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Take a quick look at Frank Cooper’s resume and you might think, “what HASN’T he done?” He’s both Berkeley- and Harvard-educated. Coming out of school, Frank cut his teeth with two iconic labels — Motown Records and Def Jam. And most recently, he’s been Chief Marketing Officer for world-renown brands like Pepsi, BlackRock, and breaking news, he just took the same role with VISA.
But if you ask Frank, his early years inside the music industry formed the backbone of his illustrious career. It’s during this time period where Frank developed cultural aptitude — and specifically, how to connect larger societal needs with brands he’s led.
Frank’s unique pedigree that spans music, entertainment, and finance makes his views on business all the more fascinating. And believe me, Frank has a lot of thoughts about today’s ever-changing music landscape — whether it’s in the inflow of capital or the ripples that Web 3.0 will create. Here’s all the talking points Frank and I covered on today’s episode of Trapital:
[2:12] How Working In The Music Industry Laid The Foundation For Frank’s Career
[6:37] Differences Between Hip Hop and Grunge Rock In The Mid ‘90s
[8:15] How O.G. Artists “Set The Table” For Today’s Artist Entrepreneurs
[11:56] How Frank Put Together Beyoncé and Pepsi $50 Million Deal
[15:45] Frank Reviews The Latest Super Bowl Halftime Show (And Names The Best One Of All Time)
[20:35] Helping Blackrock Create A New Purpose Statement Beyond Purely Profit
[23:48] How The Big Short Movie Convinced Frank To Join The Financial Industry
[26:22] Frank’s Thoughts About NFTs, Metaverse, And Web 3.0
[29:37] Early Tech Adoption Among Hip-Hop Artists Over The Years
[31:05] Does Frank Own Anything In His Digital Wallet?
[34:05] Frank Thinks Some Brands Are Too Early To Web 3.0
[37:18] Frank’s Harvard Business Review About Diversity In The Workplace
[38:18] Clarence Avant’s Influence On Frank’s Career
[43:17] What’s One Of The Best Pieces Of Advice Frank Has Ever Received?
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Host: Dan Runcie, @RuncieDan, trapital.co
Guest: Frank Cooper III
Trapital is home for the business of hip-hop. Gain the latest insights from hip-hop’s biggest players by reading Trapital’s free weekly memo.
Frank Cooper 0:00
I’m actually not a big believer in traditional financial literacy by itself. I think all the research I’ve seen suggests that it doesn’t change behavior because it’s too academic, it’s filled with jargon, it’s long-form, you know? People’s eyes glaze over when you’re having the conversation, but I do believe that financial education is absolutely critical.
Dan Runcie 0:25
Hey, welcome to the Trapital Podcast. I’m your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie. This podcast is your place to gain insights from executives in music, media, entertainment, and more, who are taking hip hop culture to the next level. Today’s episode is with Frank Cooper, who is just named the new Chief Marketing Officer at Visa. Frank and I recorded this episode before the announcement, so we didn’t talk about it here. But I was glad to have Frank on because his experience has been so deep in entertainment, in branding and in marketing. Dating back to his time as an executive at Motown, Def Jam, and then more recently, his time with Pepsi, Buzzfeed and BlackRock. And when you think about his career, it is the perfect combination of understanding brands, what they can learn from the entertainment space and how he’s brought that to each sector, which is why it was so relevant to have him on this podcast. We talked about some of the deals he had done with Beyonce and other major artists. We also talked about broader trends with marketing, brands, what they can learn from creators, why financial literacy is so important for Frank and a whole lot more. Had a great time talking with him. Hope you enjoy this one. Here’s my chat with Frank Cooper.
All right, today, we got Frank Cooper with us, who is a longtime marketing executive, currently CMO at BlackRock, but you started your career in the music industry, which I always love to see. So, it will be great to start there with you first, welcome. It’s great to have you.
Frank Cooper 1:57
Thanks, Dan. Great to be here.
Dan Runcie 1:58
Yeah, it’d be great to start off with the music career piece of it, because you worked at Motown and you worked at Def Jam as well. And you worked at both of those labels at pretty influential times for them. What stands out most to you from that time? What are you most proud of?
Frank Cooper 2:08
Wow! Well, you know, first of all, it’s funny because people say you came from the music industry, how are you connecting this to what you’re doing, whether that was at PepsiCo, or here at BlackRock, and I got to tell you, those are some of the most foundational experiences that have shaped pretty much everything that I’ve done since. And when I think back to Motown, Motown was, was interesting, because, you know, Motown early on was all about assimilation, right? It’s about taking black culture and cultivating it in such a way that it can appeal broadly. You know, and how the music sounds, the way they walk, the way they talk, etc. It gave you Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, The Jackson 5, and Marvin Gaye. And that worked really well.
