How FYI was able to help contribute to these artists' success, either by capitalizing on DJ Khaled’s penchant for belly lotion or helping to add a Ugandan charitable component to French Montana’s hit single "Unforgettable" or helping to facilitate Steve Aoki's move into hip-hop, is something of an art unto itself.
What all of these and FYI's other projects have in common is a strategy Brook calls her “four step model,” which integrates elements of marketing, branding and communications to elevate her clients' visibility and messaging.
The first step, according to Brook, is to know her clients' "DNA," that is the artists’ personal and professional narratives from front to back in order to create a strategic road map. Steps two and three are to align her clients with partnerships and create content to give lift to successful campaigns. And finally, Brook stresses the importance of socially activating projects and creating experiential touch points. With this strategy in hand, Brook says she’s been able to take “incredible seeds and grow them.”
When the brand strategist first met DJ Khaled, with whom she has worked on and off with since 2007, he was not yet the cuddly hirsute branding juggernaut dispensing nuggets of anodyne wisdom he is today.
"I was working wth Cool & Dre, producers DJ Khaled was affiliated with, and he came to visit us at a photo shoot for Rides magazine,” Brook recalls. “He came in and saw us shooting all these cars, and he said. ‘Who’s this chick? We need to know each other' -- the rest is history."
Early on Brook identified Khaled’s unique DNA, which she says is in part his ability to consistently create hit records, including his 2010 breakout single “All I Do is Win.” “I helped him coin the narrative of him as the ‘Anthem King' and ‘The Quincy Jones of Hip-Hop’ and helped drive that narrative for him long before he went viral," she says. Back then, however, direct-to-fan social media interaction didn’t exist on the scale it does today.
“Khaled had been doing what he does today on Instagram,” she says. “I had been telling him for years, ‘You’re so funny, I cannot believe you get on this elliptical with a trash bag on and talk about the naysayers. If only the world past your less-than-a-million followers could see how hysterical and enlightening you are.’ Once he discovered Snapchat in October 2015, Khaled was able to capture the world with his spirituality in a ten second sermon on Snapchat -- which had never been done before.”
Brook would help align Khaled with a number of charismatic figures, including Tony Robbins (“they were like two peas in a pod”), Bono (Khaled became the first social media ambassador for Project Red) and President Obama (Khaled helped lift the Affordable Health Care Act) as well as HuffPo founder Ariana Huffington, with whom he bonded on their love of sleep and its many health benefits. The duo are planning to release a pillow to help promote their shared cause. (As this story was going to press, Brook was appointed editor-at-large of Huffington's Thrive Global, a platform dedicated to inspiring work-life balance).
“Every thing he does is from heart with him and it works,” Brook says of DJ Khaled. “What doesn’t work for other people works for him and it’s beautiful.” She cites his deal with Palmer's skin lotions which came after Khaled appeared on Snapchat rubbing the salve on his belly. “He would say, ‘the secret to why I’m so sexy is Palmer's lotion.’” Brook says his posts organically got millions and millions of hits and post-facto she was able to set up a Palmer's partnership.
Brook attributes part of FYI’s success to word of mouth and “walking ambassadors” and the relationships she’s developed and nurtured over the last two decades. During the course of this interview she mentioned several major music executives, including: Kenny Meiselas, head of music at Grubman Shire & Meiselas; Apple Music’s Larry Jackson former A&R exec at Arista and RCA; Ultra Music founder and head Patrick Moxley, whose Empire Management (Gang Starr, Jeru the Damaja) was Brook's first job out of college; and Republic Records president Charlie Walk, for whom she worked with when he was president at Epic Records. (In an email to Billboard, Walk called Brook "impressive and effective" and said she has helped "redefine modern day branding and publicity by creating snackable content based on event driven marketing.")
Brook would go on to the Gale Group, an ad agency where her accounts included major brands like K-Swiss and Avirex. Here, managing ad campaigns and celebrity partnerships, she helped more than a few major artists slip on a bomber jacket, including everyone from “Method Man to Alan Iverson, Latrell Sprewell to Jermaine Dupri and Puff Daddy -- we even made a custom jacket for Mariah Carey.”
Brook hung out her FYI shingle in 2001, where she continued to represent a number of fashion and celebrity consumer brands. She recalls working Ice-T’s Posse Pops, which she says was the first hip-hop ice cream and one of her early clients and presented its own challenges in the sweltering New York summertime heat. Her original slate of clients would come to include Interscope Records, the NBA, MLB and NFL as well as G3 Sport which manufactured the Sean Jean and Kenneth Cole lines.
