Representing diverse voices in the professional realm is not something that Lori Hall anticipated. Rather, it’s a role that she seamlessly fell into. During our interview, a pregnant Lori reflected on her journey toward influencing the multicultural marketing industry, which includes a lesson she wishes to impart to her child: quitting. When law school was not fulfilling her purpose, quitting led Lori to the media career she ultimately envisioned.
After over 10 years of working as an entertainment executive, Lori Hall joined Jessica D. Lane Alexander in launching Pop N’ Creative, a multicultural agency focused on digital and social content creation, and experience design. From witnessing tone-deaf pitches and brands failing miserably with diverse consumers throughout the years, Pop N’ Creative wants brands to show Black consumers that they value their lives and not just the dollars they spend. By dispensing free guides during the racial pandemic for brands to discuss and dismantle racism, Pop N’ Creative began its journey of altering the foreseeable trends of multicultural marketing.
Her Agenda recently got the chance to speak with Lori Hall about what Whitney Houston taught her, the underlying significance of tokenism, and the powerful mission behind Pop N’ Creative.
Her Agenda:I hear that you are expecting your first child, congratulations. What has this experience been like for you during a pandemic?
Lori Hall: Being pregnant in a pandemic is definitely a different kind of experience. It has its own challenges, like visiting the hospital for your appointments and your partner being unable to accompany you sometimes due to COVID-19 risks. Thank goodness, they have lightened some of the restrictions and [my partner] has been able to come with me, and we’ve been able to enjoy the appointments and ultrasounds. I’m happy and thankful for a healthy baby. I want to give inspiration and encouragement to everyone out there who wants to have a kid. You can still have a kid in your early 40’s. It’s okay, we’re out here doing well and having healthy babies.
Her Agenda: I read about how you quit law school after a semester, and how that was one of the hardest things you’d done at that point. I think so many people are afraid to quit, but from your experience, how has quitting benefitted you?
Lori Hall: Learning how to quit effectively has been one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in life, period. Growing up, you’re always taught to never quit something, always finish it. Now that I’m about to become a parent, I understand that you want your kids to finish something they start. However, there comes a time in your career, personal life, or dealing with something completely different where it’s no longer serving you. And, if I could do it all over again, I would have loved to learn how to quit sooner. Sometimes you stay in something a little too long and for me that was law school. I went to law school because I wanted to be rich, I wanted to make a lot of money coming out of school, but it was never really my passion. My spirit was literally down. I went to class, I could understand everything, but I knew it wasn’t for me. It affected my spirit, and my mood, and I started listening to myself.
I literally went inside of myself and said ‘I have to listen to this voice.’ It was a small voice, but I felt like it was my God voice. I had to listen to it and hear ‘This is not for you.’ So I decided to quit [law school] and that was the first time in my entire life that I had ever quit anything. A lot of us, especially as Black women are taught to be hustlers, push hard for everything that you want, and never give up. But, sometimes, giving up is exactly what you need to do because there’s something greater for you. That’s what I learned in quitting law school – there’s something greater for me and I know it in my soul even if I can’t explain it or communicate it. If something is not serving you, if you are not feeling like yourself, or if there is something else you’ve had your eye on pursuing, give yourself the freedom and permission to quit. Quitting is not a bad thing, especially when you are quitting for something greater.
Quitting is not a bad thing, especially when you are quitting for something greater.Lori Hall
Her Agenda:You helped launch all of Tyler Perry’s TV shows amongst others. I know in Hollywood, especially on the corporate side, diverse ideas can be misunderstood or dismissed. Are you able to share an experience of when you were the only person of color in the room and you fought for an idea?
Lori Hall: Being the only person of color in the room is a really big challenge. You often feel like you have to [watch] what you say, so you don’t offend anyone else. But, you really do have a lot to contribute in terms of your experience, expertise, and personal cultural knowledge. I had a few of those moments in my career, one in particular that I remember was related to the launch of Lopez Tonight, a late-night talk show on TBS about George Lopez, a Latinx comedian. We were doing promotional posters for the show and with that process, you went out to creative agencies and they designed different options for you. When we saw the options, some had George Lopez cutting his logo into the hedge of a bush. I remember thinking, ‘Does nobody else see anything wrong with this stereotype of a Latinx man cutting his logo into a bush with garden tools?’ I was 23, I raised my hand, and said ‘This plays into a stereotype that we don’t want to feed into and we should proceed with caution.’ You have to make sure that, even if you are in rooms where you don’t feel empowered, you find your voice. We don’t need to always think of it as tokenism, we need to think of it as using our voice to represent those who are not heard in a room.
Her Agenda: You joined Pop N’ Creative as a Co-Founder alongside Jessica Lane, literally a month into the pandemic. What were those beginning months like navigating a new business with such uncertainty? Did you have trouble with Zoom like all of us?
