Get to Know Black//Brown: Q&A with Founder Charlie Echeverry
Jordan Kelley, Content Director, BrandStorytelling.tv
The domestic and global consumer landscape is more diverse than ever. For businesses & brands to really thrive and stay relevant for the next 50 years, comprehensive new revenue models based on the diverse consumer reality must be developed and deployed. This is the driving ethos at Black//Brown.
Black//Brown is a strategic advisory helping companies navigate an evolving business and consumer landscape by shaping a roadmap for growth that begins with a deep understanding of younger, more diverse consumers. Their latest content endeavor is a new Documentary Series called Take Me Home, which brings its viewers to a new kind of village on the outskirts of Austin, Texas - a 27-acre master planned community designed to help end homelessness.
Brand Storytelling caught up with Black//Brown Founder Charlie Echeverry to learn more about the strategic advisory and their new series Take Me Home:
Thanks for taking the time to chat, Charlie. Can you tell us a little more about Black//Brown?
Black//Brown is a strategic advisory purpose-built to achieve one goal: help our clients turn diversity into a revenue engine. That’s it. We work with established companies in a variety of sectors looking for internal disruption and also with start-up players looking for market validation and growth.
What were you doing prior to opening your own advisory?
I was Chief Revenue Officer at mitu. My partner, Jesus Chavez was COO there too. We built, grew and monetized from scratch a completely new entry in a very sleepy Latino media landscape. From my standpoint I think we helped to build the most important Latino brand since Univision started in the 1960s. Proud of our work there. Very disruptive stuff at a very interesting time in media, especially social. Before that I led Univision’s interactive efforts, and also worked at The Walt Disney Company and AOL.
Why place Black//Brown’s focus on turning diversity into a profit center?
When we hear ‘diversity’ - especially in a corporate context - two things almost immediately come to mind: ‘HR’ or ‘multicultural marketing’. At B//B we think both those things are important, but they’re table stakes. Think about it, generally speaking, we find the insight, build the strategy, develop the product and then we figure out how to sell whatever the product is to black and brown consumers. The real opportunity is upfunnel: to build an entire brand, product line, strategy or initiative around a diverse insight from the start; one that works for the diverse consumer and everyone else too. That’s higher ground. Right now, in this post-George Floyd moment, we’ve experienced a lot of demand - I’m very appreciative for that, but honestly there’s great risk in this moment too with so many companies coming out with announcements about hiring Diversity and Inclusion officers. While I agree those are important roles, my fear is that the temptation for DE&I to be a ‘box to check’ to solve for all of diversity will prove very high for many. Diversity should not be a cost center.
What are some of the ways in which you strategize, develop, and tell stories about diverse people and communities for a mass audience?
We base our work on three fundamental things; 1, primary research (we ask diverse constituents how they feel about stuff), 2, social listening (we listen in to the conversations that diverse people are having in the public square). 3, our lived experience. Myself and my partner Jesus Chavez are operators and builders. Before we were running our advisory we were running day-to-day in the start-up and corporate worlds building brands and monetization organizations (we’ve sat in the chair and seen a ton, that helps too.) Increasingly we’ve been moving our strategy into the world of content. We love the idea of sourcing, developing and amplifying diverse makers and creating full ecosystems that allow us to marry brands and distributors with premium content experiences. As an example, we’re working with Target and Zoe Saldana’s BESE to create incredible profiles of the diverse people shaping post-Covid, post-George Floyd America.
Where did production of the docuseries Take Me Home start?
I met the filmmakers about 3 years ago at a think tank in the Bay Area. I instantly liked them and we had much in common, but this was before I’d started Black//Brown, so we didn't have immediate connectivity. We stayed in touch and when I heard about the idea for Take Me Home over the summer, I knew we had something very special to work on together. The idea of homelessness is a deeply important one for all of us as Americans, but for me personally it's also an area of personal interest - my wife and I have run a non-profit called Sofesa dedicated to homelessness in SoCal for 20 years. In addition, the problem of homelessness disproportionately affects black and brown communities. Blacks in particular represent more than 40% of the homeless even though they’re only 13% of the population. So this is very close to home for me.
