This year, SRB Communications is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Since starting in the third bedroom of the home she shared with her husband in 1990, the company has evolved into a full-service boutique advertising and marketing agency with offices in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and New York City.
The company and its CEO, Sheila Dean Brooks, have won hundreds of local, regional and national awards. And former employees have gone on to jobs at major corporations, media companies and the U.S. government. During the process, Brooks has gone on to receive her master’s degree and Ph.D. From Howard University.
Those are all incredible feats, especially considering that one-third of small businesses in the U.S. fail in their first two years of operation, and half are gone in five years.
“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of being a lifelong learner and staying ahead of the curve,” Brooks says. “The digital landscape has truly transformed our world. We can see now, more than ever, how important it is to the way we do business and live our lives.”
Sheila Dean Brooks started SRB Communications in 1990 with a business partner in the third bedroom of her home in suburban Maryland after spending nearly 13 years as a television reporter, producer and news anchor in markets in Texas, Washington state and Washington, D.C.
The company started as a partnership focused on television and video production, but quickly within a few months evolved into a sole proprietorship.
The following year was critical in the growth of the company. Brooks hired her first employee and received its first government contract. By 1992, SRB moved into its first “real” office space, at 15th and K Streets, NW, in Washington, D.C. one block from where the company is today.
By 1995, the company had purchased production equipment and became a full-fledged TV and video production company, with a slogan From Script to Screen. Clients included TV One, America’s Most Wanted, BET, and WBAL-TV in Baltimore.
By 2008, with the housing recession in full swing, and the TV and video production business changing quickly and dramatically, SRB pivoted into advertising and marketing with a focus on multicultural audiences.
Today, the company has won more than 200 national and international awards for production and advertising and marketing campaigns. Clients include Exelon Corp., Pepco, Washington Gas, DC Water, Baltimore Gas and Electric, University of the District of Columbia, Bowie State University and Events DC, which operates the DC convention center and sports arena network.
“My passion in serving multicultural audiences has led me to a purpose that is both profitable and valuable,” Brooks says. “I can’t give up on that. The work I do is not solely for me. I’ve invested in so many lives and so many people have invested in me.”
Our fearless leader, President and CEO of SRB Communications, Dr. Sheila Brooks, has quite a bit going on for the next few months. June marks 30 years in business for SRB Communications; her book, Lucile H. Bluford and the Kansas City Call: Activist Voice for Social Justice is getting its paperback release and she was recently spotlighted by Washington Women in PR. The article written by Florence Sumaray was published on WWPR’s website, but check it out below:
Meet Sheila Brooks, Ph.D.,Founder, President and CEO of SRB Communications
Sheila is the founder, president and CEO of SRB Communications, an advertising, marketing and PR agency based in Washington, DC. SRB Communications will be celebrating 30 years in business in June 2020.
Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Sheila spent nearly 13 years in television newsrooms across the country, first as an anchor, reporter and producer, and eventually as a news director and executive producer. Throughout her career, she has taught courses in journalism as a college professor, and she currently teaches multicultural marketing in the Strategic Public Relations program at the George Washington University.
In 2015, she returned to the classroom and completed a Ph.D. in Media, Culture and Communications at Howard University. Over the years she’s won numerous awards including two Emmys, the inaugural Pat Tobin Media Relations Award from the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and the 2019 NABJ Ida B. Wells Award. She was also nominated for the 2019 NAACP Image Award for literary work on publishing her first book, Lucile H. Bluford and the Kansas City Call: Activist Voice for Social Justice.
Leading SRB Communications
Over the past decade, Sheila’s job as CEO of a minority- and woman- owned business, has evolved from working “in” the business to working “on” the business. Her talented team of eight to 10 employees handle the day-to-day accounts under the leadership of No. 2, Adiya Mobley, SRB Communications’ Vice President of Marketing and Communications. Sheila enjoys closing deals and developing and executing a growth strategy for the agency.
Sheila joined WWPR to connect with some of the most talented PR professionals in the country. It also provides opportunities for her and the staff at SRB Communications to network and share new ideas.