In the 90s, it became more about how to evolve that. And so, I thought it was a really interesting juncture. And I was really excited to be there because, you know, at that time, people didn’t really want to talk about pure assimilation. They want to be authentic to themselves. And so how do you take that Motown ethos and make it work within, you know, the culture of that time. And, you know, at the time we had Boyz II Men, ABC, and Queen Latifah, and it was fascinating to see that I think we’re still at that juncture where R&B still trying to find its place, honestly, and we can talk more about that. But I think Motown at that time became a symbol for how to evolve RMB in a way that fit the culture of the day. Def Jam was completely the opposite. And people look back at it. People today think it was inevitable, they think, you know, hip hop’s the number one genre across the world and it seems inevitable, but at the time, some people were wondering whether hip hop at the last, you know, there’s: Hey, is this a fad or not? And what I loved about it was that those who were in that game, those were at Def Jam at the time; you understood that this was not just about the music, it’s about the deep cultural sensibility that actually propelled that whole genre, you know. Doing it on your own, operating outside of the mainstream, overcoming struggle, and teaching people how to overcome struggle. And so, for me, that became like the most invigorating part of being there Def Jam, and you just saw artists come through that at the time were just creating incredible momentum. You know, we had the month of the man with Method Man and Redman, now we had Jay-Z come through Kanye, you know, and DMX. And it was just this massive kind of momentum that kept building and it all for me at least reinforced this idea of them at their best. They’re teaching people how to overcome struggle. And by the mid-90s, what I thought was the most interesting law and that’s probably why they in the history of music, one of the more interesting time periods because you had the flannel shirts up in Seattle, the grunge movement happening. And that was had a lot of momentum, and you had hip hop, and you look at the trajectory of those two genres; they went completely in the opposite direction. And grunge was purely about suburban angst, you know, you know, like: Oh, my God, you know, I don’t have meaning in you know, what do I do? And I’m not trying to belittle it, but that’s kind of where the center of gravity was. And meanwhile hip hop I was like, how do we win, despite the fact that the mainstream has their foot out trying to trip us up? How do we win? How do we get past it? How do we overcome struggle? How do we do it on our own? And to me, that’s what I remember more than anything else. And then finally, the artists that I’ve connected with the most, were the ones that actually embraced that the most, I loved Chuck D and Public Enemy, you know, and took the Public enemy to me, you know, representative, probably the more extreme version of that. I love Jay-Z, and how can you not love Jay-Z and what he’s accomplished? And then some people may, you know, Kanye West, Kanye is Kanye. But Kanye, to me is genius. Because Kanye was able to change our sensibility of what hip hop could be, you know, at that time. He was using music sources that others weren’t using, he was using voice in a different way. The lyrics were not as combative as some others, they gave expanded the universal what was possible in hip hop. And I think Kanye played a central role in that. And so, I really have a lot of respect for him and what he did at that time for Def Jam, and I’ve always carried it with me.
Dan Runcie 6:14
That piece about the artists specifically in the grunge era and in hip hop at that same time, I think it’s so key because when people talk a lot about Gen X and Generation X, I think the first thought that may go to people’s minds is not just grunge with thinking of the image of Kurt Cobain, or you know, something a Billy Corgan from The Smashing Pumpkins, or one of those in all of what they embodied. But on the other side of that ice cube, Dre and Snoop Dogg are also Gen X and have a very different vibe in terms of what they wanted their music to represent. Not that angst isn’t something that they didn’t have in their young 20s as well. But it was a very different way of communicating their reality, their experience, and I think people don’t always necessarily connect that when they talk about Gen X, at least it in a mainstream way.
Frank Cooper 7:27
No, Dan, I think that’s exactly right. And, and you know, what’s fascinating is that they both were, both those genres, were tackling the same problem, right? They both looked out and said: Man, these traditional institutions are kind of failing us. I can’t rely on them as much as I used to. The definition of success that’s been put out there, that’s something that I adhere to. They were fighting against the same things, but they took two different paths. And I personally believe that the reason, one of the reasons why hip hop prevailed in that is because it helped you to move forward, you know. If you were, it was invigorating, it would inspire you to try to move forward, not to wallow in any kind of sadness. And I think there’s value in that too. But it was about: Okay, it is what it is. Now, how do we move forward? Yeah, make it happen on your own. And they did it not only in the lyrics, they did it in the entirety of their behavior. You know, that’s when you started to see the artists become entrepreneurs, you started to see them actually extend their brand and to other businesses. And they built an enterprise, each of these ones of those that were successful to build an enterprise based on the music. And that, to me has become the blueprint, a blueprint for how artists are thinking about it today. Even if you fast forward to this current line. I’ve never seen this much money flow into music, you know, investors, now buying out catalogs, and we’re part of that too, we announce a recent partnership with influence media, Lylette Pisarro and René McLean. But I’ve never seen this much money flow into music. But to me, it’s an extension of what hip hop started, which is there is no inauthenticity in. You’re getting paid, you can get paid, you can cash a check, you can extend your business in a variety of ways, and still remain true to yourself. And I think many people today who are reaping the benefits of that should look back to the early days of hip hop and fake and thank those artists.
Dan Runcie 9:21
And I think that speaks a lot to your career as well. Because you were able to take your experience. You saw the potential of what these artists could do with their brands. And then you were able to work with a lot of the brands themselves to help bring those artists to the forefront and be: Hey, you can help tell the story for this brand. We can help augment not just what you’re doing, but help this brand do it as well. And especially in that time in the 2000s- 2010s, we started to see more, and more that you’re at the forefront for so much of that.