Can you share more about who's involved in direction, production?
We’re so stoked to be working with super accomplished documentarians and filmmakers; Sean Schiavolin and David Kang are the writers and directors on Take Me Home and TJ Berden is principal and producer. Sean & David’s work The Economics of Sex has been featured in The New York Times & Freakonomics and TJ has worked on critically-acclaimed docs like Expelled, The Stoning of Soraya M., Waiting for “Superman”, and The Tree of Life. As well as produced award winning features (Full of Grace, Paul Apostle of Christ). They’re incredible makers and phenomenal people.
What excites you most about this docuseries?
The most exciting thing is the insight that undergirds the series; the idea that homelessness cannot be solved by houses. That's a huge insight. And one that folks need to understand at a deeper level. In a way, we're living in a 21st Century wilderness. On one side of town, folks behind gated communities in big, largely empty houses. Across the tracks, the “have nots” seek shelter under highways, in tents, and on the streets. We’ve all seen it. And it’s growing. But in solving the problem we need to realize that ‘home’ is more than just a building and a place to rest your head. You can have a house, but not be “home.” Home is where you belong - a place of stories, relationships, and meaning. It’s where you find your community, your “village.” That’s what this series is all about.
Take Me Home invites the viewer into a groundbreaking new kind of village on the outskirts of Austin, TX where homeless advocacy pioneer Alan Graham and his friends have built an innovative master planned community of tiny homes and RVs designed to connect people back to one another.
Especially at this moment in this country when the homeless problem is so visible, talked about in so many forums, impossible to miss in major cities like LA, San Francisco and New York and at this moment when everyone is looking to put effort and resources to work against causes that positively impact communities of color - I can't imagine a more timely opportunity.
Are you seeking additional involvement in the production of the series? If so, who are you interested in connecting with?
Yes! As we work with distributors, we’re looking to connect with a brand (or two) looking to do good as they do well. I think there’s tremendous opportunity for Take Me Home to be an important platform to document solutions for human connection over time and could be a much broader concept that could serve as a platform for a brand to grow with. I really do see it as an ecosystem that can be broader than the series itself. Anyone who wants to learn more should just reach out (email@example.com) the possibilities are endless.
What’s next for Black//Brown?
We’re always out there evangelizing the ‘diversity revenue engine’ story, and we’ll continue that work with media companies, sports leagues and platforms, but I think you can also expect to see a lot more in the area of content. Voices that matter and stories that matter. And always brought to market in ways that can involve multiple constituents - brands, platforms, organizations. In fact, we’re close to announcing another docuseries (this time with a talent in his third season of a very well known cable TV show) exploring the impact that imprisonment has on people and the redemption journey which brings them back into the fold of society. So definitely stay tuned for that.
About Charlie Echeverry
Builder. Operator. Partnership Maker. Investor. Podcast Host. Diversity Evangelist.
Charlie is the founder of the Black//Brown, a Los Angeles-based strategic advisory purpose-built to help business leaders turn diversity into a revenue engine.
Before launching his own company, Charlie was Chief Revenue & Partnerships Officer at mitú, the nation’s leading media brand for Latino youth. Prior to mitú, he was Executive Vice President for Univision, the largest Spanish-language media company in the US. Before joining Univision, Charlie was Vice President at The Walt Disney Internet Group and started his media career as Director at AOL where he was part of a group that developed a nascent digital advertising industry for an online pioneer.
Charlie co-hosts The Diversity Remix with his business partner Jesus Chavez which tackles provocative conversations at the intersection of business, politics & culture, always from a diverse point of view. He is active on a number of non-profit boards & he and wife Jessica also run a non-profit called Sofesa.org, dedicated to SoCal homeless youth.
He lives in Westchester, CA with his family and English bulldogs, Chulo & Duke.