Outside of the office
Sheila serves on the Federal City Council as a member of the Board of Trustees and as chair of the Board of Visitors for the Global School of Journalism and Communication at Morgan State University. She also serves on the advisory board of the Jim Vance Media Center at Archbishop Carroll High School. Sheila finds her many decades of serving on boards for journalism, educational and entrepreneurial organizations proves to be rewarding. She also enjoys giving back to the community and is specifically committed to sharing her experiences with young people.
Staying busy during COVID-19
Sheila generally loves to cook and entertain. Since COVID-19, she has spent more weekend time with her husband at their beach house, only an hour away in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. They social distance walk with friends, barbecue, and just enjoy the serenity of the Chesapeake Bay. Additionally, during the week when she’s home in Silver Spring, Maryland, she is loving her Peloton.
Defining the “new normal” for SRB Communications
SRB Communications has been working remotely nearly three months while continuing to provide clients superior services and value add. The company has been fortunate to work from home daily during the COVID-19 pandemic, which the team at SRB Communications realizes is a privilege many people aren’t afforded.
Besides working from home, it has been business as usual for the most part. They have daily team and client meetings, and new business efforts keep them busy regularly. They are also excited to be celebrating their 30th year anniversary this year with a year-long roll out of campaigns to introduce to the public and their stakeholders.
Keeping up with trends in communications
Sheila can’t emphasize enough the importance of being a lifelong learner and staying ahead of the curve. Keeping up with digital trends is essential for SRB Communications to stay ahead of their competition. To do so, Sheila personally reads two books per month, and as an agency, they subscribe to several information resources. Some of those resources include following the right marketing thought-leaders and influencers, taking advantage of the many resources their partners have access to, networking with other marketers in the field through Meetups and networking sites. Lastly but most importantly, remaining agile and embracing new technology as it is introduced to the public. They also prioritize attending webinars and annual conferences like the National Association of Black Journalists, AAF-DC and ColorComm.
How the industry has changed in the past five years
In the past five years, the digital landscape has truly transformed the world, and the SRB Communications’ team now understands more than ever how important it is for their business and their lives. There have been so many advancements in the way people communicate through technology. The digital space is ever-evolving, and as marketing and communications professionals, it is our responsibility to stay abreast on the latest technologies driving the day-to-day work.
Celebrating SRB Communications’ 30th anniversary
If you asked Sheila his time last year what they would be doing to celebrate SRB Communications’ 30 year anniversary, she never would have guessed celebrating during a global pandemic. However, here they are, celebrating … in the midst of a global pandemic.
Even though they are all quarantined and safely social distancing, they have decided to transition their celebratory efforts to the digital atmosphere. They’re excited to reintroduce the SRB brand and newly designed logo to the public. They also have a few content and storytelling campaigns rolling out across their social media channels throughout the entirety of the anniversary year. To kick off 2021, they’ll be releasing their 2021 Multicultural Marketing Trends Report outlining the latest and greatest happenings in inclusive marketing and campaigns. Make sure you follow them on social media to get the latest 30th anniversary update: Twitter, FacebookandInstagram.
Lessons learned during this pandemic and how to stay positive
If you don’t walk away from this pandemic having learned something new, whether about yourself or about the broader community that we live in, then you’ve missed a huge growth opportunity. Sheila has learned that as a community they are stronger together. She has seen that play out even within the SRB team. She has watched the team stay resilient in the face of this pandemic and stay committed to their client’s work and the agency business. She stays positive because of her advisors and her fellow business owners that are supportive with regular phone calls, emails and texts.
Like many fellow business owners, Sheila has also learned how to work from home. That’s not something she thought she would be able to do, but the team has done it and hasn’t skipped a beat. Sheila has faced other crises over the past 30 years in business, and through them all, she’s learned to embrace the challenges, create opportunities, stay innovative, and most importantly, trust in her unshakeable faith. She is truly fortunate to be able to do this work with honor and a sense of responsibility at this moment in time.
Five lessons learned from 30 years of running a successful marketing and communications firm
Sheila’s passion in serving multicultural audiences has led her to a purpose that is both profitable and valuable. She can’t give up on that. The work she does is not solely for her. She’s invested in so many lives and so many have invested in her. You can’t stay in business and keep people working if you don’t make a profit. You have to keep that in mind.
