There has been a lot of focus on Rashida Gayle and the founding of her agency, Twenty Six Marketing, recently. She is not only focused and energetic, but was also just honored as a Forbes 30 Under 30. However, she will be the first to tell you that it took a village to get on the aforementioned list. From her family to her team, including Kyle Jacobson, COO of Twenty Six, she has been surrounded by people who have believed in her visions and abilities. A lively and passionate team, these two are ready, eager, and very able.
SAB recently had the opportunity to interview Gayle and Jacobson via Zoom. We discussed the changing landscape in marketing, their new agency, team, the sports landscape as well as some exciting new ventures on the horizon for Twenty Six. The professional chemistry between Rashida and Kyle is palpable; clearly a good foundation for an expanding team. A pleasant surprise was how desirous they are to learn from others in the industry. Yes, they have a fresh perspective, but are the first to admit they still have things to learn and will tap into resources in order to be the best at what they do for their growing roster of clients. Those names include N’Keal Harry, LaLa Milan, Nicolette Durazzo, Josef Martinez.
SAB: I think the 30 Under 30 is super impressive. I think it’s wonderful and from what I can tell based on my snooping online, you have assembled a good team of Under 30s. Did you set out to do that and then the 30 Under 30 happened for you or is that just how it panned out?
Rashida: It definitely wasn’t planned. In the sports industry, there is a lot of pivoting that happens and a lot that is out of your control, even more so in a pandemic. Sports was one of the hardest hit industries. Once the NBA canceled their season everyone began to panic. Within weeks, it became evident that the world as we knew it was being transformed before our eyes, and pivoting is an absolute necessity for success. Before starting my own agency, I always said to myself ‘I am not starting my own agency,’ I will just have someone back me financially and do my thing. But there comes a point in your career where you can choose comfort or growth. I saw this as an opportunity to execute my vision, which was to create an innovative, young, and modern agency. If I was looking to implement my visions, I would have to do it myself.
SAB: How did you build that team? It seems like you and Kyle had a professional foundation before you came together, but the rest of the team, how did they become assembled? It looks like they come from all over the country and all different background. How did that come to be?
Rashida: At my previous firm, I created a program empowering BIPOC to learn the ropes in the industry, closing the diversity gap for the next generation. It taught me how important and powerful having young people Under my tutelage and guidance was to my professional development, theirs, and the future of marketing. When I started the agency, I asked my former remote intern, Donnelle Branche, if she would join me at Twenty Six. Then I spoke to Kyle and told him ‘There’s a spot for you here.’
Kyle: After the pandemic hit, I was considering various opportunities, and Rashida and I kept in touch. We represent a few players together so I had many thoughts going through my head…’Am I going to go somewhere else and now this client is going to have two separate marketing agencies, how is that going to work out?’ Rashida and I worked so well together. Whenever we had a disagreement, we figured out why we disagreed, and we would come to a common agreement. I thought, ‘why give up now? We’re so young in this industry. There’s a lot of opportunity in front of us and we knew we were both ambitious. We put our heads together, created a plan on where we wanted to be, and I am really fortunate to be in this position to work by her and to call her my partner.
SAB: Kyle, what did you think when you heard that she [Gayle] may be a 30 Under 30?
Kyle: Oh, I knew it was coming! I don’t think it was a secret to anyone. I didn’t get an inside source or anything like that, I just know all her hard work and dedication helped put her in a position to be considered. When I heard, I said ‘Not a surprise whatsoever.’ I was so proud of her because of all the work she has put in, and it puts Twenty Six on the map. It shows you that if you work hard, you can achieve whatever you want to achieve and without her, we wouldn’t be where we are, especially on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. I think she would say the same thing, without her team, I don’t think any of us would be in the situation where she would be on the 30 Under 30.
Rashida: We’re in the business of making people better. Our team is invested in impacting the marketing culture as both professionals and consumers, creating what we want to see in the world. We’re not doing it for self-gain. We are here to help individuals ascend on their journey whether that’s with Twenty Six or someone else.
SAB: Do you find it to be difficult forming a new agency with everybody being in a different place? The world has transitioned to remote work, but from starting a new venture to celebrating the Forbes 30 Under 30 designation, it has to be tough at times and not being physically around the team to celebrate the successes.
