Verb Co-Founders Shannon Simpson-Jones and Yadira Harrison both got the advertising bug at very young ages, working in sponsorships and promotions before even graduating high school. The two sit down with Ad Age to discuss how their early experiences evolved into long-lasting, successful careers at our 2019 Small Agency Conference in New Orleans.
"When I was probably in middle school or high school, I was on the recreation parks league board, as a junior board member, and I was fascinated by local businesses that were all paying money to have their names on the back of jerseys," Simpson-Jones says, which "was used to pay for all the sports leagues in my town."
When she attended The University of Maryland in the early aughts, she put that experience to use, becoming the outreach coordinator for the college's football team while picking up various internships. She'd go on to work as a marketing assistant for Sports America and then held stints at agencies including GroupM, Utility and Civic Entertainment Group before founding Los Angeles-based Verb, a full-service marketing shop, alongside Harrison in January 2018.
Harrison says she got her initial start in advertising by trying to drum up sales at the pizza shop she worked at in her Texas hometown before leaving to get her degree from Syracuse University.
"We didn't really have a lot of customers," Harrison says.
Taking matters into her own hands, Harrison explains that she told the woman who ran the restaurant, "'You need to get some promotions. You need to get those pizzas, you need to get down to the radio station, you need to turn this business around.'"
After college, Harrison spent nearly a decade at Macy's as the manager and then director of advertising and partnership marketing. She moved agency side in 2013, joining Civic Entertainment Group alongside Simpson-Jones.
Now, as black women sitting at the helm of their own agency, their primary concern is being misunderstood by the rest of the industry.
"A lot of times there may be assumptions that we’re only focused on multicultural or that’s where our experience lies," Simpson-Jones says, "but my co-founder comes from 10 years on the brand side. I’ve been on the agency side for 15 years, and that’s primarily been in the general market space. ... For us it’s really about changing perceptions about what people might see as a viable option for an agency partner, and not to put us in a box."