Lori Hall: Starting a company amidst a pandemic is definitely not something I would recommend to everybody. We established our company in February [of 2020], the pandemic started in March, and I joined in April. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We started out remote, so we didn’t have any false notions of needing to see each other or be in an office. I was in D.C. Jessica was in Atlanta, and it worked for us. We were able to roll with the waves and build our company as we needed to. The interesting thing about the COVID-19 pandemic is it was also the beginning of a cultural pandemic for this nation when George Floyd was murdered. As Black women, it shook us to our core much like the rest of the nation.
We started to watch how companies were responding to the death of George Floyd; very quickly but without a lot of thought. Remember those black squares with the hashtags of solidarity on social media? We saw that and thought, ‘Ok, but what are you doing?’
We got frustrated because we saw a lot of lip service, but not a lot of follow-up.
Jessica and I looked at big brands and didn’t think companies were trying to pay lip service on purpose, rather they just didn’t know how to respond in a way that shows their actions. We actually created a white paper, because that was our way to protest and help the cause, and wrote up how companies should respond to this racial pandemic. We wanted to guide companies on how to handle matters like these in a way that shows your internal team and external consumers that you mean business, and it’s not just a post on Instagram. We just put the white paper out there and people started calling us asking for it. Quickly, unbeknownst to us, that paper got picked up in the press and it started to spread like wildfire. That ended up being a way people found out about Pop N’ and that wasn’t our intent. It warmed [our] hearts that we could contribute in this way to help people of color have better professional lives and experiences because these big corporations were ready to listen to us.
Her Agenda: You have a history of being an executive which I already know is demanding. But, now that you are an executive at your own company, how do you find a work/life balance?
Lori Hall: Work/life balance is such an interesting phrase. Is there really work/life balance or is it just you trying to prioritize the different times? It is more about prioritizing day by day, week by week, what you’re going to get done and what’s going to be left to do later. I love the idea of work/life balance but I think life can be imbalanced and it just happens sometimes. The other day I was thinking about the company, and how we are going to grow, and it took up a lot of my time. As a result, the dishes and laundry didn’t get done. You just prioritize and you try to create the best balance possible. But, you have to be okay with letting something go because you cannot do it all. Do as much as you can and the most important things that you need to do, and save the rest for another day.
Her Agenda: I did my research! And you are a big Whitney Houston fan, she even cheered you on while you sang karaoke of I’m Your Baby Tonight. Feel free to answer with what comes to the heart, but how did Whitney Houston change your life?
Lori Hall: Oh my goodness, Whitney Houston has been my all-time singing idol since I can remember. Her music, singing, and voice have always had an effect on me. Being able to work with Whitney one on one and seeing her up close in person, going to her home in New Jersey, and traveling with her while we were filming Being Bobbi Brown was an incredible experience. Hearing her stories, even about motherhood. She talked one time about birthing Krissy [Bobbi Kristina Brown] and she mentioned how it was a really tough birth. She was in good shape from singing and her stomach muscles were so tight that they had to rip her open. And, I was sitting over there thinking ‘This woman is a multi-platinum, award-winning, music icon talking about how hard pregnancy was.’ It made her more human, which had a profound effect on me. That completely made me fall in love with Whitney in such a different way. When we went to her house in New Jersey to film, as soon as the cameras turned off, she was wiping the counter down with a rag and doing the dishes. That was who she was, she liked doing normal things. When the cameras turned off, we would joke and have a good time. It showed me that you can be one of the most iconic women in the world and still have an everyday life. From her, I learned to maintain balance and be grounded in who you really are, even though you have a gift to share with the world.
Her Agenda: It seems that the mission behind Pop N’ Creative is really special. Please share it with us.
Lori Hall: We created Pop N’ Creative because we wanted better for brands and really wanted them to win in the multicultural space. We got the idea to start a multicultural marketing agency [after seeing] brands making missteps in their marketing. Burberry had a runway show with a noose on the sweatshirt. Prada and Gucci had a blackface design. Pepsi tried to portray a #BlackLivesMatter protest where Pepsi would solve everything. We started to see brands that were still making a faux pas in 2018, 2019 and leading into 2020. These decisions are never made lightly. They take rounds and rounds of creative revisions and approvals, but they are still getting it wrong with multicultural audiences. Whoever is in the room when they are making these decisions needs our help. We want to help brands navigate the nuances of multicultural marketing, so they don’t make faux pas with audiences that could cost them their bottom line. We know that there aren’t a lot of Black women-owned agencies out there, so we definitely felt like we had something to contribute and an edge over what other companies could be offering. We are able to do great creative work and uplift communities of color in a way that people haven’t been able to do as effectively lately.
[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos provided by Lori Hall.]