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Studio B Entertainment Interview CEO Bonnie Smith

I had the pleasure of interviewing Bonnie Smith CEO of Studio B Entertainment.

Bonnie Smith

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR DOING THIS WITH US! WHAT IS YOUR “BACKSTORY”?

Thank YOU! I’ve always had a passion for designing creative experiences. I genuinely love designing experiences that allow people to have fun, be empowered or inspired to explore and take action on things they’re passionate about, or simply be with friends and family to create moments they’ll never forget. So…if we start back in college at The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, its no surprise that I was a part of Star Course, a student-run concert promotion and production organization that brought musical talent such as The Black-Eyed Peas to campus. That led to an internship at Chicago’s 103.5 KISS FM in promotions, which ultimately led to my first full-time job immediately after graduation as a Sales Assistant.

As a fan of all things arts, entertainment, and events I was also an avid reader of Entertainment Weekly (which resurfaces as a career opportunity later keep reading). I never cared about being in front of the camera. I was always drawn to the talent behind the camera so to speak. I wanted to be the one who designed, produced and directed the experience or event. With that goal in mind, I started to explore the world of event production and marketing by volunteering to help produce fundraising events for The Lookingglass Theatre Company Junior Board and researching companies who do really cool stuff.Fast forward to 2004, I was watching the Opening Olympic ceremony in Greece and couldn’t believe how amazing it was. I said to myself that I had to work for whoever had the brilliance to create this idea AND actually execute it flawlessly. I found out it was Jack Morton Worldwide, a global experiential agency, and about a year later I started my career at the Jack Morton New York office developing production and relationship management skills from some of the best in the industry. After two years at Jack Morton, my mentor introduced me to the Associate Publisher, Marketing at Entertainment Weekly magazine who was looking to fill an Event Marketing Manager role – I took it. That role transitioned into also working for ESSENCE and People en Español. I was responsible for the development of high profile entertainment and media events that leveraged the power of the brands to advertisers, media executives, influencers, and celebrity talent. These events included The Sundance Film Festival, Pre Emmy Party, Island Def Jam Grammy Party and more.

As my career evolved, I transitioned from the production and logistics side to the strategy and client relationship side of the business working with brands such as L’Oreal Paris, SoftSheen-Carson, and Kraft, which led me back to Jack Morton in Chicago. As an Account Director at Jack Morton, I worked with Fortune 500 clients designing and producing impactful brand experiences. During that time, I led my teams to win two prominent awards as part of the Procter & Gamble My Black Is Beautiful brand experience at ESSENCE Festival: Event Marketer/Event Tech Awards ‘Gold’ winner for Best Use of Social Media and Interpublic Group’s (IPG) Inclusion Award ‘Silver’ in the Inclusive Marketing Initiative of the Year category.

I was extremely grateful for all of these opportunities and experiences, but I wasn’t entirely fulfilled. The events that I was excited about and kept me going, were the ones that spoke to women and allowed me to create unique ways for her to feel special, appreciated and free to express her individuality – especially for those who don’t always get the best of the best created for them. I wanted to own more. I didn’t want to be told to work on something I wasn’t passionate about. I needed to be more creative. And frankly, I wanted to call the shots.

And so I founded Studio B, to fuel my entrepreneurial spirit and follow my passion for designing and producing diverse events and experiences that celebrate the lives of unique and vivid women. Our client partners include COVERGIRL, P&G’s My Black Is Beautiful, ESSENCE and Midwest Living to name a few. For us, 2018 is all about goals. Our rebrand, our new website studiobhq.com and taking our business to the next level by partnering with brands in all different categories to produce best-in-class experiences that genuinely give life to brands and the women who matter most to them.

WHAT MAKES YOUR BUSINESS STAND OUT? CAN YOU SHARE A STORY?

I think there are many different things that make Studio B stand out amongst our Client partners, their agency teams and the audiences they serve. If I had to sum it up, I would say there are 3 key areas:

  1. Our extensive industry knowledge and sharp human insights. We are laser-focused on “her” as a person, not just a buyer. As a diversity-driven brand experience agency, we also have a deep understanding of the communities of women who have enormous buying power and yet, they’re going unserved. We help our clients uncover and meet her unmet needs.

  2. Our strategic partnerships. We’re always looking to see where we can develop partnerships to elevate each area of the brand experiences we create. We’ve developed so many positive relationships over the years and throughout different industries, it’s exciting to see the ways in which we can also help other businesses and individuals, for a win-win situation for all.

  3. Our passion for understanding of our Clients, brand equity and bringing that to life at every touch-point. I believe this is shown through our great work and the level of client relationships we have as a boutique, woman-owned, minority-owned agency.

An example of this was our very first BIG win. We responded to a RFP bid with a major CPG brand. We were going up against the incumbent and I’m sure other agencies who were much larger than us with more resources. We were awarded the business because our creative and innovative activation ideas designed to resonate with their target truly came to life in our bid. We also showcased a deep consumer understanding and clear awareness of their brand equity.