Rashida: Actually, I feel the complete opposite. It’s been perfect. We are an agency that’s operating remotely and that is making a change in this virtual landscape. Zoom is our best friend. We’re in a virtual conference room every day and we’re always on our Zoom line. We’re always talking, we’re always together. Yes, I wish it was in person because there’s always that energy you can gravitate towards in an in-person setting, but COVID is real.
Kyle: We have multiple meetings a day, whether its sales, recruiting, or client meetings. It’s all Zoom. It also gives our employees the chance to not have someone looking over their shoulder, which means they can be more creative. I know when things start to settle down and go back to normal, I’m sure we will begin to have those conversations of brick and mortar.
SAB: Rashida, have you had a chance to work with any of the other women on the 30 Under 30 list and if you haven’t, do you plan to reach out to them? In a social arena or do you hope to work with them professionally? How do you feel to be a part of this group?
Rashida: I am a big advocate for being a resource to anyone in the industry, especially to my female counterparts. I know five men on the list, but I didn’t know any of the women. I am familiar with one of the women from being on TV, but I’ve never met her in person. I absolutely look forward to meeting everyone. I want to make sure everyone at Twenty Six has access to the Forbes Under 30 network. As a woman of color and a woman in sports, I think it’s so important for us to know each other, we’re not each other’s competitors. If anything, we’re only going to make each other better. This aligns very much with the nonprofit I co-founded, Bloom, an organization that strives to promote wellness, personal development, and service among professional women. We encourage women to embrace their power, purpose, and value, by living the lives they love, while making positive contributions to the world. I want to know everyone on the list who is doing dope ass shit and making an impact in their respective industry.
SAB: I appreciate that a lot just because you want the people around you to succeed also. Because none of us really do this by ourselves. It seems like there may be a competition among women in an already ultra-competitive industry in terms of not being willing to help each other out. What are your opinions on being one of the first woman to do something and how women are influencing the industry like never before?
Rashida: I remember reaching out to a woman when I was working at Florida State University in the sports marketing department. I was so impressed by her. I did my research on her and shot my shot. I was so excited but it didn’t go as I had hoped and I don’t know her perspective, there’s always three sides to a story, but from my perspective she was unwilling to help. She was willing to judge, she belittled my dreams and aspirations. ‘That is impossible. How are you going to do that?’ It’s an experience I’ll never forget. It is an experience I use to keep myself in line. I never want someone to feel undeserving or incompetent.
SAB: Ideally, we all get lucky enough to see one person who sees what we are capable of and what we have to offer, and that’s all it really takes. Kyle: have you had a similar experience as a man in the industry? Additionally, have you seen a woman treated in a terrible way that you just like couldn’t believe, or were you treated in a way that you know you learned from?
Kyle: During my experience trying to get into the industry, I didn’t have a lot of connections. I had to figure it out on my own and had a spreadsheet of agencies and contacts during my search. I sent emails, called people and I was fortunate to land an internship. I haven’t seen many women of color afforded internships. I think that’s why Rashida and I really started this agency, to give everyone an opportunity, and to diversify. You have to be good at what you do, and if you are capable, let’s hear you out and we will put you in a position to succeed. We want it to be an even playing field and very inclusive.
SAB: An inclusive environment makes a big difference in the workplace, to feel included. Feeling like you’re meant to be there.
Kyle: We’ve done a good job of that so far and we can always get better. We are only getting started and we are excited to set the standard.
SAB: Question about the sports that you are involved in: football and soccer. What is the connection to soccer? Are there plans to expand to other sports?
Rashida: I’ll let Kyle talk about our plans to expand because we just expanded today.
Kyle: Breaking News!
Rashida: I represented NFL talent at the start of my career and eventually wanted to expand my portfolio [to represent them again]. I had an opportunity to represent Josef Martinez, the forward for Atlanta United for all of his marketing endeavors and could not turn it down. I’ve always been someone that thinks outside the box.
Kyle: When we started this agency, we had a few NFL clients, and our soccer superstar, Josef Martinez. We’ve expanded into the entertainment and digital influencer space.
SAB: Can you delve further into the entertainment side?