Frank Cooper 9:50
Yeah, you know, one thing that always bothered me when I saw celebrity sponsorships and endorsements and advertisements, it was purely transactional. People would say, you know: I’ll write a check to these artists and put them in my commercial. And we’ll have the most beautiful drink shot and this commercial, they’re like: Oh, closer, closer, closer here, beautiful. We’ve captured it, we won. But most fans and consumers, they understand that game. And they’re like: You know what, I’m glad that ours cut that check, beautiful thing, and I’m happy for that. But I don’t believe there’s any real connection between that artist and the brand or that product. And therefore, that was completely wasted money. And so, the angle that I took when I took it is that I knew that virtually every celebrity that I’ve ever met, they all have their own aspirations. They want to do certain things that they cannot do within their current industries, there’s always an artist, a filmmaker who wants to make a certain kind of film that they can’t make. There’s an artist that wants to do a certain song or put it out in a certain way that they can’t do, or they want to extend into new areas. And so, I spent most of my time trying to understand: What are their aspirations? What are they trying to accomplish that they can’t accomplish to their own ecosystem? And found that connection point to what we wanted to do. And to me that was the unlock, is like, if I can find that shared aspiration, then I can start to express shared values, shared experiences, a shared worldview that was true. And to me, if you can capture that you don’t always win on it. But if you can capture that, that’s gold. And I tried to do that across, you know, as many artists as I could.
Dan Runcie 11:25
Yeah. And I think even that breakdown that you had, you’re seeing more of the good examples. Now just seeing some of the great deals that come through, you’re still seeing some of the ones that you may shake your head out, whether it’s the Instagram posts, or they’re just getting a check for something. But in general, you’re starting to see more of the long-term value add. And I feel like the Beyonce deal that you had done with Pepsi specifically, that feels like one that falls more in line with there’s a longer-term opportunity here to really highlight and tell that story.
Frank Cooper 11:56
Yeah, you know, it’s funny, because when I first started having the conversations with Beyonce and her team, I was like: Okay, this is a long shot, you know. Beyonce was very particular, and rightly, and, you know, reluctant to do anything that didn’t fit what she truly believed and didn’t fit her values. So, I spent a lot of time with the team trying to understand what they wanted to accomplish. And you know, her part of her genius, I think she’s genius on many levels, but part of it is, she understood that she wanted to release things in ways that artists have not done before. And she wanted to create content that complemented the music in ways that artists have not done before, like a visual album. And so, we can help with it, you know, we can help launch the album, we’ve got millions of packages that are going out every day. And so, what if we did a bespoke design in those packages, and it relates to your album. What if we actually helped fund that visual album. What if we helped put your single out, but most important what if you got in front of 120 million people in the Super Bowl halftime, and then release something after that, you know, it became the most powerful ad possible for you to drive sales of your album. And that’s really what made the connection because, you know, if I went to Beyonce in our team and said: Here’s a piece of paper, I’m going to slip it across the table to you, and there’s a number on here that should make you fall out and excitement. I still would not have considered that there would never have happened, there was no doubt in my mind, there was no amount of money alone that would get convinced her to do it. But it was understanding what she was trying to accomplish and how we could participate in that in a way that benefited both of us. And so that’s one for me, one of the most extraordinary deals that I’ve been involved in, but also one of the most extraordinary experiences because I’ve learned in part why she is so good. And it was driving me crazy at the time. But she was 100%, right? You know we did, we did a commercial. And what I didn’t realize is that, but you look at the commercial and say: Hey, make some edits here, there. She looked at it herself, frame by frame. And then she broke down the arc. And then she, I mean, she was into it and intense. And what I realized is not just Beyonce; with other artists, I’ve seen it with Snoop, you know, Nicki Minaj, I’ve seen it with a wide range of artists is that they put it in, they put the work in. It’s not like they say: I’m this brilliant artist, and I’m going to come in and just kind of still use my brilliance and move on. They actually put in the time, and they’re focused and intense. And they want to make sure it is the best product they can put out no matter what they’re putting out.
Dan Runcie 14:31
Yeah, with her specifically, you’ve seen that with each album. I mean, it’s like find some way to just level up and continue to do that. And even thinking back to that deal and from the consumer perspective, just seeing how everything lined up. I mean, she put the lights out after the show at that Super Bowl, right? It was something else. But the one piece I did want to clarify with that. So, if the Super Bowl wasn’t in the conversation, is it fair to assume that all that deal wouldn’t have worked that needed to be if they’d put it over the edge?
Frank Cooper 15:02
No, no, it would have worked in either way, because I think the Super Bowl definitely contributed to it. Because how many times you’re going to have a simultaneous audience of 100 million-plus people watching something. But there were enough other things that she really wanted to do that we could help on. And that didn’t involve just the check, you know, the infrastructure of Pepsi at the time, it could be helpful in so many different ways. And I think what’s the collection of all those things together, pull the Super Bowl out, I would have added something else that it was done a full-length film together something, you know, but there would have been something that would meet her desire to break the boundaries of what has been done before, and that PepsiCo could actually help her deliver.
