Burrell grad Brooks gets experiential for multicultural market

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Rita Coretta Brooks is the kind of player every marketer wants on its team.

To begin with, she's a hands-on brand fan. Ms. Brooks describes her belief in her marketers the way someone else might describe herself as a Mets loyalist or a die-hard Coca-Cola drinker. "I'm not a good salesperson," she said. "If I don't believe in my client 100%, I can't market them. When I worked on a Honda account, I drove a Honda. When working on Nike, I wear Nike."

At 38, this mother of one is playing for Vital Marketing, a multicultural agency specializing in experiential marketing, as senior VP-director of business development.

Ms. Brooks has worked in the music industry, public relations and event planning. She honed her advertising skills at Burrell Communications Group, the nation's largest African-American-owned ad agency.

Coca-Cola Co. hired Ms. Brooks as a creative-development manager at the same time she was incubating her own event-planning and marketing company, Indigo Productions (named after her 9-year-old daughter). Via her Atlanta-based operation, she developed and launched the in-flight magazine for Delta Air Lines' now-defunct but much-watched Song subsidiary.

Vital Marketing acquired Indigo Productions last May. What started as a partnership between Vital and Indigo on the U.S. Army's account for event marketing aimed at African-Americans blossomed into "a real, legitimate family connection," Ms. Brooks said. "It was a natural fit, and it gave me the opportunity to work with a young, innovative agency that was doing something Indigo wasn't."

That is to say, connecting consumers to brands in a six-senses experience that appealed to Ms. Brooks in its authenticity and loyalty-from companies to communities and consumers to brands.

"Everybody understands the buying power of African-Americans and Hispanics," said Vital Marketing CEO Joseph Anthony, "but to grab their attention, a brand has to go in with relevance and an air of social responsibility. People like to know that brands care about them. That's where Rita shines. She knows how to integrate a brand into a community. She invests herself; she's a leverager."

Case in point: One of Ms. Brooks' first projects with Vital has been helping Allstate Corp. reach African-Americans. The result has been a partnership between Allstate insurance agents and African-American churches in which Allstate donates $5 to the church's education fund for every quote given to a member of the congregation.

growing fund

"This allows the consumer to walk away with a true experience and connection to a brand and watch their education fund grow," Ms. Brooks said. "It's a win-win for Allstate and the students."

Bringing Ms. Brooks onto the team at New York-based Vital Marketing also means a first satellite office for the company in an area important to Vital's multicultural specialty.

"We want to have a footprint in the South," Mr. Anthony said. "Here are a lot of great brands like Home Depot, Georgia-Pacific and UPS, not to mention it's one of the fastest-growing Hispanic markets and the capital of African-American influence.

"I believe firmly in ethnic marketing," Ms. Brooks said. "There are idiosyncrasies between people. Sure, we're all human, but culture to culture there are differences. Within 'African-American' are Haitians, Caribbeans and Southerners who are all different. ... Vital is tapped into the varying lines within the cultures."

Just Asking

Rita Brooks

Vital Marketing

It's been a hot summer. How did you keep cool? A lot of time by the pool with friends and family.

How are you teaching your daughter, Indigo, to be an entrepreneur? During a boring summer for her, she learned to make soap. Then we went to a family gathering, and she sold all her soap and opened a bank account. She's still making it!
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