Kyle: We represent TikTok stars, woman’s health and fitness experts, fashion gurus, boxers, you name it. We have tik-tokers with over 4 million followers. Our approach to the whole landscape is ‘Are they a marketable personality? Can we build a brand around that person? Are they actually willing to build a brand?’ The days of the one-off post are over. You see the same athletes in the Pepsi campaigns, but there are so many other things to do. Today, we signed a 16-year-old phenom boxer, Ashton Sylve, for all his marketing endeavors. Our goal is to be as well rounded as possible because it opens up more doors for our talent.
SAB: As an up-and-coming boutique agency, what does the long-term landscape look like? Is there a goal to become full-service? What differentiates a smaller agency from the big names?
Kyle: Individualized attention.
Rashida: We have to find a balance between boutique and big, because ultimately, we’re building an agency to scale. If I need to walk away from Twenty Six, it needs to be self-sufficient. We must build a strong foundation that thrives without Kyle or myself.
Kyle: Agencies do what we do, but we want to revolutionize the influencer, sports and entertainment space. An example of that is the NBA, whose players have transitioned more into a personality on and off the court. I think they set the standard for NFL players, MLB, Tennis, Golf, whatever it may be, for players to speak up.
SAB: They’re not just athletes anymore. They’re people with opinions and viewpoints and they don’t want to be silent anymore.
Kyle: Spot on.
SAB: Do you think that establishing your agency’s brand as “under 30” is pigeonholing yourself? As your employees get older, how will your identity evolve?
Rashida: There’s no age limit, but your approach and ability to think creatively and innovatively determines if you are a fit for our agency. The culture at Twenty Six prioritizes voices, authentic contribution, and respect above hierarchy.We are building a foundation that can continue its mission to be innovative. I always say, “it’s always impossible until it’s done.” You’re never going to have the perfect playbook. When Google started, Google didn’t read the Google playbook. Apple didn’t read the Apple playbook. They built it and learned over time. I was talking to a good friend about having my own insecurities when starting Twenty Six, and he said “a bunch of young white men started Google, what are you talking about? Why are you afraid?” That really hit home for me, they had so much confidence just starting. I’m sure during their journey, they had times where they questioned themselves and they weren’t sure. I don’t care how young we are, it’s all about our mindset and how we think. If we believe that we are great, we will become great.
Kyle: We are coming up on our next round of interns we are looking for those innovative minds. It is about finding people who are better than you, and we constantly having conversations with people outside of our own agency. I know someone who is 21 years old will know more about Tik Tok than I do. I will never say I know more than someone.
SAB: What is something that you want prospective clients to know about your agency?
Rashida: We are creating the new modern standard. If you are looking to do it traditionally, then look elsewhere.
Kyle: We are willing to push you out of your comfort zone and bring out your best self. At times, you have to realize that you may not be a fit with certain clients. We want to represent individuals who are passionate about growing a brand and willing to put in the work.
SAB: So Twenty Six focuses on more of a personalized approach towards humanizing clients as opposed to moneymakers?
Kyle: It takes time to grow a brand and won’t happen overnight. Organic and authentic brands are they key.
Rashida: We did a really cool campaign with Miles Boykin. Kyle oversaw the campaign and I would love for Kyle to talk about the type of work we do.
Kyle: Miles Boykin tweeted “my mom just found out she has been paying for my Xbox Live subscription since I was fifteen.” and it went viral. Miles didn’t tag Xbox, so we got him to do so and they said they would give him a free year of Xbox live. I knew we had to do something bigger. We developed an idea of placing Miles’ Mom, Felicia Boykin on the cover of Madden, making her the first female on the cover of Madden. She is a labor and delivery nurse in Chicago as she’s been on the front lines battling the coronavirus, so we thought it would be a great way to pay tribute to her and all her coworkers. There’s actually a video on Miles’s Twitter, and we can probably post that later but Xbox packaged Miles with custom cleats with Felicia painted on the side of them, and gave her an Xbox series X. We also partnered with Xbox to get 20 Xbox’s and Xbox live subscription to her nursing friends. It was well executed by our team and we worked really hard to make that come to life. That is the great part of having such a young, innovative team.
Rashida: We released our internship for next year and it’s on our Instagram @twentysixma and LinkedIn. We also have a medium.com account with various Twenty Six articles on relevant topics within the industry. For the internship, please send a cover letter and résumé to firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications are due January 6.