Who is LaToya Shambo?
LaToya Shambo is founder and CEO of Black Girl Digital, Inc, an agency that looks to equity wage disparities for Black and Multicultural women in the influencer marketing industry. She previously worked at Havas Media, SpikeDDB, Complex Media, Condé Nast and Kaneka North America. Black Girl Digital is on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok. LaToya has a personal website and Instagram account too. She has a bachelor of science degree in advertising and marketing communications from the Fashion Institute of Technology. LaToya lives in New York, NY.
LaToya Shambo was born in Brooklyn and raised in Houston before returning to New York for college. She joined a music school intent on becoming an A&R representative but later changed colleges to specialize in marketing and advertising. LaToya landed her first job in 2007 and has been in the advertising business for 15 years with roles in radio sales, media buying, media planning, account management, digital ad operations, activation and brand partnerships.
Though she had always had an entrepreneurial spirit, LaToya hadn’t determined what she would do. It took a tragic incident to kick off her journey as a business owner.
“Five days after I gave birth and while still working at Complex, me and my child were hit by a car. We survived it. But coming out of it, it really woke me up to like, life is short. When you have the opportunity to make an impact, what are you going to do? Because it could have been worse but I have another opportunity.”
She thought about it throughout the rest of her maternity leave. When LaToya resumed work at Complex, she had zeroed in on her path — creating brand partnerships and opportunities for black female bloggers. It was something no one seemed to be doing at the time.
Black Girl Digital
She started the business as Brooklyn Brand Lab but later changed the name to Black Girl Digital.
“I was able to start pulling in some amazing publishers. And I was building the ad network and the ad operations. Then in 2017, it was like a social boom. Everybody started becoming influencers. Brands I was working with wanted influencers. So it was really a natural pivot over the next few years to shift into influencer marketing because that’s the demand we had to supply.”
LaToya launched the company’s tech platform in 2020 to streamline the management of campaigns and tighten the systems that drove the collaboration between Black Girl Digital, brands and influencers. By this point, she had pivoted her entire business focus to influencer marketing primarily serving black and diverse creator communities including Latinx, Asian and LGBTQ+.
“It’s based on who the client is trying to reach. We’re building our plans based on the audience reach. If that creator has a high percentage of that audience, we’ll put them on the plan.”
She offers a white glove service in brokering the partnerships between Fortune 500 companies and creators, she says. Once the client submits a brief, approval and insertion order, Black Girl Digital covers the sourcing, vetting, contracting, creating the creative brief, the strategy and reporting.
Her agency understands the importance of engaging the right creators and so has an elaborate process for identifying influencers to work with. She was fortunate to have forged relationships with hundreds of Instagram and YouTube creators before going into business. Many of these influencers become TikTokers as well. Having such a large talent pool from the get-go helped Black Girl Digital hit the ground running.
LaToya highlights her agency’s ability to offer creator’s at scale as an important advantage for brands when compared to a manager or agent. Black Girl Digital has the capacity to book and create campaigns involving dozens of influencers at a time. This stands in contrast to working with a manager or agent that has a limited roster and hurriedly puts together a patchwork of influencers who may demand starkly divergent fees.
“When brands are working with us, everyone is getting paid fairly and equitably. It makes the brands look good and makes the creator feel good.”
Clarity on campaign objectives and performance indicators is crucial for influencer marketing, she says. The clearer the brand is in stating its goals, the easier it is for Black Girl Digital to provide the right campaign guidance.
“We push our clients to get a bit clearer. What does brand awareness look like for you? Are you hoping for more followers? How many followers do you have now and what do you want to see after the campaign? We’ll have some benchmark or KPI we’re working towards and can better design a campaign to support that.”
LaToya considers two campaigns as her most memorable.
The first was a TikTok campaign for Jozi Curls, a haircare brand that wanted to reach a younger demographic. Black Girl Digital crafted a haircare campaign that involved black creators creating videos showing them shopping at Target, highlighting product affordability, using the product and displaying the finish style.
“Jozi Curls were selling products only in Target and not on their own site so we couldn’t track anything directly to Target. But when we did the campaign, they let us know sales increased 30% and we were the only marketing initiative.”
The second is an ongoing partnership with the City of Boston. During the inaugural campaign, Black Girl Digital roped in 13 bloggers and influencers that lived in and around the city. In this year’s campaign, the agency is flying in diverse creators who tour Boston and experience the city.
State of Advertising Opportunities for Minorities
As a business focused on empowering minority creators, LaToya sees influencer marketing as the most impactful way to touch diverse cultures quickly. Her original mission was to get more creators of color into getting paid to do the things they love to do through the wider advertising industry. When compared to traditional advertising though, influencer marketing has proved to realize this goal much faster, with greater impact and touching a more diverse array of cultures.
“Websites are still necessary. But when you can connect with 30 Influencers of multiple races, genres, cultures and ethnicities, you’re touching so many people so fast. It’s just so much more impactful.”
To entice brands to work with women of color, LaToya shares community insights and wins with them.
“We’re always trying to connect these brands to ‘cool’. But most importantly, how does ‘cool’ convert? At the end of the day, they have a business to run and need to make money. I just saw Zara was the number one brand mentioned on Instagram last year. That speaks volumes because I’m sure they didn’t spend a billion dollars. But they were connected to ‘cool’. They’re connected to people that have the eyes and ears of consumers. That’s what’s important.”
Tackling racism in the advertising industry remains a work in progress and there is still more to be done. She does acknowledge there’s been significant progress and brands are making an effort in figuring out the best strategy going forward.
“And honestly, that’s all we can really ask for. At big corporations, there’s just a lot of levers to pull. As long as brands are putting forth the effort, communicating throughout the process, being intentional with inclusivity and figuring out how to communicate to everyone with a cohesive messaging strategy, I think it’ll start to solve these inequity problems across the board.”
Predictions and Plans
LaToya expects to see brands relying more on agencies, standardization and verification in influencer marketing in future.
“Right now over 50 million people identify as content creators globally. That’s a lot of people. It’s going to be a lot more brands working with more agencies because it’s going to be way too many people. But what deems you an influencer? Are you actually driving ROI? So I think the space is going to go into a space of more creator verification and validation.”
She plans on launching Black Girl Digital Academy as a means of closing the knowledge gap between influencers of color and the advertising industry as a whole.
“A lot of the influencers just landed in this business and they don’t understand it from a business perspective. The academy allows me to get closer to the community, hear their challenges and see how we can better support them, help them understand the opportunities coming their way and how to navigate the space for success.”