By Taroue Brooks
I sat down with David Muhammad, co-founder and partner at Fulton Mecklenburg to chat about the agency and this is what he had to say.
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
My father was a successful serial entrepreneur who owned and operated several businesses spanning from the 1960s to the early 2000s. He owned and operated a tax preparation/notary business, a commercial janitorial company and an auto repair shop all within the black community. It was a blessing to observe him provide for our family, purchase his home and provide employment for members of the community through his various businesses. Working with my father in those businesses had a profound and lasting effect on the way I see wealth generation and career development. Not to mention the rapid development of my business operations and customer experience skills at a young age. I began working with my father at the age of twelve.
My first business was an indie rap label and music studio in the 90s which I started in my hometown of Kansas City, MO and then relocated it NYC. I also launched an NYC-based software development company which operated from 2008-2011. My agency career with Uniworld Group, Moxie, BBDO/Organic and GMR has been weaved in throughout my own ventures over the years.
Tell us about your company and services.
Fulton Mecklenburg is design thinking digital agency with top notch creative capabilities. My business partner, Greg Kerns is the Chief Creative Officer, I head up Digital Strategy and Experience Design. We’re fortunate to be able to collaborate with very talented colleagues who are world class developers, designers, researchers, producers, strategists and operations gurus.
We leverage empathetic, human-centered experience design solutions for web and mobile touch-points as well as, data-driven digital strategy, digital marketing and social media management services. We also develop content strategies based on actionable insights and produce varying types of SEO-driven content like; videos, motion graphics, gamification, infographics, podcasts, white papers and social posts. With Greg heading our creative capabilities, given his extensive global agency background, our end product always looks and feels world class and top notch.
Why was it important for F & M to change the agency model?
My business partner Greg Kerns and I have over 40 years of combined agency experience between us. We’ve worked at some of the largest and most iconic agencies in the industry. Greg worked in an executive Creative Direction capacity at Grey, Rauxa, Moxie and BET. I headed up Digital Experience, Content Strategy and Digital Strategy at GMR, BBDO, Organic, Moxie and Uniworld Group. Greg and I collaborated on Nike, UPS, BB&T and Verizon accounts while at Moxie.
Based upon all of that cumulative experience we share, we believe that we’re in a unique position to innovate upon and evolve the traditional agency model to bring faster value to our clients. This is not a diss but the old model is a static linear approach, that ties clients into large retainers for output that’s hard to measure ROI against. More than 60% of CMOs complain about not getting enough value from the agency partners. That’s a significant number, six out of ten. So, when Greg and I were developing our model we sought to leverage agile design and lean UX methodologies into our agency framework, similar to what a lot of Silicon Valley companies do. We believe that empathetic experience design, data driven digital strategy, insights enabled content along with top notch creative, delivered within an agile and lean UX methodology framework is the way most agencies will go to market in the near future.
Accenture Digital unknowingly validated our model by acquiring top-tier experience design agency Fjord, and the award winning creative agency Droga5 to add value to its portfolio. We had the opportunity to build the agency of the near future from the ground up with a unified culture, while folks like Accenture saw the landscape shifting as well and acquired the know-how from Fjord and Droga5, but struggle with business integration and cultural alignment issues.
What type of experience should a client expect to have when working with you?
Our clients benefit from our lean, innovative and nimble model along with our culture of collaboration and transparent communication style. We aren’t trying to hustle our clients and that comes across. We seek to collaborate with our clients and empathize with their customers and business challenges, which makes the solutions authentic, relevant and effective.
In such a competitive market, how do you maintain your viability?
It is this hyper-competitive market that pushes our continuous innovation and agile culture at F+M. Our nimble, scrappy and lean approach to solutioning, execution and delivery keeps us viable. We’re not concerned about becoming the biggest player in the market, we want to be amongst the smartest and the most authentic, by accomplishing those two things, we’ll remain viable.
What have you learned today about agency management that you wish you would have known 20 years ago?
One of the main benefits that comes with age and experience is wisdom and patience. In this business, velocity, creativity and innovation will always be huge drivers, but how they are delivered is what has evolved. In today’s agency world, empathy is the key. I’d like to say that I’m more empathetic and patient with colleagues, direct reports, clients and inter-agency partners than in times past.
The influence of hip hop culture is evident in F & M. Why was it important to bring authenticity to social awareness?
My business partner Greg and I are both Gen Xers who grew up on hip hop. We grew up on LLCool J, Public Enemy, Eric B & Rakim, NWA, Salt & Pepa and Run DMC. We often chat about being heavily influenced and being down with the culture since day one. Back in the day, Greg made beats and I rapped, though not together. We both still love hip hop to this very day and yes, we like a ton of the newer artists like; Migos, Future and Kendrick Lamar as well.
We came to the realization that in this current iteration of our agency, we wanted to express some authentic cultural aesthetics and vibes that would also differentiate us from the crowd. It was Greg’s genius creative direction that drove the strategy of leveraging a traditional hip hop motif, tone and voice to help tell our brand story. Greg has created a vibrant and visceral brand mosaic that leans heavily into the global cultural zeitgeist that is powered by hip hop.
What does success look like to you?
Success for me is defined by a strong relationship with my higher power, Yah, The Most High Creator. Success for me is also defined by loving, caring and nurturing family relationships. Good physical, emotional and mental health as well as financial freedom are also key indicators of success for me. Balance in life is the key to success for me. We’re also successful in life when we’re helping others reach their goals in life.
What advice would you give to someone seeking to become an entrepreneur?
For me, the first thing is to establish a strong relationship with your Higher Power, you’re going to need a great source of faith and inspiration to keep you going through the valleys and peaks of launching and sustaining a business enterprise. Secondly, find a challenge in the marketplace that is being underserved or ignored, then solve that problem with products, services and solutions. The third thing is, to get on your grind but make sure that you get the right amount of rest as well.
Where would you like to see your business in the next five years?
Over the next five years, we hope to develop several mutually beneficial relationships with socially responsible clients in tech, consumer electronics, fashion, transportation, consumer packaged goods, e-commerce, healthcare, and finance. After we garner and sustain the aforementioned client relationships, we’d like to engage with an innovative, larger agency or consulting firm for a possible merger in order to enhance our global reach.