Ice-T (left) eating a posse pop, a "solid cold-chillin treat
FYI would come to work on projects by a number of superstar urban artists, including Travis Scott, Pusha T, Big Sean, Anderson .Paak, Future, Desiigner (in addtion to DJ Khaled, Aiko); all-star athletes in Westbrook, Mike Tyson, Odell Beckham, Jr., Brett Favre for Copper Fit, Amar’e Stoudemire; brands that included Viacom, Adidas, Barneys NY, Wav, and Bang & Olufsen; philanthropies such as Get Schooled, the Mentor Foundation, the Humane Society, Children in Crisis; as well as fashion, tech start-ups, beauty, celebrities, film and more.
Many of the relationships Brook fostered early in her career are still her associates. Moxley, in fact, recently tapped her to work on Aoki’s new hip-hop focused Kolony project. “Steve is such a massive multi-hyphenate brand,” Brook says “it was exciting to help him harness and spearhead his seamless transition into the hip-hop space while still celebrating his massive pop culture space in the Electronic Dance world and the marriage of the two while continuing to build his brand."
"The biggest critical factor of breaking into hip hop," the brand strategist says, "is credibility.” To help secure that, Aoki worked with some of the most credible MCs out there, including Lil Uzi Vert, Migos, Lil Yachty, Gucci Mane, 2 Chainz and ILoveMakonnen.
Brook noted the importance of connecting Aoki to media outlets, including XXL, Vibe and Complex, to make sure he’s having "one-on-one intimate connections with influencers and the opportunity to walk them though his brand extension."
"Steve's so incredibly visual and brilliant and the story telling behind all of the videos has been incredible and backed by some of the biggest names in Hip Hop," Brook says. She mentions the over-arching story of how each of Aoki’s collaborators' videos takes place in certain room in a house. So Gucci Mane is a king on a throne in a lions den, Migos are a study, and in the T-Pain video Steve Aoki in the Dining Room—which effectively gives each Kolony members "a seat at Aoki’s growing hip-hop table."
A growing trend Brook sees with her clients which helps them with branding, marketing and communications strategies are “In-house creative teams.” She says these teams are essential in today’s instantaneous social media world. “In order to be viral and move the needle as an artist,” Brook says, “you need to be able to create digital content in real time." This can include a personal videographer, a social media person and even a creative director to help with messaging.
For French Montana, the Moroccan-American rapper who hadn't had an album out in four years, his team was of paramount importance. Upon meeting Montana, who Brook met through his manager Wassim “Sal” Slaiby of Sal and Co, Brook was shown a video of Ugandan children called The Triplet Ghetto Kids who greatly inspired the artist and whom he put in a lyric video for his song “Unforgettable.”
“He tells me, “I’m going to Uganda in two days to go shoot a video with them, we got clearance, we’re going to Kampala -- I don’t want to leave there without doing something for the country,” Brook recalls. "I said, 'I'm 100% with you. You have a videographer, let's shoot the hell out of this and give me a minute to sort myself and get a strategy on the humanitarian aspect of this.'"
Brook called Global Citizen, a social action platform, which connected her to a local advocate in Uganda. French Montana was catching his connecting flight when Brook sent him an itinerary to meet with Denis Mukisa, a local advocate for the Suubi Health Centre which had only five beds for 50 women.
"As soon as he landed he began documenting what he saw there which included women having children on the side of the road and the children he spent time with," Brook says. "He vowed that he was going to change the landscape of maternal healthcare in Uganda.”
Brook and Sal & Co aligned French’s altruistic desires with Mama Hope, a local organization which helped spearhead the #Unforgettable Dance Challenge" campaign to raise and administer donations to the Suubi Health Centre’s expansion.
“We created a campaign and launched a funding page and drove all awareness towards the build out,” Brook explains. Montana pledged an initial $100K donation to kick of the build out of the facility and the Weeknd matched it.
Montana's video for “Unforgettable” is now up to more than 325 million YouTube streams and has resulted more than 50,000 people all over the world -- from Berlin to Costa Rica and including huge stars like Drake, P-Diddy and Demi Lovato -- doing the dance while helping to raise funds for the health clinic.
In addition to coverage in Newsweek, Time and CNN and the covers of Paper and Vibe, the Ugandan children spent the summer with French and appeared with him on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and performed at the Teen Choice awards and BET Awards. According to Brook the expanded women’s health facility is now 70% done.
“We took his incredible assets and helped create a pop culture connection with him and the community of influencers and media,” Brook says. "We were able to connect him with the media and help him obtain global coverage and create an incredibly special cultural moment."
"It's this combining of a sub-culture with mainstream culture," Brook says, "which is what FYI is all about -- it’s in our DNA, it’s who we are."