency. 

[5:15] Brad asks Calvin to explain the meaning behind Cmon Creative and what led him to naming his business. 

[5:17] Calvin talks about growing up in church in the black community, it’s common to hear people say “C’mon!” when they hear something they are passionate about and connect with. It’s a word of encouragement in his life, regardless of who he’s around, and became very influential in other people’s lives as well. 

  • In the beginning he felt pressure to name his company something more “professional” but then decided to go with something he identified with and that people also identified with him. 

[8:00] Brad talks about how Calvin has always encouraged him to show up and participate, which is reflected in his use of the term and the name of his company. 

[8:26] Bob asks about Calvin's business in the time of Covid. 

[8:44] Calvin talks about how his agency hasn’t been impacted, but his weekend job traveling with Michael W Smith has stopped, obviously. 

  • “The opportunity field has been leveled… so I’ve looked at this as an opportunity to grow.” 
  • In the way that Ellen is now stuck at home without all the fancy lights and equipment, now that is the situation with everyone so there is more opportunity. 

[9:52] Calvin: “This is an opportunity to reshape culture versus rebrand it.” 

  • Gives the analogy of cutting down a tree and calling it timber- that is just rebranding the tree into something new. When you take the tree and reshape it into a cabinet, it becomes something new. 
  • “A lot of times we’ll do something and call it new, without allowing it to reshape, we just rename it.”
  • This is an opportunity to reshape our lives as well as our culture, business, & personal life. 

[10:54] Calvin speaks on the racial tension that we are experiencing as a disruption as well. 

  • It is heavy, but also an opportunity to reshape, it’s an opportunity to listen.
  • As people are trying to level the playing field so we can all be equal, we can all move forward. 
  • We are all created to be solutions to problems- “If you’re not a solution, you’re a problem.” This applies in business as well. 
  • Despite discomfort, I try to be a solution in these conversations. 

[12:03] Bob says the idea of reshaping sounds different than other buzzwords we’ve heard a lot lately.

[13:00] Bob asks what the day to day looks like at Cmon Creative for Calvin. 

[14:08] Calvin: Cmon is a full-service creative agency, helping clients connect dots strategically. They also dabble in video production, social media, Christian film studio company, non-profits. 

  • Started the agency right in the middle of Covid, but ultimately it was a great time to do so  because people were listening and there was a need.
  • Caused a lot of uncertainty within himself, but eventually it became clear that this was exactly what he was supposed to be doing. 

[15:58] Calvin speaks on the current opportunity to speak to black voices and stand for them in a new way. He’s struggled himself to be in the business world because of both his skin and his weight- whether intentional or not, the result is that he’s had to create his own thing. 

  • He speaks to his experience of business as a black man- things like being told by his parents that he had to work twice as hard as everyone else to make it in the white man’s world, especially with the industry he was aiming for. 
  • More recently, in the last year or so, he’s become confident in his abilities and his work, and isn’t afraid to stand out because of the way he looks or presents himself- those things are STRENGTHS. 
  • This goes back the name of his business- C’Mon is a cultural term that has a deep and powerful meaning for him. 

[18:45] Calvin speaks about being a bridge-builder in his community. He goes to a predominantly white church, lives in predominantly white Franklin, TN. He gives examples of not seeing men like him represented in his community, and refers to the recent push to “Diversify or Else.” Ultimately, “Diversity is just better.” 

  • From a business perspective, more opportunity, better perspective. It’s just the way to go. 
  • “My hope is to give solutions to people and to be an on-ramp for change for people.” 

[19:52] Ken asks if there is resistance towards diversity or is it a lack of education around the advantages of diversity. 

[20:11] Calvin tells a story about a company he applied to work for. He got 4-5 rounds of interviews and was referred by a Sr VP. 

  • Interview after interview led to a phone call from them. They praised his skills, but ultimately felt that as a whole that he didn’t fit the culture. He never got a full explanation of this and was truly hurt by the interaction. 
  • “This is why I’m so passionate about giving people those opportunities, because they just don’t exist in the ad world.” 

[22:53] Calvin says that big ad agencies often try to represent black or people of color but just don’t get it right, because they’re not a truly diverse company. If there were people of color in that meeting, those commercials would represent people with much more compassion and care. 

[24:15] Bob speaks about unconscious ignorance as well, and his experience with many people just not being aware of their bias. In recent months, the news has become so direct with the message that unconscious ignorance isn’t really an excuse to hide behind anymore. 

