Kelsey Davis, founder and CEO of Cllctve, a global community portfolio platform that helps brands discover and connect with creators, shares how Black creators are at the forefront of the shifting content landscape, and how brands can credit Black creativity beyond Black History Month. Davis has been featured as a next-gen leader in Forbes 30 Under 30, Adweek, and The New York Times, and is a recipient of the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund.
Growing up in Atlanta, I’ve always been interested in the ways business and media converge, especially when it comes to Black culture. Studying video production in high school led me to make so many short films for the Y that they hired me as a freelancer. Local projects like these gave me more visibility and credibility in my community as a video producer. A friend helped me land my first gig with a Fortune 500 brand as a video producer for the Raurfest music festival. The success of the festival led to a meeting with executives at festival sponsor Coca-Cola to talk about my vision for future projects.
The more tools platforms give people to express themselves, the more content people will create.
After scaling productions early in Atlanta, I started studying film and entrepreneurship at Syracuse University. By my sophomore year, I had traveled the country working on creative projects with major brands, like Puma, Condé Nast, and Land Rover, juggling high-profile projects with being a full-time student, finding a job, and building my personal brand as a freelance content creator. It was overwhelming, but I soon realized I was not alone. Many talented students wanted to build their portfolios and monetize their craft. They just didn’t know where to start.
I saw an opportunity to simplify the gig-finding and on-ramping processes so that young creators could turn their hobbies and passions into careers. From working with marketers, I knew that giving brands a way to discover and manage creator partnerships in one place could be game-changing. That’s what led me to launch Cllctve, a portfolio platform that connects creators with their next opportunity and helps brands easily find and connect with Gen Z voices.
The changing content landscape
The content landscape is changing rapidly, and streaming is at the forefront. Digital video content is much more accessible to consumers, with a range of video lengths, types of content, and production quality. Over the past five years, there’s been a significant rise in digital video-on-demand content as more consumers become creators of content as well. The more tools platforms give people to express themselves, the more content people will create, including branded content. Platforms like YouTube exemplify the cyclical relationship between consuming and creating content.
Historically, Black creators have been among the leading spheres of influence driving the content economy forward.
This is the age of the creator economy. At Cllctve, we believe that every human is a creator. We imagine a future where everyone has access to the tools, resources, and network to create the life they want. While many monetization avenues continue to grow, 77% of creators still depend on brand deals for revenue. And brands are looking for talent to help them produce their next campaigns.
Historically, Black creators have been among the leading spheres of influence driving the content economy forward. Whether it’s through the storytelling of legendary writers like Toni Morrison, the choreography of revolutionary artists like Alvin Ailey, or the countless innovators of collective movements across genre and craft, Black creators have always achieved their creative visions by using their gifts to create through media that reaches the masses. 2015 proved to be a tipping point, when consumer data caught up to producer impact, and the results showed the influence of Black creators on the content landscape in real time. Black people are also some of the fastest to adopt streaming services. To move into representation beyond Black History Month, brands need to expand the types of Black talent they feature, pay Black creators equitably, and credit them for their contributions.
Celebrating and crediting Black creativity all year round
Brands need to scout early and often for Black talent, expanding their search to places and people that are often overlooked. The increase in creator-economy activity nationwide gives brands the opportunity to look outside the traditional markets of New York and Los Angeles for talent. Given that the media has the potential to influence so much of how we see ourselves, brands need to expand representation beyond celebrities to emerging creators who deserve to be known. While it can feel more comfortable to reach out to the same circles, it’s important for marketing teams to go beyond the usual roster to find young, diverse talent. Cllctve helps them find this talent by giving Gen Z creators a way to be discovered by brands trying to connect authentically with young audiences. One of the creators on our platform is based in Kansas City, Missouri, and has been able to work with local and national brands to produce content for them remotely, while staying close to his family.
Investing in broad and systemic representation of creators should be a year-round effort.
Compensation is a critical part of hiring the best talent, yet it’s too often overlooked. The creator-economy wage gap between Black and white workers is disheartening, at 35%. This shows that when brands do decide to hire Black creators, it’s at a significantly lower price point than their white counterparts. Even though the data shows that Black viewership is a leading driver of growth, the value these companies choose to invest in Black creators betrays a willingness to profit from Black art while underpaying Black artists.
The key to closing this gap is transparency. At Cllctve, we talk openly about how creators can think about pricing, and we encourage our creators to post their rates on their profile so there are no surprises when they connect with brands. We also provide prompts to help both brands and creators start the conversation. It’s important to me that creators have the tools and resources that they need to feel empowered, and that brands know as much information upfront to streamline conversations. That way, everyone gets value out of the partnership.
Financial compensation is important, but so is crediting and celebrating Black creatives. Giving credit can look different depending on the project. Often it means using your platform to elevate Black creativity. One brand that actively seeks to credit both Black creators and Black businesses is Target. In a recent series called Convos with CEOs, Target partnered with YouTube Creator Hallease to highlight the stories behind the CEOs of four different Black-owned brands at Target. With over an hour of original content, the campaign garnered 6.4 million views, 20% higher than benchmarks.
While it’s great to use February as a time to prioritize these initiatives, investing in broad and systemic representation of creators should be a year-round effort. To make good on promises to drive equity, brands must embed it into the DNA of their businesses. And that means scouting, paying, and crediting Black creators.