An accidental entrepreneur’s journey | How VIBE folding overnight created opportunity for me
The End of An Era
On Monday, June 29, 2009, I received a life-altering email. VIBE Magazine’s CEO sent an email to me and VIBE’s leadership team requesting a meeting at a pub after work.
I was alarmed by this request because our weekly executive meetings occurred on Wednesdays at 10 am. So, my thoughts hopscotched regarding what could be so urgent.
At 6 pm that Monday evening, our CEO shared with me (the Associate Publisher & Head of Marketing), the Editor In Chief, Publisher, Chief Digital Officer and Chief Financial Officer that the company was being sold and all employees would lose their jobs — the next day. We were sworn to secrecy that evening.
Game over. Severance uncertain. Last two weeks unpromised. No additional checks to vendors would be cut.
As VIBE’s Marketing queen, my primary task that evening was to work with our fabulous PR duo, Jody Miller and Tracy Nguyen, to create the press strategy and release for deployment the next morning.
On Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 1 pm (New York Times article here), the banks would seize VIBE property and our computer system would shut down, and company employees would be escorted by security at 6 pm, with no company property in tow.
VIBE’s illustrious Editor-In-Chief Danyel Smith and I walked together back to our office. We stopped outside of the office building. She turned to me and said, “Liv, so this is it?” I said, “Yep, I think so. But, you are Danyel Smith, and will be just fine.” As the long-time, two-time EIC for VIBE, I understood that Danyel understandably took this loss personally. She birthed each issue every month with her incredibly talented staff (Rob, Sean, BMI, Angela, Carla and others) for approximately a decade. More was in store for Danyel as well — read more about her accomplishments here. Her newest book, Shine Bright: How Black Women Took Over American Pop and Changed Culture Forever releases in January 2020 by Random House Publishing.
In retrospect, I was so cool about it because a few months prior, a small voice whispered to me to not get caught up in position or the power because it could all fade away. So, when my all-time favorite job evaporated overnight, my deepest sadness was missing my team and the journalists I deeply respected and had a ball working with, marketing my favorite magazine ever and granting musicians validation with the VIBE stamp of approval through live branded event experiences showcasing their talent.
When I deliberated leaving my four-year Vice President role at Live Nation for VIBE, my dad asked “ are you sure you want to leave Live Nation for VIBE?” He loved that his baby girl was on tour with Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony and worked on major national programs with Timbaland, 3 Doors Down, Hilton Theatre and more. But, I was certain then, and remain certain now, that new adventures must be experienced. Each chapter has a beginning and an end, and the fun year at VIBE was worth the risk. But was daddy right? If I’d stayed I would at least have a job. Maybe….
D, ok V-DAY
Tuesday, June 30, 2009 was a nightmare. Period. Sparing the details, there were tears, feverish attempts to save our work and gather our personal belongings — because we were all out of a job at 6 pm, with loss of computer access at 1 pm. No computer access sounds like death to most knowledge workers, but for journalists and marketers it was beyond incomprehensible and terrifying. We manually circulated a paper phone list for staff to keep in touch as we all really worked together as a family. But, now we all had to fend for ourselves. The high times of VIBE was over.
But, life was just beginning for us all, and me in particular.
I was in graduate school at the time, and was mildly tormented/horrified about how I would pay for school given my most recent unemployment situation. My dear husband-at-the-time encouraged me not to go back to work, because it would be too difficult to acclimate to leading a team and being in grad school. It was one thing to have staffers like Sabrina Clery, Diana Hilson and September Davis who had my back, but a different story to start anew and expect loyalty. But, being the independent girl I’ve always been, I couldn’t NOT work. So, I calculated EXACTLY how much money I needed for my portion of the bills and prayed to God for a way to make that money plus my tuition to avoid being a burden to my husband. I didn’t want my company going down, and so mercilessly at that, to create more of a life burden for him.
The Hustle Begins
After sobbing on the couch, not because I lost my job, but because of damaged relationships with staff and vendors I respected and cared about who would not be paid, I remember rolling over and looking at the floor asking “What next? How will I pay my portion of the bills, eat and finish grad school?” My native city where family is, Memphis, isn’t exactly around the corner.
After taking a close look at my spending, I realized that half the -ish I was spending money on was absolutely unnecessary. Working in entertainment has a way of doing that to you.
I whipped out an excel chart, and itemized exactly how much I needed for the mortgage, electricity, Metro Card, and a little bit of food (no gym membership and no travel). I needed $1250/month. Period. Bet. Game on.
My dearest mother-in-law, Mama Loretta, who’d been in the hospital, asked one day why I was visiting her each day. I told her VIBE folded. She immediately granted me some of her personal resources to help! OK, we got some family in the house.
Note: While VIBE did not issue severance, we did received paycheck for the last two weeks, which went to credit cards. Sigh.
Omerge Alliances 1.0
With my friend & ex-husband Al’s help, I’d created the name for Omerge Alliances years before when I was at Live Nation. Since I had a GREAT job, I didn’t have time or a reason to put meaning to what Omerge would be, although I’d crafted a really cute little logo. Now, I had a real reason and financial incentive to develop the company beyond the logo.
The desperation of being uncomfortable is often when we are pushed to realize our full potential.