Five lessons Sheila has learned in running a successful marketing and communications firm:
Know when to pivot the business. Stop selling what you have. Sell what the client needs.
Keep a customer-first mindset.
Obtain a bank loan or line of credit before you need it.
As marketers, we hold a great deal of responsibility during this global pandemic. While healthcare staff, first responders, and other essential workers focus on the physical health and security of citizens, it is the responsibility of marketers to help people cope with our “new normal”. This not only benefits society as a whole, but it will help position your company as a community partner and a brand that your customers can rely on during times of crisis. So, here are 4 things you can do to manage your marketing strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Determine Your Company’s Position in a Pandemic
If you are a marketer, odds are you are in the middle of managing a number of different campaigns and editorial calendars. A crisis of this magnitude can easily overshadow your promotion and marketing efforts, so you’ll have to determine if it’s fiscally and socially responsible to continue your campaigns. In some cases, you can pivot the campaign to address the crisis and provide content that is beneficial and relevant to your customers. Obviously, every business is unique and will be impacted differently, so there is no exact answer to what should and shouldn’t be suspended. As a rule of thumb, you should determine if your business is uniquely positioned to speak to the pandemic and how you can show up for your customers in the time of crisis. From that point, you can make a better judgement call and decide if you should stay silent or shift your messaging and content offering.
2. Revise Your Content Calendar
If you do decide to continue your marketing campaigns, it’s imperative you review all scheduled content to determine if it aligns with community health measures and messaging, and then adjust accordingly. The words and images you use, no matter how small, delivers a message to the people who consume it. When designing creative, avoid using pictures with people interacting closely with one another or using language like “get in touch,” or, “come meet the…” as this could be taken as tone-deaf or out of touch messaging during this time. As a marketer, you can help endorse the new normal by incorporating our new social guidelines into your creative and messaging.
Ultimately, follow the strategy that fits to your company and consumer’s needs best. Reevaluate your content and creative and know that the best strategy may not be selling your products at this time, but rather showing how your company can help people overall.
3. Market Your Beliefs and Values
In recent years, we have seen consumers become increasingly more aware of societal issues and have expected the businesses they frequent to share their social and environmental values. With the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses will try to use this as an opportunity to sell their business or product, but cause marketing is not about capitalizing on a global crisis. Cause marketing is about developing and strengthening your relationship with consumers by connecting with them on societal issues that matters to them the most and aligns with your company’s values.
There are many ways your company can contribute to the effort to curtail this pandemic. Some companies have started to manufacture and donate essential items like ventilators and masks to those who need them the most. Other companies have donated hotel rooms to healthcare workers on the frontline or donated money to hospitals and other organizations fighting COVID-19 cases. These are all great ways to showcase your support and company values and can provide a great opportunity for marketing that helps companies build credibility and trust among its consumers and helps keep them abreast of the efforts you are doing to help end the crisis.
This brings us to our next point.
4. Build Deeper Connections Through Human Stories
People are looking for something to be hopeful about. Everyone loves a story that they can get behind, especially stories that are relatable. Let the story be yours. It’s the perfect time to deliver human-driven stories that provide a way for people to connect while stuck at home. Employees are a great resource for developing personable content. Your employees are affected by this crisis just like everybody else. Highlight what they have been doing to stay busy and active during this time. Sharing their story makes your audience view your company as more just a faceless entity, it’s a collection of real people. As their leader, keeping them positive should be a priority too. Show your audience the ways you and your team have stayed connected and upbeat. Also, try to utilize your audience to produce user-generated content and engage in a campaign that is optimistic and engaging. That being said, you have to be aware of your positivity. Blind optimism is a poor mindset to have in a time of crisis. Don’t pretend everything is fine and ignore the issue. No one likes the band playing music on a sinking ship.
It’s clear that the economy has been crippled by the recent pandemic and many small businesses are hurting because of it. In order to curtail company spending, leadership often makes large cuts to the marketing budget during hard economic times.