Dan Runcie 15:45
Talking about the Super Bowl. What did you think about the show that we had this past year with Dre, Snoop and 50 Cent, Kendrick, Marry?
Frank Cooper 15:53
So, man, I was almost in tears in a way because, you know, I am. So before I left PepsiCo, I renegotiated a 10 year deal with a couple of billion dollars. And I got to know some of the owners, definitely got to know the NFL headquarters very well. And I thought I would never see that day where you had that lineup of artists, you know, from Dre to Snoop to Kendrick to Mary J. Blige, Eminem, and 50 Cent, but you would have never seen that day. But more importantly, I thought I would never see it presented in such an authentic way. They didn’t tone down the visuals. And I think it was the absolute best performance I’ve ever seen, I don’t think was the best performance I’ve ever seen overall, but the collection of that effort, and the collection of the artists and the energy and the visual presentations. For me, this is, this was a seminal moment that I think we should all remember because it will open up the doors for many other artists to come. And what I realized is that they knew it too because you could see, by the way, they were very careful what they did and made sure that they stay within certain bounds. The only person who did something semi-controversial was Eminem, right? And when he nailed it, this to me was a really powerful moment, I thought I would never see it. And I hope that it’s not a one-off. You know, I hope that you know, as we see future NFL productions as well as the Super Bowl that we see more black artists, and that we see hip hop, in particular, play a more central role.
Dan Runcie 17:20
I agree. I think that this one specifically helped almost if you look back to the one, they had in Atlanta, and I feel like there’s a lot of talks there about why could’ve represented Atlanta’s soul, R&B, hip hop vibes that, you know, are so tremendous to that city, and then a show that didn’t end up showing that 100%. And I feel like: Okay, we have this here. And if you just look at the slide, there are so many cities coming up where you could see something similar for these types of artists, so that that could be special.
Frank Cooper 17:51
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s, so disappointing when they happen in Atlanta. It’s like, wait a minute, are you kidding me? Atlanta is all about music. I can lead.
Dan Runcie 18:00
It’s like, I mean, Maroon Five definitely deserves to be on that stage. I mean, they’re one of the biggest groups of the past two decades, but from a time in place, and all the things lining up. It was like, come on. Yeah, I know. And they got out what do you got? We got Big Boy, and almost as like a, you know, afterthought to be like: Okay, here, we’re hearing the chatter. Let’s see who we could get for this one. But that’s it.
Frank Cooper 18:25
Let’s give him half a second, don’t look too long, you know, this probably, they will never let me program it. Because I would have gone back, I would have dug in the crates a bit. I would say, you know, let’s go to the Goodie Mob. All right, let’s bring them back. But you could also they could just soften it up. I mean, you know, Toni Braxton, you know, the whole of face lineup from a certain era could have been on their. Ludacris, He’s a mainstream star now. There’s so much they could have done. And hopefully, they saw through this, that it was a lost opportunity. And I think they’re seeing what’s happening on social media from this last Super Bowl, that it’s a powerful force that they can tap into, in a way that actually improves the NFL brand. And so, I think the fear was, in some way, this is going to alienate those who are not on the coast, you know, the Midwest. But I hope the realization is now that hip hop is not isolated to the coast. You know, hip hop is foundational across every geographic territory today.
Dan Runcie 19:25
Right. And especially with this one, too. You had Eminem, who Midwest, one of the biggest artists of the past, you know, a couple of decades to so we’ll see. I know you mentioned that this was the best one. Which one do you get the number one for Super Bowl?
Frank Cooper 19:41
Well, you know, for me, the one that was most special for me was Prince. And when he did Purple Rain, and it started to rain, it’s like a whole thing was magical. It was incredible.
Dan Runcie 19:51
It was poetic. It was like you couldn’t script this. It was beautiful. Shifting gears, a bit. Want to talk a bit more about your role and your experience right now at Blackrock. You joined a few years ago, and it was a similar type of role, given the CMO position that you’ve had, you’ve had other companies, but definitely a different type of industry and a different type of sector that you had worked in up to that point. But in hearing you in other interviews and things you’ve talked about, trying to bring financial literacy and elevate that to the discussion has been an important piece of that. So, it’d be great to hear a little bit more about what that’s been like for you since you’ve been there and how that has taken shape.
Frank Cooper 20:35
Yeah, you know, one of the things that I don’t know if this is a risk or not, but at least one of the things I did when I first came in was trying to make, trying to convince the leadership of Blackrock that it needed to have a sense of purpose that wouldn’t be on profits, that wouldn’t be on money. Working closely with a bunch of other people, we were successful in doing that. And part of that purpose statement that we ended up with, included this idea of financial inclusion, we help more and more people experience financial well-being. And so, getting that built into the core of a company where we say, hey, that’s our ultimate goal. Yes, money and profits are an outcome that we have to have to succeed. But our ultimate goal is to help more and more people experience financial well-being. So, by having financial inclusion built into it, that was a huge step. But I mentioned earlier, that music helped me quite a bit. And the part that helped me is that I looked at culture first, like what is happening in culture that is urgent and important, and that our industry can address.