This little orange circle just needed to emerge and get me $1250/month. So, I charged the $1100 fee to LLC the company, $300 to trademark it, and approximately $200 to create a DIY website with Network Solutions. With no sight of income coming in, these expenses felt like $10,000. The website was horrendous at best, but NYC’s newest marketing consultancy was open.
I had absolutely positively NO idea what I was doing at this time. I was what you call an “accidental entrepreneur.” My dad was an entrepreneur, so I had seen him hustle for years, and I had the privilege of witnessing one of my mentors Michael Ferguson hustle too. But I didn’t really want to hustle.
I was a girl. I was humble, and kind of bashful about my skill set. On the flip side, I was NOT interested in welfare, a new management job due to interfere with grad school, tucking my tail and returning to Memphis (healthy ego) OR taking out student loans. So, I remained open…to and for whatever, and prayed a LOT.
The Princes Enter
Magically around October 2009, author and former VIBE editor Kevin Powell called with an opportunity to work on his Holiday Party. In November 2009, my old boss from iNDEMAND and friend Gregg Rothberg called me out of the blue around to tell me that he was now working with Media Storm and was developing their partnerships division. It didn’t matter what I was doing, the answer was yes to both of them.
A year later, Translation Agency Owner Steve Stoute, a gentleman I did not know, requested a meeting with me per a “recommendation” Wrigley’s then-Marketing Director Tierney Monaco, who respected my work at Live Nation. Even though I’d met many celebrities, I was so nervous to meet a guy of this stature. I was shaking in my boots to meet with Stoute. I was a southern girl, and got this random call from this big guy.
Stoute and Rothberg gave me a chance. And within two years, I was a bonafied marketing consultant with two major clients — Media Storm (the nation’s largest independent media agency servicing incredible media brands like WE tv, Starz, CBS Network, CMT, FX Network) and Translation (the top cultural agency for brands like State Farm, Wrigley, DSW and more). Gregg taught me how to negotiate, and Stoute taught me how to toughen up. So, all of a sudden, I’m hustling. I’m scattered. I’m eating well, traveling again and trying to stay focused on completing my graduate studies, because I’m hella busy, and beating that minimum income threshold too.
While it was magical that work found me, I also know that your reputation precedes you, and that opportunities are best realized when you’ve done the preparation work.
Return To Corporate
After over a year of working as Translation’s Chief of Staff and as Media Storm’s partnership marketing maven, I completed by M.A. in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga University (yay, completed without loans). I decided I wanted to assume leadership work with executives as the pace had been maddening working with Translation and Media Storm while completing graduate school. I was eager for a respite.
After sharing my plans with Stoute, he said “Nope, go to Carol’s Daughter and do what you did here.” I wasn’t overly excited. I was a brat about it quite honestly. The truth is, I was enjoying my independence and desperately wanted a break from the agency rat race. But knowing my ultimate goal of being a consultant, I decided that I should push forward and take the role that would enhance my knowledge of all sides of the marketing communications trifecta — media, agency and brand sides. And I’m glad i did.
After interviewing, and officially being offered the job, I accepted the role. I abandoned little Omerge for Carol’s Daughter. But, Carol’s Daughter completed the brand side. In my one-year tenure, I worked alongside the beautiful Lisa Price, Stoute and a great marketing team to relaunch featuring spokesbeauties Cassie, Solange and Selita and launched 3 new product collections. I sharpened my leadership, team management and creativity skills as well.
Although it was a HUGE challenge and fun, after three months of taking the role, I missed Omerge. I wanted my independence again. Nine months in, I submitted my resignation confidentially to Stoute out of respect for the amazing opportunity, and left after a bit after a year. I’d learned a lot about the politics and structure of a brand organization, and wanted to return to cultivate my baby girl Omerge — but this time with focus and strategy to build an agency.
Omerge Alliances 2.0
Omerge Alliances 1.0 was critical to 2.0. I share this with everyone because you don’t always get it right the first time.
My top learning from 1.0 was “Olivia Scott-Perkins (name at that time) was not scalable.” The first iteration wore me ragged servicing two agencies by myself. So, this time, I had to sell my firm and specific services. I am grateful to be blessed by amazing people like Frederic DeJesus, Stacy Garay, and Kaila Reed who worked with me in the early days, and amazing souls like Sheena Wilder, Akosua Baah, Anise White-Goff, Sheria Rowe, Clorissa Wright, Jessica Chapman, Nikki Godfrey, Jasmine Smith and Chalaundra Bradley who support Omerge without fail now.
We stand in gratitude for the many doors which have opened since VIBE folded. Early clients Andre Walker Hair, IMAN Cosmetics, Curb Records, Limelight Extensions, Kevin Powell, Black Girls Rock, Tepure, Me & The Girls Skincare; Midstream clients Urban Skin Rx and Megastar Nation; Long-time clients ESSENCE and Media Storm, and newer ones e.g. Naturalicious, Aura O and more to come. #Grateful.
10 in 10 Successes
Don’t be mad about the extra four. Just roll with us on the theme.
Wishing everyone assurance that when a door has been closed, a fresh set of new doors lies in wait. Just do the work now to be able to meet that. I welcome any and all comments of how your life turned out for the better after devastating news.
We are clearer now that all chapters have a beginning and an ending. And that if you believe in yourself and invest in yourself, you can go very far.
Olivia F. Scott