Mr. Stoute observed that the sunglasses worn by Will Smith and
Tommy Lee Jones were experiencing a surge in sales after the movie.
"Everyone thought it was a coincidence, and I was like, 'This isn't
a coincidence,'" said Mr. Stoute. "I just felt like there was an
opportunity in the ad business, because clients' ads were isolated
from what was truly happening in culture."
That sparked a newfound passion in the ad world for Mr. Stoute.
While it was a leap from his entertainment background, the two
fields have plenty of similarities when you consider the root of
success for both: finding creative ways to penetrate the
pop-culture conversation; confidence in your strategic
recommendations; and a ton of connections.
Mr. Stoute checks all three of those boxes with ease.
"In the beginning, I thought they were really different," said
Mr. Stoute, a Queens native born to Trinidadian immigrants. But the
more time he's spent on Madison Avenue, the more he's recognized
similarities. "The ad business has some of the great artists, but
because there are so many, its hard to determine the true gems.
...But when you find out there is that core group [of talent], it
reminds me of the record business."
In his early days dabbling in marketing, he worked with the
polarizing Peter Arnell, then at Arnell Group. From
there, he set out on his own to launch a multicultural agency
called Translation in 2004. Interpublic Group of Cos. bought into
the model and backed him until 2011, when Mr. Stoute bought back
his shares -- which coincided with a decision to broaden the
agency's remit and morph Translation into a general-market
You could say he's the new-school John McGarry; it seems an
impossible challenge to find someone in the agency world with a
cellphone speed dial as impressive as that of Steve Stoute's. His
partner in Translation is the most-famous rapper in the world,
Jay-Z; he produced Eminem's debut album; he's the former manager of
Mary J. Blige and has worked with Lady Gaga; he was behind the
Loving It" campaign with Justin Timberlake; and paired Wrigley with
Chris Brown for a "Doublemint" jingle.
It's not unusual to hear a rapper such as Nas or J. Cole drop
his name in one of their songs. Mr. Stoute knows a bit about the
fabulous life too; when not at a meeting with one of his clients,
which include State Farm or
Coca-Cola, he can be
found out in Brooklyn at a Nets game, jetting to his weekend home
in the Bahamas, or getting serenaded with "Happy Birthday" in front
of thousands at U.K.'s Glastonbury music festival by Beyonce.
Mr. Stoute's "outsider" perspective -- and his ability to travel
in circles that most agency execs aren't invited into -- is highly
appealing to many clients.
"The fact that he, from a career standpoint, came up outside of
the ad business, I think he tends to think [about marketing
problems] differently," said Paul Chibe, VP-U.S. marketing at A-B
InBev. "A lot of the traditional framework of having come up in a
big network shop -- he's not encumbered by that. It permits some
very creative ideas to come from him and his agency, because
they're not necessarily thinking about it in a way that a big shop
would be thinking about it."
Translation was behind the idea to launch Budweiser's Made in
America music festival. Held last summer in Philadelphia, the event
is a physical manifestation of Mr. Stoute's philosophy that brands
must be able to speak in one voice to younger, multicultural
His philosophy on marketing and culture was laid out in his 2011
book, "The Tanning of America: How Hip-Hop Created a Culture That
Rewrote the Rules of the New Economy," which essentially details
how urban and hip-hop culture became mainstream culture, defining
how millennials view the world. To use his own words, no longer
does your ethnicity predetermine your cultural values. In other
words, multiple cultures are the new general market.
The book has helped him define a personal brand in the marketing
world, while the strategy has helped win accounts. In 2012, the
agency grew its revenue 60% and increased its head count from 70 to
more than 120 employees in New York and Chicago, with work from
clients like McDonald's State Farm and A-B InBev getting
general-market play. Picking up the Bud Light creative account,
which was at McGarryBowen, shows
that big marketers increasingly have faith in Mr. Stoute and his
He's shown he can earn their trust, but now the challenge for
Mr. Stoute is proving Translation is capable of producing work
that's just as good as that of great creative agencies like
Wieden & Kennedy,
BBDO or CP&B.
"Entertainment is so sexy that people only pay attention to
that," said Mr. Stoute. "But I think our strategy department is the
best in the industry. The thinking in our agency never gets the
credit it deserves because we have a celebrity. We are first and
foremost a strategic and creative shop. And second, we have a
Rolodex in entertainment and sports that's unique in the
As the founder of Translation, Mr. Stoute is tied up in the
identity of the agency, but he's spending more time recruiting
talent, such as Chief Creative Officer Chris Cereda and Chief
Strategy Officer John Greene. Still, he appears to have no
intention of leaving anytime soon.
"I do think the business can run without me, but I don't even
spend time on that thought because I'm running the business. But we
have a talented group of execs that makes me look good."