However, this does not mean you can or should stop marketing. In fact, companies that continue their marketing efforts during times of economic crisis have steadied or even increased sales. Take the time to review the budget you do have to ensure you’re using it the most efficient and effective way possible. Here’s a few tactics to help you market on a tighter budget.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that quality content is important. Marketing revolves around content, so when you’re operating on a small budget, quality is paramount. The content must be useful to the consumer while also being easily digestible. Find out what your audience needs and make sure you are supplying them with valuable information to meet those needs.
Research is an important part of creating quality content. A reader can go anywhere to receive content, so why should they consume yours? Providing sound information backed with research and complemented with your own perspective via anecdotal experiences or exclusive company data adds value to the content and establishes you as a unique source of information. Once you’ve done the research necessary to write or speak intelligently about your content topic, figure out the best way to deliver it to your audience.
With technology advancing faster than we can blink, there are so many mediums to choose from with little to no cost (i.e. infographics, podcasts, videos, blogs, newsletters, live stream, etc.). It’s important to think about your topic and who is your target audience when determining how to deliver the content. Some people are likely to interact with a particular medium more than others. For example, podcasts are generally listened to by a younger audience. 84% are under 55 years old according to Edison Research. If your audience skews towards an older demographic, podcasts may not be the best place to reach them.
Like beauty, the value of your content is in the eye of the beholder. Your audience determines how much value they received from the content and the overall quality of it. If you don’t deliver your content to the right audience, they find no value in it. Choosing the right content for the right audience is about knowing who will receive the most value from it and delivering it to them in the medium that they are looking for.
Social media is a great tool for marketing on a budget. It allows you to create a following of engaged users and distribute your content to new masses. The best thing about social media is the constant development of new platforms and the reach it provides. Whether you’re looking for an older audience on Facebook or a younger one on TikTok, there’s a platform available that is right for your target audience.
There are two ways to reach users on social platforms. One is known as an organic reach. You are directly engaging with consumers without using money to reach them. You should create engaging, quality content that attract users to follow you. More followers mean more reach and hopefully, more engagement.
Engagement with your audience is one of the most valuable resources you have. Interact with them via comments, likes, direct messages, etc. and create personal connections with your followers. They respect the time it takes to do that, and it won’t be forgotten when they discuss your business. People are more likely to trust the recommendation of a real person whether that is on social media or on a blog. A suggestion from a friend about your business goes a long way.
The other way to use reach users is paid promotion. This includes paid or boosted ads on social media. Paying for ads on social media is a good way to stretch your dollars because it’s much cheaper than advertising on broadcast or radio and it allows you to target specific audiences based on demographics, interests, etc. more effectively.
As your audience grows, you can utilize their influence more. User-generated content on your social media platforms is a great way to expand your reach. This method basically lets users create and distribute custom content for you cost free. Not to mention, this content can seem more authentic to users than a traditional ad. To do this, you’ll need to create a call-to-action that gets your audience creating meaningful content for your business. Look to other companies for inspiration, but it’s important to make it relevant for your service or product offerings while putting a personal touch on it.
People are always looking for something new and different. Give them a reason to interact with your company. A base of followers is just a long list of potential sales. You can use your profile as another platform for selling while also increasing your brand awareness to a larger audience. The more recognizable your brand becomes, the more trustworthy you become to consumers. People will always buy from the companies they recognize and trust.
SEO is Gold
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is your best friend when it comes to low budget marketing. You can do everything above but if you ignore SEO, no one will find your content. So, what is SEO? It is designing your website and content to be relevant and easy for search engines to find. Since Google has more than 90% of the searches on the internet, most of the SEO guidelines are tailored to their methods. Implementing these methods are often very low-cost. Let’s walk through the basics.
Keywords are the “key” to everything (pun intended). Keywords are the words the user will search. For example, if I wanted to find a coffee place to go to, I’d search, “coffee near me.” This is just one combination that someone might use, your job is to account for as many keyword searches as possible, both short and long tail. Think about the keywords people would use to find your company and try to be specific as possible.