  • It’s important to make sure that everyone in the country is represented in marketing campaigns- to be proactive about it. 

[24:50] Calvin says that in order to be aware of our own biases, we have to take a look at our lives and businesses and ask who’s missing. In the same way that we value young people for access to social media and expertise in that area, we rely on older people to inform us of taking care of our retirement funds. Why not with race as well? Be intentional about awareness of your bias. 

[28:00] Ken: Speaks on his experience of growing up in Queens and how that impacted his cultural identity. Truly the issue goes so much deeper than skin color, but sinks into culture and tradition and so much more than just skin color. Recent events have simplified and in many cases oversimplified the issues and are not doing real justice to the socioeconomic implications.

[30:00] Calvin recalls conversations with other people of color and realizing how deep colorism goes. Not just racially. 

  • It takes a real intentionality to be aware of color and meanings behind it. 
  • Calvin views his business as an opportunity to step into that divide and intentionally have those conversations with the culture. 
  • Until we are truly diverse, we don’t know what ANY of our true potential is. 

[33:48] Brad asks what sort of advice Calvin might have. 

[34:07] Calvin: First, look at your team and ask who’s missing. Not necessarily hiring someone right away, but keeping that blind spot on your radar. 

  • There’s a difference between consideration and quotas. Quotas are multicolored, not multicultural. Consideration is truly valuing what others have to bring to the table and truly keeping an eye open for relationships with others outside of your socioeconomic/ cultural norm. 

[35:29] Ken asks if being part of the “quota” is offensive.

[35:35] Calvin says yes but he’ll take it. “You can show people better than you can tell them.” 

  • “Start with what’s necessary, and then what’s possible, and suddenly you’re doing the impossible.” 

[38:00] Calvin continues: If anything I hope this episode inspires just one person to say hey maybe we do need to see who’s at the table and make some changes.

[40:10] Bob speaks about his black friends who own agencies. They focus on the urban market and people go directly to them when they need that perspective. Bob asks Calvin why they might have zeroed in on that market specifically? 

[41:01] Calvin responds that they saw an opportunity and created a solution for a need. It’s a default because they know they can fill a need, versus being considered as an option as an agency on equal footing with everyone else. 

  • “You become what you see.” 
  • “Perception determines reception.” 

[45:20] Ken speaks to the similarity between that struggle and others that struggle to have the financial means to be successful, the challenges within both of those to work harder than anyone else and produce at a higher level than anyone else. 

[48:20] Brad speaks on his desire to be able to walk through life confident in who he is without anything else, just as himself. And says that the world would be such a better place, we would all appreciate each other so much more if we could just let go of those holdups and incorrect beliefs about ourselves. 

  • Brad speaks about how at-ease he feels around Calvin, because he recognizes his value innately and gets excited to learn new things from someone so kind. 

[50:00] Calvin talks about his lack of encouragement growing up. As a result, he never sang until college and his parents had no idea what talent he had. After therapy and life happening over time, he began to realize that there were other passions and talents he had that were never encouraged either, like his passion for advertising. 

[51:50] Calvin continues: Brad gave him a chance to see what the industry was like from the inside. He was dreaming of having an agency of his own and simply needed the exposure to the process, so that was an enormous gift for him.

[53:50] Calvin talks about the impact Oprah has had on him, and his experience at her 2020 Vision event. She said “I want to encourage you this year to bet on yourself,” and shared her experience bargaining with the co-creators of her show. Their disbelief became leverage for her determination, and it obviously worked in her favor over time. This became his permission to truly step into starting his agency in April 2020. 

[56:47] Calvin: “We’re all looking for validation, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. We need to accept that… forget the [blm] movement and its intention or whatever, but people are simply asking ‘Do you care? Do I matter?’” 

  • Being sensitive to that human need to be validated is an integral part of diversity and what it means to be intentional about diversity in your business. 

[1:00:00] Ken mentions the quote “Proximity breeds empathy.” 

  • Certain groups don’t have proximity, which isn’t bad unless it’s intentional. The change has to be a change of heart, has to be genuine. And that genuine quality will change other hearts as a result. 
  • The more we take actions based on resentment, the more steps we take away from one another. 

[1:03:05] Calvin: Being intentional is the first step, but you have to be PRESENT in that intentionality. Really allow yourself to see/hear/value that other person or people group. Let them know they are being heard.