PROFILE: Spencer spreads urban sensibility beyond the city

Jameel Spencer not only helped P. Diddy's Bad Boy Entertainment bring in $300 million last year, he did it by transforming urban America from a specific location into a state of mind.

Jameel Spencer not only helped P. Diddy's Bad Boy Entertainment bring in $300 million last year, he did it by transforming urban America from a specific location into a state of mind.

"Most people who work on catering to a target are not a member of that audience," says Jameel Spencer, president of Blue Flame Marketing and Entertainment, referring to boardrooms full of executives looking to market to urban America. "They're not even on the same wavelength." Born as an in-house department designed to market Sean "P. Diddy" Combs' brand empire, Bad Boy World Entertainment Group, Blue Flame has not simply tapped into the urban marketplace. Under Spencer's guidance, it has supported Bad Boy's rise to revenues of nearly $300 million, and successfully marketed brands as diverse as the Bad Boy record label, Sean John clothes, and Justin's restaurant. Many consider CEO Combs to have brought urban culture into the mainstream. With product-placement deals, viral marketing efforts, and movement out of the press and into clubs and barbershops, Spencer's marketing has also attracted outside clients such as Pepsi, Bacardi, R.J. Reynolds, and Calvin Klein's Craze fragrance. In addition, Blue Flame polls urban Americans on opinions and issues under a division called Blue Mindset. "Urban used to be a location," says Spencer, referring to the euphemism used for people living in large cities and inner-city minority youth. "But now, everyone has cable and internet, and can see Ashton Kutcher wearing a trucker hat. It's a philosophy. The coolest kid in Wichita is urban." But Spencer doesn't mean that only members of a target audience can craft an image. Instead, you need to have "a predisposition toward that culture," he says. "Sarah Jessica Parker could design a Sean John clothing line for an urban audience because she has a big-city sensibility and knows about fashion." According to those who work with Spencer, that predisposition is what makes Blue Flame successful. Ronn Torossian, president and CEO of 5W Public Relations, which serves as PR agency of record for Bad Boy and Blue Flame, says, "Jameel Spencer and his staff are smart, energetic, out of the box, and in touch with urban America." With his charming personality and enthusiasm, Spencer's career has covered almost all sectors of urban entertainment, including music, sports, fashion, and publishing, though he never stayed in one job for long. (During this interview, he noted that his current three-year stint at Blue Flame is his longest tenure yet). Born in Newark, NJ, and raised in South Orange, the 35-year-old graduated from Seton Hall Prep at 16 and attended Rutgers University, where he majored in English and political science, on a track scholarship. "I was always a good student," he says, "but I didn't study." Spencer learned most of his lessons in his personal interactions and connections, the passport that would help him navigate the way to his dream job. After graduation, Spencer moved to New York and met people in the entertainment industry through his friend Cheryl, who would later become his wife. Working full time for $25 an hour doing PC support at Chemical Bank, he would change into jeans in the bathroom and work for free as an intern at Da Streetz, a firm that worked with clients such as Reebok to get placement in music videos (most notably the hockey jerseys worn in Snoop Dogg's 1993 hit "Gin and Juice"). He coordinated music events for New Music Seminar, a network of clubs and artists that brings together many artists to do mini-sets for fans and the press. He was a salesman at Touch Tunes, a hotline where fans can access the latest music over the phone. ("The whole music industry liked it because they liked me," he says.) He presented a marketing plan to Dennis Page, founder of basketball magazine Slam, on a cold pitch, and helped sell the book to retail stores to help raise circulation. Spencer's first traditional marketing job was with TWIsM ("The World Is Mine"), Shaquille O'Neal's clothing line and record label. Spencer was included in brainstorms, pitches, and anything where his opinion was of value. As a result, he learned brand marketing inside and out, and now surrounds himself with like-minded people in his own office. He advocates well-roundedness in a professional, saying, "The cat that is only good at the pitch is not going to be valuable. I can do the job of anyone in my office." Before partnering with Combs, he was Vibe's national sales director, and cofounded Vanguarde media, the company that owns urban titles Honey, Heart & Soul, and Savoy, with former Vibe publisher Keith Clinkscales. Spencer's partnership with Combs (who he calls Puff) started when they met at a celebrity-filled flag-football game in the Hamptons ("If you're in the Hamptons, you end up at Puff's house," he says). Combs actively pursued him to do marketing for Bad Boy, looking for coordinated brand unity and Spencer's experience in the urban marketplace. Now, Spencer says that he's landed his dream job. He prides himself on being a workaholic, stating that when he first started working at Blue Flame, "I would tell my wife I was going to the gym and then I would go to work for seven hours." But it would be your dream job, too, if P. Diddy called you away to St. Tropez at a moment's notice. Traveling often and hating to fly, Spencer stays up all night visiting clubs so he can sleep on the plane. In addition to immersing himself in urban culture, and in many cases leading it, the one thing that has remained consistent throughout is Spencer's outlook. "I've always had a sense that everything goes into a brand spirituality of myself. Everyone who has known me is not surprised that I am where I am. It's organic; it makes sense." ----- Jameel Spencer 2000-present President, Blue Flame Marketing 1999-2000 Cofounder, Vanguarde Media 1998-1999 National sales director, Vibe 1992-1998 Various positions, including: Intern, Da Streetz (now NYA Area Entertainment), an entertainment product placement firm; Consultant, New Music Seminar; Salesman, Touch Tunes; Circulation sales, Slam magazine; Consultant, TWIsM

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