The next step is understanding the technical side of SEO. Google has to find your website, search the content on the site/page, and then index it on their own search engine. In order to do this, Google sends out “crawlers” which find and catalog your site. This means you should have relevant content via your keywords for them to catalog. You don’t want the crawlers to bring something to the users that is irrelevant to their search; that’s why a good understanding of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the code used to create that your site, is helpful. Doing the research necessary to master and implement SEO best practices will bring more users to your site and help generate stronger sales leads for your business.
Ultimately, there are so many clever ways to successfully market your business while on a tight budget. Do the research and think outside of the box to stretch your marketing dollars because marketing is important to your business. It’s as important as the business itself.
As we continue to move through the year and these unprecedented times, we’ll continue to share trends that will shape marketing for the rest of 2020. These trends are more than, “check out this new social media platform!” They are the consumer behaviors that will impact your content strategies, the technology that is coming whether you’re prepared or not, and the unorthodox ways of looking at pre-established concepts. The future is a constant uphill battle that never ends. The smartest thing you can do is stay informed and adopt early. You never want to be last to know.
People Are Reading Less
It should come as no shock to anyone to hear that people are reading less. Since the dawn of the internet, we have been headed towards a society based on visuals and audio. To be honest, we’re still surprised people haven’t started writing entirely in emojis yet. As this trend continues, it’s important to adapt your content accordingly. There’s two main ways that eliminate the need for any of that pesky reading and keep your audience engaged.
Video marketing can easily replace the standard written content with some major benefits. Videos are more flexible creatively. Visuals allow consumers to connect further with the product or company more than the words on a page can. It also allows for an interactive experience that written content cannot. Videos keep the consumer engaged with the content. People can get a little restless. They might start to read something but if they’re not immediately hooked by the content, they’ll give up and move on. Visuals keep the attention of the viewer and delivers the same information at no extra effort to the viewer. Something to remember with video marketing is that YouTube is not the only platform to release video content. As the world becomes more mobile, it’s key to remember apps like Instagram or newer ones like Tik Tok, utilize the vertical video model. These types of videos are a great return on investment (ROI) as they usually require low production costs. They are more sharable than other forms of content and also allow for consumers to interact with the content personally.
Podcasts are similar to videos in that consumers are not “plagued” with having to read. Although podcasts lack the visual aspect that videos have, podcasts come with a distinct advantage. Videos require the consumer to limit the kinds of activities they can perform while watching. Podcasts are much more consumable because they don’t have visual component. You can listen to a podcast anywhere, even while driving, running, biking, trying to fall asleep, working, etc. On top of this perk, podcasts can be basically cost free and have the ability to be interactive with the audience. An important thing to mention is the low competition within this market. Every business is most likely producing content on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter but most have ignored podcasts. That being said, podcasts continue to grow in popularity. According to Apple in 2018, there were 550,000 podcasts and 18.5 million episodes. Now, there are 850,000 podcasts and 30 million episodes. The earlier you add this strategy into your marketing plan, the less competition you will have later. Podcast listeners are notoriously loyal; the larger the audience you can gain early on, the easier it will be in the long term.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) Is Here to Stay
Regardless of whether computers will eventually take over the world or if your smart speaker is secretly listening to you, for now, AI is a useful tool for you and consumers. As it becomes more prevalent, it’s important that you notice how it affects consumer behaviors while also utilizing it yourself to change your strategies.
As Siri, Alexa, and a slew of others continue their battle for dominance in the smart speaker industry, the behaviors of consumers have changed. People are increasingly using their smart speakers to search things. Language is a very odd thing. For some reason, we write differently than we speak. For instance, if talking to a smart speaker you might say, “Hey Alexa, where’s the closest grocery store?” However, when searching on Google you would likely type, “Grocery store near me.” This may not seem like a monumental difference to you, but it has a significant impact for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This is why adding “long-tail keywords”, 3-5 word long conversational phrases or questions people use to search, into your content is important if you want to try to secure a prestigious Alexa shout out.
On the flipside of AI, it’s making the lives of businesses easier too. When marketing, you have to try to think of every variable possible and make sense of all the numbers. This can be extremely hard, and patterns can become lost among the data. However, AI can recognize patterns in consumer behaviors, which individuals are most likely to buy, and identify potential customers. AI can also learn the type of consumer that is interacting with your content and adjust accordingly. Similar to how Facebook will target you with certain ads that are personalized or how Spotify will recommend new music that is based on what you like, AI can do the same for your content. Doing this creates a personalized experience for the consumer and are more likely to return because you supplied them with content relevant to their interests.