One of the things that’s happening in culture, for sure, and you can see it all over the world is that more people are feeling like they’re excluded from the opportunities for economic mobility, that they don’t believe the system is working in their favor, they don’t have access to improve their own prosperity. And so, you know, for me, you take that cultural lens and work back to the industry of questions, what can we do to improve that? I’m actually not a big believer in traditional financial literacy by itself. I think all the research I’ve seen, suggests that it doesn’t change behavior because it’s too academic, it’s filled with jargon, it’s long-form, you know, people’s eyes glaze over when you’re having the conversation. But I do believe that financial education is absolutely critical. So, what I’ve started to do is think about what are the elements that can help people move forward and become investors. So, it’s increasing their savings. And I think it’s four things I think, is knowledge, skills, community, and access. And so, if you go to Reddit, or one of the trending, one of the most substantial subreddit threads, or at least around financial education. People want to know, like, give me the information, but also helped me build the skills, and then give me a community, it gives me some support. And all I need after that is some access, make it easier for me to come in, and make it safe for me to try. And so that’s what I’ve been focused on is really trying to figure out how to improve the knowledge, skills, community, and access so that people have a better shot at increasing their own sense of prosperity.
Dan Runcie 23:11
Yeah. And from the work you’ve done so far, I feel like I could see those connections, you started the Tik Tok page. I’ve been posting more they’re trying to connect a bit more with not just the younger generation, but with being able to break those things down. And I know another thing that you had said, once you really liked how a movie like The Big Short was able to help boil these principles down and communicate in a way to be like: Hey, here it is, these concepts aren’t as complex as they may always seem, but let’s do it in layman’s terms. And I feel like I could see elements of that with some of the content that you’ve all put out recently.
Frank Cooper 23:48
Yeah, you know, one of the things that convinced me that I should come into BlackRock and move over to financial services was watching that film The Big Short, which is kind of ironic, right? Because it was not a favorable view of the financial services industry.
Dan Runcie 24:02
A lot of people may watch that movie and not want to come work at BlackRock.
Frank Cooper 24:08
But what stuck with me is like, you know, a lot of friends who were in investment, and I used to ask him these questions like: What’s this thing called a credit default swap? And he would explain it to me, and I’m like: I think I’m fairly smart. I have no idea what you’re talking about, like, you know, and I just give up. When I saw The Big Short, I saw those interstitials. And you saw Selena in the club, you know, or the late Anthony Bourdain in the restaurant, or Margie in the tub of champagne. They explained those concepts in really simple terms that anyone can understand. And for me, that was like an awakening was like: You know what? It’s not that complicated really. It’s just that some people are making it complicated. What if we can actually deliver it in ways that people like to learn today, you know, short-form, jargon-free, highly visual with relatable role models. Man, that could be like a really fascinating thing because then suddenly people could start to take steps forward and become part of the benefits of saving and investing. And so, it was a really defining moment for me. And I’ve taken that logic, and I’m trying to apply it today, you know, in Tik Tok, already, there’s already a movement happening on Tick Tock, I mean, if you look at #moneytalk, you know, it’s one of the top hashtags already, but it is, in my mind the perfect format for what I’m talking about short-form, highly visual, jargon-free and relatable role models. And, you know, I’m excited we’ve just launched. So, it’s really early days, but I’m really excited about the potential of that platform and other platforms to find a crack in the code on financial education and financial literacy, and financial inclusion. But I think that is the pathway for our own sense of purpose of including more people the benefits of investing.
Dan Runcie 25:55
Definitely. Yeah, I mean, it’s consuming so much attention and has so much mindshare over a generation, you have to be where they’re at. I’m curious if there are other channels, are there other areas that you’re pursuing, or you’re considering doing especially this next year. I feel like things are moving so fast with everything happening, whether it’s Web 3.0 or the metaverse. There could be endless opportunities to distill and communicate this type of information.
Frank Cooper 26:22
Yeah, well, that’s such a difficult question. Because, you know, I’m always trying to figure out where things are moving next, and in time it in a way where it can have an impact because I’ve also learned the hard way, that being too early is the same as being too late. The impact really won’t hit you, or abroad, enough people, set of people in the way that you want. And so, when I look at timing and change, I think we have an opportunity in a long-form video, you know, I think we could do things like a documentary film that will be really interesting and helpful, and not just kind of the shilling of the brand or the company. But this area of NFTs and the metaverse is we’re at the height of the hype cycle right now. So, we got to get through that. And no one knows exactly how it’s going to take shape. But there’s a few things we do know. We do know that people want to have the experience of being in an immersive environment. Video games have been doing it for a long time now. And we saw that ship years ago and video games. I don’t remember earlier in the video games used to give different tools and weapons and other things that people could use within the game as you started to level up. They eliminated that for variety reasons, including they thought it was unfair terms of pure gameplay, but they had shifted from that to accessories. And so, once you shift to the accessories in the virtual world like a video game, you’ve entered the metaverse in a way. It’s not as immersive as a 3d environment necessarily, but you’re entering the metaverse because now you have these accessories. And so, imagine if you’re in a virtual world, and these virtual worlds are connected, and you have some limited-edition Nike shoes, or you have some other crypto collectible, that to me is the direction is going, what we can do is that there’s some form of exchange that has to happen in these environments. And we can be part of that exchange number one, but then when you look at something like Decentraland, where people could buy a plot of virtual land and build what they want on it, and people can invest and people can start to save suddenly in that virtual world this idea of financial services, investing, asset allocation becomes really interesting. And I think we have an opportunity to step in there in a way that’s still authentic, but it also can deliver real value to people who are experiencing those virtual environments. So, I’m very excited about the metaverse, I’m excited about NFTs within the metaverse in particular, in the role that financial services can play.
