In the throes of a brutal winter during his first year at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School, Los Angeles native Ted Chung made a vow: Once he graduated, he would return to the West Coast, found a business, live by the beach and drive a convertible.
Chung, the son of Korean immigrants, began realizing that promise in 2003 when he and two others co-founded the Cashmere Agency -- the formal iteration of the street-marketing company he had launched five years earlier while working at PolyGram Music Publishing -- in a borrowed one-room office. Targeting 12 to 34-year-old multicultural millennials, the lifestyle marketing company offers such services as PR, marketing, branding, partnerships, synch deals and production. Cashmere now has 40-plus staffers and a client list that includes Red Bull, Adidas, Netflix, E!, Sony Pictures and the Korean mobile-games company Com2uS.
A year later in that same office, Chung established Stampede Management. His longtime client Snoop Dogg -- whose new LP, Bush, is due May 12, and who’ll headline his second Wellness Retreat in Englewood, Colo., on April 20, with ASAP Rocky and 2 Chainz -- leads a talent roster that includes rapper Riff , hip-hop group Far East Movement, production collective Wild Animals and producer C Ballin. Stampede and Cashmere are housed in a two-story building minutes away from the ocean in Playa Vista/Marina del Rey -- aka Silicon Beach, the booming tech/residential community where Chung counts such high-profile neighbors as YouTube, Google and ad agency TBWA Chiat Day. The companies generate business in the tens of millions of dollars annually.
And yes, Chung, 37, who lives with his wife in Marina del Rey, drives to work every day in a mint-condition 1980 T-top Datsun 280ZX.
In talking about your background, you describe music as your “through-line.” Can you explain?
I started out DJ’ing and producing music in high school, which led me to the business side: I began meeting guys who represented and promoted music to DJs, and they introduced me to the world of street-team marketing. In college there was a crew of about 12 of us. One was John Stephens, now [known as] John Legend. Another guy, professionally known as Devo Springsteen, is one of the producers of Kanye West’s “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” and has done production with John. A lot of the people I do business with now knew me as a student at Penn.
You have been with Snoop since 1999. To what do you credit the longevity of your relationship?
Trust and honesty. In any business, especially management, you have to feel you can really depend on that person, and the advantage of our business partnership is that we have been doing this together for a while. So when he’s making decisions, I know a lot of what has gone into that thought process and vice versa.
How do race and diversity factor into business strategies for music and marketing?
It’s really about how you can take diverse experiences and learn more about other cultures to make one plus one equal 11. How do you make diversity be something that actually empowers your end goals? The U.S. Census Bureau has basically said that by 2042 there will be no traditional [ethnic] majority, so whether you’re an artist or a brand, how does that affect your messaging to your fans or consumers? You can’t say, “I’m going to make this ad for African-Americans on BET, this ad for the general mainstream on networks and this ad for billboards in Koreatown.” That isn’t organic anymore. Multiculturalism is going to be the biggest challenge for brands over the next decade.
Snoop loves making music -- not only his own but also with artists from Katy Perry and Jason Derulo to Willie Nelson. He’s not just limited to one space. Sometimes, depending on the artist, it’s for reciprocation of production or that person collaborating with Snoop on one of his projects. Then sometimes as a manager, I have to make sure he gets paid a handsome fee.
How big of a role has he played in normalizing marijuana use?
From a cultural standpoint, he is the largest contributor to de-stigmatizing cannabis around the world. We have a team of about five people who for the past two years have been dedicated to researching and exploring this space. We’ve even done a global recognition factor: Compared probably to all the other names you can think of, Snoop’s recognition and association factor is thousands of times larger. He represents someone who stood by his morals, beliefs and principles about his association with marijuana. And that has built a lot of brand equity, especially among the cannabis community.
How have you monetized his affiliation with pot?
From day one, content has been the first way. For example, we made a cannabis-based buddy comedy with Wiz Khalifa called Mac & Devin Go to High School. We started Snoop’s anchor festival, the 4/20 Wellness Retreat, in Denver last year. We had 8,000 people last year; it will be at Fiddler’s Green [on stoner holiday 4/20] this year -- that’s about 18,000 people. We have a G-pen through our partnership with vapor company Grenco Science, and we have smoking accessories. We’re also making some federally safe, strategic investments in this space, especially in what we call the “picks and shovels” -- the industries surrounding cannabis. It might be media-based, technology-based, agriculture-based and, most importantly, wellness-based. Cannabinoids like CBD [can] cure seizures for people with epilepsy; there are [positive] properties for cancer patients.
Any plans to launch Snoop-branded marijuana?
It remains to be seen -- and then smoked!
This article first apperaed in the April 18 issue of Billboard.