Micro-Influencers Continue to Gain Popularity
Conventional wisdom tells us to reach the largest audience possible to maximize our reach. If you team that up with the influencer industry, you probably believe that an influencer with millions of followers has the best return on investment (ROI). Well, turns out, the little guys are much better at their job.
Micro-influencers have a very unique and coveted ability. Unlike large influencers, they can actually – you know – influence. Micro-influencers have a following of between 10,000 and 50,000 on social media. These small numbers have prominent advantages. The smaller your numbers, the more engagement you get from your followers. People often feel drowned out in a larger audience. With fewer followers, people open up more and feel they’re able to engage more personally with the influencer. These people also feel like they’re having a more authentic experience with the influencer given that the influencer is able to interact with a larger percentage of their audience. The audience the influencer has cultivated is extremely specific too. Choosing the right influencer that fits your verticals ensures that the people viewing the content are the ones most likely to engage with your business. This audience is also more likely to buy something that the influencer recommends than from a larger influencer. Teaming up with micro-influencers is cheaper than gambling on a big shot with millions of followers.
At the end of the day, you have to choose the trends that are best for you company. Not every new tip or trick will be helpful, but knowledge is power. There’s no such thing as staying too informed and you never know when some piece of information will come in handy.
We’ve all seen it before. A pride month like Black History Month comes around and it seems like every other company is tweeting a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. and then calling it a day. Supportive? …Not really. There’s so much more a company can do to enact real change in their own business practices to support diversity and inclusion. You can talk the talk. Now here’s how to walk the walk.
Diversity – In your business, it is extremely important to include people of all backgrounds and experiences at every level of the company. Many groups are often underrepresented in business environments and the effects can be seen when trying to reach diverse communities through advertising and marketing. Prioritizing diversity in your company gives access to new financial and social capital for these underrepresented groups. This not only allows your company to be more inclusive of everyone but is also great for the business’s future success. The more diverse your staff and leadership team becomes, the more perspectives you have to innovate and propel your company to new heights. Diversity is not skin deep, behind each person is a different experience, idea, and outlook. Business is unpredictable, you constantly need to adapt and think creatively to solve problems. That’s where diversity comes in, each unique perspective is another opportunity to solve the problem faster. And as we all know, time is money.
Staff Training – Diversity is obviously very important in business, but it’s what you do with that diversity that matters. Inclusion is the next step in encouraging opportunities for multicultural groups. Diversity is an asset for businesses and ensuring that staff members are able to recognize where an employee’s unique perspective benefits the company is paramount in utilizing it. Position their talent in an effective way that highlights their skills and their story. Diversity is just as important in the top tiers of the business as it is on the lower tiers.
Training your staff is also about familiarizing them with different cultures they may not have ever experienced. It’s important to realize that most of the time people aren’t being purposely ignorant of other cultures. Unfortunately, many people have never had the opportunity to interact with these cultures and training is a great way to introduce them. Having your staff understand new cultures provides a healthy environment among employees. A major part of business is keeping your employees happy and the best way is creating a workplace where everyone is comfortable with whom they work with. This level of comfort is also transferred to customers. The more comfortable and accepted everyone feels in your business, the more customers will be driven there.
Professional Development Programs – A great way to promote diversity and inclusion in your business is to give minorities an avenue to move up in the company and develop or create new skills. Johnson & Johnson has been on the forefront of this. They offer resource groups, mentor programs, and have even established a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer that reports directly to the CEO. Creating similar programs can help your company’s overall diversity and truly support the variety of cultures you employ. Once you have a flow of people in programs such as these, it brings the whole thing full circle. You now have diversity being implemented in your business promoting innovation, creating a healthy environment, and high-level employees familiar with diversity to continue to the progression within your company.
These steps create ongoing changes to a business to support diversity and equality for employees. It promotes real change within these groups and provides them with opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable. Showing support is one thing, actively supporting is another.