We are fiercely passionate about executing with excellence, we always bring our ‘A’ game to every connect and touch-point and we collaborate extremely well within an interagency team environment. We are fun to work with too!

CAN YOU SHARE THE FUNNIEST OR MOST INTERESTING STORY THAT HAPPENED TO YOU SINCE YOU STARTED YOUR COMPANY?

Oh WOW…well, I’m sure anyone in our industry can attest to some of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that go on, especially when you’re working onsite for 14 hours + days pumped full of coffee, espresso and the tastiest, high-calorie snacks you would never consume on a normal day. There are plenty, but I love my team and wouldn’t want to spill the tea on anything that may be too embarrassing ;-).

HOW HAVE YOU USED YOUR SUCCESS TO BRING GOODNESS TO THE WORLD?

It’s extremely important to me to give back whenever wherever and however I can. I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for my family, friends, and mentors who have continuously supported me throughout my career. I’ve mentored others, advise young people on career decisions, make connections for folks whenever possible to help them achieve their personal or professional goals.

As part of Studio B’s 2018 community initiatives, I’m really excited to announce that I’ll be joining Givly as a marketing and branding advisor. Givly is a mobile app that aims to inspire a new generation of philanthropists and provide non-profits with the tools to effectively engage them. The founder, Tiffany Williams, is one of 12 women-led startup companies selected to participate in the competitive WiSTEM program at Chicago’s premier technology and entrepreneurship center, 1871. We are also working on a partnership with the local Chicago non-profit organization Girls in the Game. At Girls in the Game, every girl finds her voice, discovers her strength and leads with confidence through fun and active sports, health and leadership programs. Their vision is to empower all girls to be game changers.

SO HOW EXACTLY DOES YOUR COMPANY HELP PEOPLE?

There are two audiences really, our clients and their target consumers. We help our clients build unique experiences that are designed for her, that speak to the cultural and social differences, nuances and also shared experiences that drive her decisions and the ways in which she chooses to expresses herself. More than connection or engagement, we believe in expression. Brand products and services should work to seamlessly fit into her lifestyle and give her the tools she needs—and wants—to express herself in any which way she desires. How well does that feel? To know that brands want to bring you products and experiences that are important to you?

WHAT ARE YOUR “5 THINGS I WISH SOMEONE TOLD ME BEFORE I STARTED MY BUSINESS” AND WHY?

1. Make sure to set aside time for your self to stay healthy mentally and physically. Building a company is mentally and physically taxing. I went all in. I would wake up at 5 AM, barely leave my office and go to bed at 11 PM or in the early AM hours because I wanted to get things done and I didn’t have a big team. I had a scary experience onsite where my blood pressure dropped and I got pretty sick. Up until then, that had never happened to me! Since then I’ve been in the clear and have put forth the effort to take care of me by taking a long walk almost every morning or meditating. I highly recommend the app Insight Timer.

2. Hire a business manager. As an entrepreneur, you sometimes get sucked into the weeds and start to do everything yourself because a) You’re Type A, super anal and don’t actually 100% trust anyone else with your ‘baby’ to get it right or b) you’re freaked out about cash flow, paying bills and how you’re ever going to grow. It’s a vicious cycle. Luckily for me, the former EVP, Finance & Operations and SVP, Senior Account Director at Jack Morton Worldwide cofounded Tonic Consulting. They’ve known me since I was 25 so it was amazing to work together in this capacity. They’re helping us work smarter when it comes to profitability, resource management, pricing strategies, marketing and more so we can achieve the growth we desire.

3. Starting your own business requires a lot more self-discipline and comfort with the unknown than I ever imagined. Just know that you’re constantly evolving and it’s OK to change. It took me a while to adapt to not being part of a large organization with multiple resources at your fingertips. You can also feel a bit isolated when you’re not working in a normal office environment. All of this and more can make you question yourself every day if you’re making the right decision. It’s definitely a risk, but its all worth it. A quote that often comes to mind is “Don’t look back, you’re not going that way” – unknown. It’s simple. Keep it moving!

4. Prioritize opportunities for continued learning and development.When you are a part of a large organization, the company typically pays for these opportunities. As an entrepreneur, it’s challenging to decide where to best spend your time and your money. However, education is key. I leverage my network and consistently seek out organizations that create affordable or free events such as 1871, General Assembly and the American Marketing Association. I also attend many of my colleagues speaking engagements.

5. Be clear. Be focused on who you are as a brand and what you do for your clients. One thing I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is that you just need to do it. Don’t wait for something to be perfect because then you’ll never move forward. We kept moving forward because we were fortunate enough to keep winning business. However, when we took a step back we realized we didn’t have a clear positioning and we were missing out on sharing the unique value we provide to the world. So we worked with our business managers and strategic partners on the Studio B rebrand and the launch of our new website www.studiobhq.com. We’re thrilled and couldn’t be more excited for people to learn more about our work, what we believe and how we can help brands achieve their business objectives.

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