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Veteran Film Marketing Exec Art Sims on Dwindling Opportunities for African American Agencies

Veteran Film Marketing Exec Art Sims on Dwindling Opportunities for African American Agencies

Many of you will remember the March 2014 interview I did with Art Sims, the founder and creative genius behind 1124 Design – the Southern California-based advertising and marketing agency responsible for cutting edge ad campaigns for many of the most important black and urban-themed films and TV productions over the years (read that interview HERE).
However, that was then, and this is now; and things have radically changed for Sims. To put it bluntly, he is currently fighting for his and his firm’s survival. His firm has not worked on a major film project since the beginning of the year, and there are really no new possible film marketing campaigns on their slate, in the foreseeable future.
Now you would think that with such high profile black and crossover films like “Straight Outta Compton,” “Selma,” “Dope,” “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation,” “Star Wars,” “Beasts of No Nation” and “The Perfect Guy,” for example, that Sims would be busier than ever.
But that’s far from the case.

Not only was he not involved in any of marketing strategy of those films that targeted black audiences, the African-American marketing campaigns for both “Dope” and “Compton” were created by a black marketing firm based in London, of all places. So what exactly is going on here? Why is someone such as Sims with over 20 years of experience in film marketing now fighting to stay afloat?

Well Sims contacted me this week to tell his side of the story, as well as shed light on the realities of the challenges he is currently facing.

“Well, as you know, we’ve been in the business now for over 20 years doing some great work with people like Spike and George Lucas, but all of sudden the studios have stopped calling our agency, and I don’t know why we’re not getting the work,” Sims said. “For example in the general market world of advertising, companies such as Toyota or Lexus or whomever they may be, allot for African American ad agencies to market their products to the black consumer. But for some reason, in the film and entertainment business, they don’t think the same way we do. That they can market to the consumer not using people of color, and that they can do it with a white executive with no problem at all, and they can do the same thing that black companies can do. And that’s not true.”

He continued: “In the many years I’ve worked with Spike, he was very adamant about using African American agencies on the marketing side of his films, and how the visuals were going to be presented. We sat in meetings about that, and Spike was very hands on and very clear. I even had problems back in the day with studios that just didn’t want filmmakers to suggest to them how to market their films. But it doesn’t work like that all the time. Many African American films just aren’t marketed very successfully. But my point is, why is this happening to me at this time? I think that some of it, I believe, is that “good old boys” network, and the marketing executives at the studios that use the friends of friends, whether they’re talented at marketing or not, and they hire them and have no interest in hiring people of color. But now it’s come to a point that it’s of epidemic proportions. I mean, there are not very many companies like mine. And if they are people of color, they’re not from the United States. So now I’m in a sort of shock and awe.”

Sims does believe that there might be some solution to this problem. As he also shared with me: “The thing about it is that filmmakers do have the power, especially successful ones, to speak to the marketing departments and request that they would like to use my agency, or an agency like mine, that are African-American, to target their market. But one of the major problems that I have heard in the past is that some of the filmmakers and producers have had so many problems getting their films made, that when they come to the marketing side, they’ve run out of gas. They’ve been asking for so many favors to make their film that they feel that they can’t ask for another.”

Finally, Sims ends with: “And that’s why I’ve gone public. I feel this is something that studios need to be more conscientious of, about how we market our films and who we are marketing to. I do believe from a marketing and branding standpoint, that 1124 Design knows more about the direction of our films than the studios do, because of our knowledge of those films, and the particular way they are made. But here again I’m trying to find out why things have completely shut down. We have been busy, busy, busy for many years, and then 2015 comes along, and like, wow. nothing… Those days with Spike don’t exist anymore.”

So clearly things are not currently going well for Sims and his firm, but he’s determined to fight and not give up. We’ll keep you informed about any future developments.

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