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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  How’d You Get In: Stephen Malbon

How’d You Get In: Stephen Malbon

Posted on April 5, 2012 and read 4,121 times

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Stephen Malbon took it from the country to the city in a major way. In doing so, he realized there was a niche therein where advertising meets street culture, and decided to own it in the dirty south. With this kind of cultural know-how and influencer sway, advertisers and brands in New York and Los Angeles started to tap into Stephen’s expertise to help their brands connect with the youth market. Enter The Malbon Group, stage left, of which Stephen is CEO and founder.

The Malbon Group’s three divisions (BON, a creative content agency; Frank151, a lifestyle brand; and The League, a creative community) have helped brands including Toyota/Scion, Sailor Jerry Rum, Casio, Coca-Cola, Target, ESPN, HBO and Nike rise to the top.

Stephen is now one of the industry’s hippest thought leaders, but how did Mr. Malbon get in?

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steve headshot Howd You Get In: Stephen MalbonI grew up on a livestock farm in Virginia Beach. When I was a boy, if a cow was giving birth and the calf was coming out backwards, I’d have to put my hands in there, turn it around and pull it out.

Talk about learning how to take decisive action.

As a teenager, I took off for art school in Atlanta. While in school, I was tasked with designing a magazine, and I decided to publish my magazine as a quarterly called The Frank Book. It was a pocket-sized publication about art, music and street-wise culture. Over the years, guest editors have included creative icons such as RZA, Lenny Kravitz, Futura 2000, Herbie Fletcher, Lysa Cooper and Shepard Fairey. The format has never changed. But its inception was the result of just another art student finding his way.

While I was still enrolled at school, I was hired as an art director at an agency in Atlanta that was impressed by The Frank Book. I laid out the presentation for a pitch to Coca-Cola and won it. It was a campaign called “Are You The One?” — a multi-city talent search with Def Jam as a partner and a recording contract for the winner. I designed all the creative for it: invites, posters, back drop, etc. It was a big thrill to see what began as a simple doodle fleshed out at the Apollo Theater in front of a full house. That’s what turned me onto this as a career.

The most important thing to me about The Frank Book and the work resulting from it was building culture. I’d have launch parties for each issue, and some folks from Nike came to one. Next thing you know I’m on the phone with Nike.

“Can you do some street activations in five major markets going after the same demographic we saw at your party?”

Of course—no one says “no” to Nike.

When I turned 20, I dropped out of art school and moved to New York. I got an RFP from And1, an upstart basketball sneaker company. It was a big deal because I’d done print and events before, but this was for a full-blown TV commercial to be shown on ESPN, BET and MTV.

And1 was working with NBA player Stephon Marbury and needed a rapper to sing a song based on Marbury’s life. I called Chris Lighty at Violator Management and he suggested 50 Cent, who was not yet famous at the time. So we booked 50 Cent and, over the beat to his song “Wanksta,” he rapped about Marbury being Coney Island’s finest. The commercial was filmed with Marbury on the Coney Island boardwalk. It looked both gritty and sleek.

At the exact same time the commercial was released, 50 Cent blew up. “Wanksta” was on MTV in maximum rotation while the commercial kept airing using the same beat. That’s when I realized that having a network of people, and knowing “who’s next” are priceless tools in this business. If I’d picked Buckshot instead of 50 Cent, it wouldn’t have been as momentous for me or for the client.

I still think back to that kid on the farm. Campaigns are all about timing–if it’s not coming out right, you have to go in and turn it around. It’s alive, and it’s in your hands.




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