Shaquille O'Neal opens diversity-led agency with creative vet Omid Farhang
Shaquille O’Neal today is known as much for being an accomplished businessman as he is an NBA star, with investments in companies including Papa John’s, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels and more. Now, he’s expanding his empire with new Atlanta-based agency Majority, on which he’s partnered with creative vet Omid Farhang, who most recently served as CCO of Momentum Worldwide (McCann Worldgroup).
Shaq’s name isn’t the only big draw—the agency is also putting diversity at the forefront of its business model. Today, as companies have been striving to achieve at least 25% diversity in their ranks, Majority aims to “flip” that standard and ensure that at least 75% of its team is BIPOC, women or LGBTQ+. The company’s moniker serves to hold the founders to that goal.
“It’s a sign of progress that most every company today is looking for more diverse talent,” O’Neal said in a statement.
“While the current system is adjusting slowly, what we need is new systems that accelerate the rate of change,” Farhang says.
To start, the agency has already hit the 100% mark. Joining Farhang, the son of Iranian immigrants, are fellow founding partners CMO Jorge Hernandez, a Dominican native raised in Queens who was previously Momentum Worldwide VP-group director and also served as group director at TBWA/Chiat Day; and Chief Strategy Officer Asmirh Davis, who has served in leadership roles at Huge, BBDO and Moxie.
Farhang says the city of Atlanta itself is what first inspired Majority. He had moved there a few years ago while still leading Momentum. Having previously worked at CPB and CAA Marketing, he’d already experienced the buzz of big cities such as New York, L.A. and Miami, but Atlanta opened his eyes even more, with its diversity, thriving Black middle class and powerful influence on pop culture. In that, he saw an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“I was never the guy who had to start an agency— but I felt like I had to do this, especially after the events of the last year," Farhang says.
To get the business started, Farhang says he at first considered getting support from holding companies, but after consulting with industry friends and colleagues decided to find another kind of partner.
'Accelerate the creative'
He cites the advice of a former colleague: "You are trying to create a creative institution; holding companies are financial institutions. You don’t want to spend your first years trying to protect the creative. You need a partner who can help you accelerate the creative.”
Farhang had worked with O’Neal previously at Momentum on a campaign for American Express. Also, his brother, Amir, is a director at Hungry Man and has worked with the NBA vet for more than two decades, dating back to when O’Neal started an online shoe brand in 1999, to more recently, directing him on spots for Papa John’s.
Farhang visited his brother on set from time to time, and one day a conversation he had with O’Neal’s business partner, Perry Rogers, about the industry’s diversity problem eventually grew into something bigger—a new agency proposal.
The idea was not to form a new company to help service Shaq's existing brand partnerships. Rather, the new agency would help expand O’Neal’s business portfolio while serving a higher purpose—with a “goal beyond financial success, to create diverse leadership and accelerate the normalization of diverse faces running creative companies," Farhang says.
“I obviously didn’t need to help start an agency to partner with brands,” O’Neal said. “I’m doing this because I believe in the mission, and I believe in the team led by Omid.”
Majority already has a number of clients, including on-demand delivery app goPuff, which was recently named to CNBC’s 2020 Disruptor 50 list.
As for the sort of the work Majority will do, Farhang says it will span the gamut of traditional, branded content, product innovation, experiences, art, activism, brand acts, strategic planning and more. Ultimately, ideas will lead over form, something Farhang learned well at his previous gigs at Momentum, CPB and CAA Marketing. Such was evident in his past projects including Nike's "Just Do It HQ." Momentum helped the brand convert an old Chicago church into a haven for kids to train in after school. The project earned the agency's first-ever Cannes Lions Grand Prix.
Farhang says O’Neal won’t be involved in day-to-day operations of the agency. “We don’t expect him to be roaming the halls and looking at decks,” he says. Rather, his key role will be in helping to open doors, facilitate opportunities and celebrate successes. “I do think there will be times when we invite him into the creative process when deemed appropriate, but we want to be really judicious about when we tap him and when we do, it will be to create maximum impact.”
Meanwhile, the agency will be focused on bringing in more talent and building proper teams, ideally with local talent. And because of the company’s mandate, recruitment won’t follow the familiar, well-trod path. “A big part of hiring for us is opening the aperture and thinking about the talent criteria a little differently,” he says. That means, for example, a young creator without a degree but who made 100 great films on his phone gets as much a shot as those who came out of portfolio or marketing school.
“We strive to make the minority the majority, not just for a more equitable world, but because we actually believe that diversity is a competitive advantage and leads to more disruptive creativity,” Farhang says.