Dan Runcie 28:52
Yeah, I agree. It’s been fascinating to see how much has changed in the past six months, you know, year plus at this point. But it’s also been interesting to see more and more celebrities and especially folks in hip hop that are pushing it themselves or are changing their social avatars to whether it’s board apes or some other assets that they have. So, it’s really great to see those folks be ahead of the curve as well on a thing like this. Because as we both know, if you’re able to have them to set the direction and get their audience bought in, there could be a lot of movement, not just with, you know, who gets bought in but who gets bought in early that could eventually set the tone for what the landscape looks like, looks like as it matures.
Frank Cooper 29:37
Yeah. And you know, I’ve always been, I’m happy to see that black artists in particular, but hip hop artists in general, are now are getting credit for leading being one of the leaders within technology. I think it’s always happened when ringtones are out, they were leaders of it. When mobile phones and mobile communications were out there were leaders of that. When Twitter launched Black Twitter was the hottest thing on the platform. But it was largely unrecognized. Now it’s being recognized. And I’m also sensing a slight mindset shift among some of these artists. So, you take that piece of it, but also this notion that I can be a pure consumer. And it’s been or I can build wealth. And you know, we saw seeds of that even in Jay-Z’s 444 album, but even when I see someone like Rick Ross come off the plane to say: Hey, I just did a set for someone I got X amount of check, am I going to go and buy another gold chain? I’m going to invest in this. It is a mindset shift in terms of what success looks like, and all that wealth plays within it. And so, with the convergence of those two things, I think that we’re entering a space that none of us know exactly how it’s going to play out, but a space where new opportunities are going to come both for artists, but also for entrepreneurs. And just for people who have traditionally been excluded, you know, from the benefits of investing and saving and wealth in general.
Dan Runcie 30:57
What is your involvement in this space look like? Have you gotten deep into it with yourself, whether it’s your own wallets or things that you’ve been tapping into?
Frank Cooper 31:05
No, I’m more, I’m sidelined right now for variety reasons. It’s tricky. You know, since I’ve been at BlackRock, there are a lot more restrictions on what I can do. But the thing I’ve been paying the closest attention to would be crypto assets, in particular, NFTs years ago. And I regret it someone told me early on, you know: Hey, yo, dip into Bitcoin. And I intended to do it, because I was like, you know, who knows where it’s going to go, but I’ll learn. So, I missed that opportunity, and I feel like this thing is moving so quickly, I could easily miss this opportunity. Also, personally, unless I start getting a ball, because I don’t think you can, is moving so quickly. I don’t think you can really understand it in a deep way unless you participate in it, you know, you can study it, you can see it, but you kind of participate in it. So, I’m trying to get there. I’m not fully there.
Dan Runcie 31:52
Yeah. It’s a lot. I mean, anyone that considers themselves an expert in Web 3.0 or anything like this, I always push back because the space is growing so fast. And at the broadest extent, we’re all learners in this space. We’re all just gaining knowledge by day. And if we learn something interesting, we’ll share it with others but there are no experts in this everyone is just leveling up. And I do think that these things take time. Even as someone that studies this space for a living related to the things I do, it’s still a lot, and every week, you’ll see something else being like: Oh, what’s that, but like anything else, you have to filter it down. And you have to prioritize where that lines up with everything else that’s there.
Frank Cooper 32:31
And what are your go-to sources to keep learning and keep deepening understanding of Web 3.0 and NFTs, and the metaverse?
Dan Runcie 32:38
Yeah, there’s a few spots that I’ve gone through like there’s this newsletter that I recently started checking out that has been helpful on that front, it’s more of a regular digest to some of the latest things that are going on. There are some other folks in music and more broadly, and media that I’ve been following that have either bought things or will you know, add me to some of these telegrams or discord groups that are happening. So much of it has happened a bit informally. But you’ll see these drops happen once in a while. And it’s always this thing of: Okay, you want to support this person because you’re cool, then and then you know, you can get the NFT that has access to that, but then you never know where it could go, right? So, there’s that. And then on the other side of it, too, just looking through the headlines of some of the things that are happening, I feel like now it’s almost a given just to the sources that I’m checking that it’ll be so and so in many cases, a hip hop artist that’s like: Oh, they just did a NFT deal with this, or they just did that or even the deal that Snoop Dogg had done and how he was able to sell last I checked, you know, it was over $44 million worth of a NFT that had this exclusive access to a lot of his what he would normally have as a VIP thing. It was part of this album that he has now that he has a death row catalog. So, all these things have been kind of like, you know, little nuggets of information that just add and build to it. So, it’s definitely been a pretty wide range of things. But that’s I feel like I’ve been able to at least try to keep up with these things.
