The simple definition of marketing is the promotion of a brand or product. But for Tasha Hilton, who describes herself as Culture’s Leading Millennial Marketing Executive, it’s much bigger than that. Hilton is the Director of Marketing for BET. In her day-to-day role, Hilton has the massive responsibility of marketing the network’s many shows and programming.
For Hilton, this job is in perfect alignment with her larger mission to market the culture. Though BET is no longer Black-owned since it was acquired by Viacom in 2000, Hilton is proud to stand beside hundreds of employees who represent the diaspora and share the mission of telling their truth, driving culture, entertaining the masses, and shifting narratives.
“I know a lot of people are quick to note, ‘BET is not Black-owned anymore,’ but I am proud and quick to say BET has always been Black-led. The majority of the people behind the brand look like the community we serve, and we are intentional about doing so with honor, accepting the privilege to advance the culture and create value for our community,” Hilton said.
As Marketing Director at BET, Hilton works with internal brands, various departments, outside agencies, and a skilled research team to create and execute campaigns that cater to Black audiences. Hilton and her team are often working on multiple projects for various scripted shows, award shows, and other programs. She has had huge success reaching the many parts of the Black community by accounting for the diversity of Black people and the Black experience.
“We understand that there’s more than one way of being Black. [My girlfriends and I] might be the same age, we might look alike, but we consume things completely differently. It’s easy for me to assume because I am Black, I know all things about the culture, and that’s definitely not true. So, I lean on our internal research team to thoroughly understand consumer behaviour so that facts can drive effective tactics within a campaign,” she explained.
Hilton shared that one of her secrets to creating effective campaigns is focusing on the ‘why.’ Once she understands that, she establishes a strategy that becomes the foundation of the project. Every idea or action Hilton and her team comes up with a project has to align with the strategy they chose, which sometimes means shelving great ideas that don’t fit the mission.
“Even if you have an idea that you think is awesome, and you really want to be able to do it, if it doesn’t align with the strategy, you just have to hold that and be okay with holding back for something else. Because it’s truly not about what you want it’s about the moment. It always goes back to the brand and what the campaign strategy is,” Hilton said.
This approach has led to great success for Hilton. One she’s most proud of is the multi-prong campaign she led for the 2020 Soul Train Awards. Internally, Hilton built the campaign around the theme of ‘Feeding the soul of our community.’ The campaign included a digital campaign with rapper Common, who chatted with cultural thought leaders like AJ Johnson and DeVon Franklin. The campaign also featured experiential components in Detroit, Philly, New York, and Atlanta, where donations to Black-owned restaurants supported small businesses impacted by the pandemic and provided free meals to the communities.
“That campaign did so many things within the community and also exceeded the expectations for our show. What I was most proud of was driving tune-in to a show I truly love while supporting so many people and Black businesses during the pandemic, which ultimately is in alignment with the brand’s mission,” Hilton noted.
Hilton’s commitment to culture and community shows up in every part of her work, including the agencies she chooses to execute the campaigns she creates. She values working with Black-owned agencies that understand the culture and also share the brand’s mission to super-serve the community.
“This industry is extremely small and everyone in our space pretty much knows of one another. So, we often have conversations with one another about emerging agencies, recent highlights and work, and strengths and opportunities. My friends in the industry all have the same passion for supporting Black agencies that exceed the standard of excellence, have proven track records, and share the vision,” Hilton said.
Hilton pointed out that she’s had the freedom to support and hire Black-owned agencies because she’s been supported by leadership at BET. She specifically referenced CMO Kim Paige, head of BET’s marketing department, who shares Hilton’s commitment to the culture. Hilton shared that seeing Black women in leadership, both at BET and in her personal life, has been a big influence on her own style as a leader, encouraging her to aim higher and recognize the opportunity her work gives her to impact the culture and the world.
“I always tell my team, ‘Think about the work we are doing and the why. The work you are doing will go into the marketplace and, at the end of the day, you can go back and say you accomplished that and helped shape or change the way people see and feel the brand,” Hilton said.
Hilton’s role as a changemaker and marketer of the culture extends well beyond BET. Before her current role, she worked in marketing at book publisher Simon & Schuster, playing a significant role in the marketing of books by notable Black figures like Kevin Hart, Taraji P. Henson, Nate Parker, DeVon Franklin, Janet Mock, Beverly Bond, and Marc Lamont Hill.
Hilton is also a co-host of the Angela Yee Book Club, a digital book club. Along with radio personality Angela Yee and brand strategist Tony Forte, Hilton engages authors and the community in meaningful conversations on topics like abortion, voting registration, politics, and LGBTQ+ issues.
Another of Hilton’s passion projects is her advocacy for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). As a graduate of North Carolina A&T, she’s seen first-hand the way that HBCUs can expose Black youth to opportunities, possibilities, and experiences they might not otherwise discover or believe to be possible.
“HBCUs have the unique opportunity to expose you to the diversity of the Black experience. It pushed me out of my comfort zone, which exposed me to new opportunities just by seeing people that look like me in roles of leadership and success,” Hilton said.
Hilton’s career aspirations have been inspired, in part, by the Black people she has seen thrive in leadership roles. I asked her to share some advice for young Black women who might want to follow in her footsteps as a marketer of the culture. Here’s what she had to say:
Be Wise About The Pitches You Send And Accept
As a marketing director, Hilton has to send and receive pitches. Her experience has taught her that, when pitching, it’s important to make sure there’s a connection to the brand and that the pitch will fit into the brand’s larger mission and create opportunities for growth and revenue.
“We really have to step outside of our day-to-day responsibility and look at it from a holistic viewpoint; to say this should be touching on at least 2-3 other departments to be able to build out their sections as well to ultimately create revenue for any business that you’re at,” Hilton explained.
Learn To Balance The Art And Science Of Marketing
Hilton noted that good marketing is knowing how to balance the application of research with the art of intuition. She shared the example of an activation she did for Tyler Perry’s Sistas that married the market research about the show’s must-win markets with her understanding of Black women’s relationship to salons and conversation. Hilton led a 7-city salon take-over, simultaneously giving out free salon services to the show’s primary audience. This led to another successful season of Sistas ranking as the #1 scripted series on cable for African Americans.
“We have a strong research team that digs deep, but as a marketer, you have to know and find the balance between the science and the art. Knowing all the research and then knowing the art of it, and then really creating the perfect blend of gumbo that will create the success story out of everything,” she advised.
Know Your Worth Beyond Your Role And Title
Hilton’s career hasn’t always been smooth sailing. In 2011, after working in LA as an assistant to an actress, Hilton moved to New York City and worked with top professionals and brands to market movies, shows and more. But after much success in New York, Hilton found herself without a job in the industry. She recalled how people quickly stopped answering her calls and trusting her relevance. But a piece of advice from an ‘industry auntie’ helped her stay on track.
“Bevy Smith told me, “The dot ends at my name. You are Tasha Hilton, period. You’re not Tasha Hilton from this company. You’re just Tasha Hilton. You just happened to work at that company at that time… I know that I’m good because I’m Tasha Hilton, and it stops right there. And I know that I’m also good because of my commitment to marketing and advancing the culture.”
Do Good Work Without Expecting Anything In Return
While at Simon & Schuster, Hilton took the initiative to go above and beyond on a project that her management did not prioritize. Years later, that client made the introduction that landed Hilton the job at BET.
“When you do good work without necessarily wanting anything in return, and you’re really, truly serving the culture and serving the marketing of what you’re supposed to be doing, everything comes back full circle. People recognize and appreciate the work that you are doing,” Hilton said.
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