Branding an Industry: A Conversation with ADC Board Member Amani Duncan

Editor’s Note: ADC is led not only by its Executive Director Ignacio Oreamuno but also by the ADC Board of Directors, a diverse group of professionals comprising the design, advertising, public relations, music and media industries (and more!). Led by ADC Board President Benjamin Palmer, the ADC Board of Directors meets with Oreamuno quarterly to review the past three months, as well as projections for the year ahead. This important collaboration helps ensure the highest quality of programming and opportunities for ADC and its membership and greater global community year after year. As we share more about the ADC Team, as well as your fellow ADC members here on the ADC Blog, we will also introduce you to a new ADC Board Member each month. Who are they, what do they do and why do they share their time and insight with the ADC community through their Board participation? Tune in right here to find out.

Amani Duncan is the Vice President of Brand Marketing for C.F. Martin & Co., who you may remember from our Pool Party at W South Beach Private Pool + Lawn in Miami Beach during the ADC 92nd Annual Awards + Festival of Art and Craft. We thank Martin & Co. for sponsoring our first night in Miami and combining the perfect amounts of cocktail, music from Keaton Simons, and “social instigation” by theatreMAMA.

Over seventeen years ago, Amani made a drastic career change when she decided to ditch law school for an unpaid internship at a small music office in Los Angeles. Now, Amani is one of the most powerful women behind the scenes of the music industry. From Def Jam Recordings to Sean Combs, everything she touches turns to gold. We are excited to share our recent conversation with the very talented ADC Board Member who fixes brands for a living.

ADC: How did you start your career, going back to your internship?

Amani: At Def Jam Recordings, I started off in the A & R department working with recruiting and signing artists to the label and doing promotions, after that working in the radio department, then eventually working in marketing, video promotion and production.

ADC: What was the first day like, what did you expect from this company?

Amani: I went in with my eyes wide shut to be quite honest. I didn’t know what to expect. I had absolutely no knowledge of the music industry. I was in school for political science. I was always, for as long as I can remember, planning on becoming an attorney. I did a complete U-turn, so I went in just bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

It was a very small company in Los Angeles because it was a New York-based company. There were only five of us, but we were really busy because we took care of everything that happened on the West Coast. I showed up, and they said, “Here, figure this out,” and it worked. I worked eight-to-ten-hour days, sometimes ten to twelve, for free just learning everything I possibly could learn; and, thankfully, I was a quick learner.

Eventually, they hired me as the office manager. It was hilarious. I was the office manager of an office of five people. Of course I didn’t want to be office manager, but I saw it as a great opportunity to get my foot through the door as a paid employee. Once I got the job, I basically created a need and became indispensable. When an opportunity came up to bring me to New York, my boss at the time thought of me and said, "Come on over, kid, we’re going to figure this out. Here’s a job for you."

Amani was also featured on Hindsight: What We Learn When We Look Back, an ongoing series revealing exactly that – the trials and tribulations of thought leaders in the creative industries.

ADC: In previous interviews, you’ve mentioned a boss that you called daily or more. Is this the same boss?

Amani: Yes, Kevin [Liles]. I owe so much to him because he was my mentor. I literally would sit in his office, for as long as he would let me, to listen and absorb all his information: how he dealt with people and how he strategized. I was voracious in my desire to be the best I could. The music business is really, really competitive. You have to carve out your lane and try to secure it for the future and even then, it’s insecure.

ADC: You speak so passionately about marketing, what do you love about it?

That’s what drives me every single day.
I love to take something and fix it. People call me the fixer.

Amani: With marketing, there’s endless possibility. Nothing has to be the same unless you want it to be the same. That’s what motivates me to look at something from a different point of view, to take something that everyone thought was good, as is, and then make it great or make it better. That’s what drives me every single day. I love to take something and fix it. People call me “the fixer.”

ADC: What’s the largest “fixing” project you’ve taken on and accomplished?

Amani: I think the work that I’m doing right now at Martin Guitar. I would like to state that I am not "fixing" a company that has been successful for longer than I’ve been alive five times over. The work that has been executed since I’ve come on board (this is the start of my 3rd year) is work that I’m truly proud of. It was a company that was thriving financially but simply needed a little nudge in the area of brand marketing. I’m proud they decided to accept the nudge from me. Basically, in a short period of time, I’ve given them a facelift without losing their brand equity.

My plan was never to come in and completely ignore the brand’s long-standing tradition and loyalists. That would be like cutting off one’s nose in spite of one’s face. There are a lot of people that have been loyalists for ten, fifteen, twenty years—people who have inherited their grandfather or grandmother’s Martin Guitar, and we need them as much as we need the new consumer who may not have been intimately aware of the brand but now is. It’s all about striking the right chord and achieving balance amongst a diverse consumer base.

ADC: Before Martin Guitar, what was the most exciting “fix” while working with Sean Combs?

Amani: I was a Chief Marketing Officer for Sean Combs, and I oversaw all of the marketing and the strategy all his brands.

The most exciting thing was working with Sean on the ground floor to revamp his internal agency and turn it into a full-fledged, full-service agency that went out and aggressively pitched clients. That was probably one of the most exciting things for me to be able to spearhead that project and bring in major brands as an account.

ADC: How have you and the ADC Board responded to the new direction of ADC, such as the focus on Art and Craft, over the past year?

I come into work; I walk through the factory floor; I see craftsmen working with their hands, taking a piece of wood and transforming it into this beautiful instrument.

Amani: Working at Martin Guitar, we’re craftsmen first and foremost. Our coworkers spend every single day building and creating the world’s most beautiful acoustic guitars. I’m inspired every single day: I come into work; I walk through the factory floor; I see craftsmen working with their hands, taking a piece of wood and transforming it into this beautiful instrument. I’ve taken that philosophy into our marketing campaigns and our marketing work by using physical pieces, which are crafted from the factory, into various elements in our marketing campaign—whether it’s a sign, whether it’s a special piece that we sell, whether it’s a promotional item like the samples that we did for the ADC pool party at the festival.

I try to weave that element into everything that we do from a marketing standpoint because I want to remind people of the beauty of true craftsmanship and how it can be incorporated in today’s advertising and marketing.

I would be really energized and excited to see more of that across our field. Everything doesn’t have to be digital. Everything doesn’t have to be the way that it is. We can go back to the way things were to remind people of the integrity and beauty of working with our hands and bringing something to life by transforming it.

ADC: What is your greatest pleasure in working with the ADC board as well as Ignacio?

Amani: I absolutely adore Ignacio. We’re very much aligned from a personality standpoint, as well as a work-ethic standpoint. I feel like he’s my kindred spirit!

Also, I’m a very collaborative marketer. By being around such an esteemed group of creatives, it inspires me to levels that I couldn’t have imagined. They are a great resource for me in case I need to bounce things off them. I feel like it’s such a great privilege to be included in this circle of brilliant talent. I’m truly honored, and I look forward to working even more closely with Ignacio and with the ADC to ensure that it remains a premiere organization and destination for creatives worldwide.

Amani lives by Charles Swindoll’s words, "The longer I live, the more I realize the importance of Attitude on Life." Keep up (if you can) with Amani by following her on Twitter or finding her on facebook.