Frank Cooper 34:05
I love it. I love it. I have to look up some of those, you know, and one of my concerns around it is this going to be strange coming from someone who lives in marketing is that brands will mess this all up, you know, because you know brands are now aware of how fast it’s growing, how powerful it is, how much people want to engage, you know, with NFT’s and crypto and the metaverse. I think some of these brands are jumping into early, they will be better off learning and taking smaller steps and not big leaps on this one in my opinion.
Dan Runcie 34:35
That brand piece is interesting. I feel like you had said recently that you feel like brands in general just need to be more like creators. And I think if you have that type of mentality, then maybe that can help address some of these ways that you could go into an area and it may not necessarily be the best but if you have that open perspective, it’ll turn out better.
Frank Cooper 34:54
100%. Because the brands can play across a wide range, right? Some brands will come in and say I will be an observer; I will just observe things and share that with people. A little bit of value in that some many, many brands are still in the sponsor layer, like, you know, we will support something, and we hope we get a halo effect by just being a supporter of it. There are literally designs and billboards, you know, at games and things like that. Other brands are curators, they’ll say: Hey, we’ll weed out the stuff for you. And you can see that we’re kind of in the game because our taste level will be evident because we are giving you the best in certain areas. But the brands I think that people will love and respect, and that feel like they’re part of the community are these creative brands. They actually create things that add value to people’s lives. And so, when I was very started to see it, what I love to see more of is brands come in, and they actually design experiences that help people, you know, if you’re a sponsor of the NFL, for example, well, how can you make the fan experience better by creating some something like that? Instead of creating a commercial, can you create a film? You know, can you create some integration into a video game that actually will be beneficial to the players within that game? Creator brands are the ones that add that value, but to be a great creator, you also have to be a member of that community, you can’t just parachute in from the outside to say, like, I understand all the nuances that are happening within this community, you have to be a member of it. You have to be active and understand the values and the rituals and the symbols and the stories and the history of that community in order for you to really add value and to be a true creator within it.
Dan Runcie 36:35
So, brands can’t just hop on Twitter and say: Oh, I’m pushing P that’s what you’re saying.
Frank Cooper 36:41
You know, somebody’s going to do that, though. You know, someone’s going to do it.
Dan Runcie 36:45
They already have.
Frank Cooper 36:47
It’s terrible, though. But you know, that’s what happens, unfortunately, with too many brands. And the great thing, in my opinion, is that consumers are so smart now. It’s like, they see exactly what it is, you will get no credit for you will be maligned. And so, again, I think those brands who understand what it takes to be a creator, jump into it. If you’re not ready for that, you can take a step back and be a curator and say, I’m looking at the best of the best, but even then, you still need to be steeped in the culture steeped in the communities that are driving.
Dan Runcie 37:18
Right. And I think at the end of the day, what happens is like when you have the people that work at those companies that actually represent that culture, that’s how you have more of this. If you have the outsiders trying to embed themselves in whether it’s a brand or not, there’s going to be a disconnect. And I feel like that actually links back to something that you’ve written about recently, you had a really thoughtful Harvard business review essay, and you talked about black employees at these workplaces in a lot of these types of roles and wanting to feel safe, wanting to feel seen and wanting to feel supported. And one, I mean, I can relate to that 100%, having worked in many of these roles, and I think I appreciated your writing that given the leadership roles in place that you’ve been in your careers, but I’m curious, how do you feel, you know, from your perspective, as that relates to you and your experience, even now, at the CMO level roles and the C suite roles that you’ve had for major companies?
Frank Cooper 38:18
Yeah, you know, it’s really interesting to me that article, I couldn’t easily have been one of the interviewees because of the experiences that they expressed in the article, not feeling safe to fully express yourself, you know, so that kind of psychological safety, you know, not being seen in the fullness of who you are, you know, and the potential that you have, and not being supported, and supported. I mean, given all the elements that can make you successful, but also being challenged to stretch into new roles. I’ve experienced all that. And all on the way I also had to deal with, and I think many black and brown executives and women have to deal with this. It’s a perception challenge, right? Which is, can the person sitting across from who is in some way responsible for your growth within the company, see your full potential, and it’s not like there’s this kind of demonic attitude that they have toward you. But their subconscious may not allow them to see the goal is to see you, as a CEO, see you as a CMO. And so, you’re always overcoming that perception challenge. But I’ve been fortunate in that in there’s a long list of people that have helped me achieve despite that, there have been people who saw in me, that potential people have given me that opportunity to stretch.
And the one person who’s going to really be in my life, my career for most of my life is Clarence Avant. And Clarence Avant, they, you know, they did the Netflix film on Clarence, The Black Godfather, but early on, you know, Clarence started telling me the stories of what he did, why he did it, how he approached it. And it was a sense of kind of fearlessness that he had, in the sense of, you know, that if you fail is nothing more than we’re learning experience, take that and use it to your benefit, helping to communicate. So how do you actually know that someone may not see the full potential in you? How do you actually get them to overcome that? Maybe if you can solve their problems, you know, figure out what their problem is and solve it, it builds confidence, one, but also makes you closer to them. And proximity is really important in order to build these kinds of relationships where people want to help pull you up. And so, he was really central to it. But they have been a long list of people every step of the way that have been helpful to me, because they saw potential in me, and were able to overcome it. I think to do it on a systemic level, we have to rethink how we train managers, and managers are trained, you know, to be technically proficient, they’re trained to lead in a way that you’ll find your high potential employees, etc. But what we’re talking about here is really unlocking potential in all people and to unlock potential and people that may not look like you require a different set of skills. You know, do you have a skill of humble inquiry? Do you don’t ask questions in a way that actually motivates people to connect with you? You know, can you practice intense listening? You know, are you listening in a way where you really understand what that person is saying, even though the language may be different than maybe shrouded in euphemisms? That’s the training that needs to happen with managers to really break through this and unlock the potential in people that may not look like though. And so, I’m optimistic, but we have a long way to go.
Dan Runcie 41:26
That’s real, the way that things are communicated makes such a big difference. And you bring it up Clarence Avant, I’ve never met him personally. But even just watching through that documentary, you can just see that vibe of how he was and how he related. There wasn’t this like, awe, the factor that he had going into rooms. It was like: Yeah, you know, I talked to Bill Clinton, and I just let him know how it was like, there was no pause in any of that. And you just saw that carry through and through.
Frank Cooper 41:53
You know, he told me, he said: Hey, Frank, look, I’m from North Carolina. And he says he’s from Greensboro base from climates. And let’s go ahead, it’s like, it’s adjacent to Greensboro. And he said: I didn’t know what was going on. He said, but early in my career, Joe Glaser told me, you know, I want you to go in, and I want you to have this conversation with this head of the music label, and you’re going to manage this artist, and he’s like, you know, I don’t know how to do this. You know, Joe says something to be said that stuck with them for the rest of his life. He said, let me just say this: Every person that you’re talking to, they wake up in the morning, they shower, brush their teeth, put up put on their pants, or shoes, whatever. They’re just like you, there’s nothing special about them beyond the fact that they’re another human being, and just relate to them in that way. And you’re going to be fine. And that’s how he approaches it. So, he’s not, it’s fascinating, he’s not in awe. But he’s also not looking down upon anyone. It’s like, I’m looking at you eye to eye, let’s figure out how we connect with you about how we can make something happen. It’s a remarkable skill. And I believe that’s what’s carried up through all these years.
Dan Runcie 42:57
Yeah, I would agree with that, for sure. And we’re getting to the tail end here. And I’m sure that as you mentioned, you’ve had a lot of people that have, you know, seen things in you that were able to help get you to the place you’re into your career. Clarence Avant, you know, is one of those folks that gave you great advice. What’s another piece of advice that you’ve gotten in your career that really stuck with you that still resonates today?
Frank Cooper 43:17
Well, the best, the best piece of advice I had was early in my career, and I was just thinking as a second-year law school student, and I was with a litigation partner. And what he told me was that I told him, I want to do practice law and teach law for all these reasons. And he said: Okay, fine, fine, fine, whatever. But let me just say one thing that after practicing for 20 years, I’ve been in public practice and private practice, and I’ve seen a lot of people who are successful, and those who have not succeeded. And I’ll tell you, the one thing that you have to remember is that if you can connect your personal interests with your professional interests, the thing that energizes you in life, you know, that gives you a sense of fulfillment and connect that with your personal interest, you will not only do well, you’ll actually have this deep sense of fulfillment. He said: If you don’t do it, I think you’ll still be successful, superficially, but you’ll watch your personal interest go to the wayside. And so that actually sent me on this path of what we now call purpose of this path of discovering life. So, what am I good at? What do I love to do? And what am I good at? And how can I contribute to something bigger than myself? And that was, it was a deep introspective process, but I came out of it, having a sense of what I love to do, what I’m good at, how it contributes to the world, and I’ve applied it’s kind of been my compass, every place that I’ve been, and it’s what impart has allowed me to move from industry to industry at a very high level, you know, from entertainment to technology to consumer goods and financial services. That sense of purpose has stuck with me the entire way.
Dan Runcie 44:49
That’s real. That’s real. And that’s a good note to close on with this. I mean, normally my last question is your anything you want to plug and let the Trapital audience know about, but I think you did it right there. Oh, it’s perfect. Well, Frank, no, this was a pleasure. I really appreciate you coming on. And I feel like we’ll have to may have to check it again with you at some point, we’ll see what the next few Super Bowl lineups look like. And then we could do a postgame after that.
Frank Cooper 45:15
Let’s do it every year. I’d love to do it.
Dan Runcie 45:18
That’d be great. Okay, awesome.
Frank Cooper 45:19
Dan Runcie 45:21
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