Actor and producer Michael B. Jordan has already proven to be a social change agent through the work of his Outlier Society production banner, as well as his partnership with Color of Change to launch the #ChangeHollywood initiative. And with the official unveiling of his Black-owned and led marketing agency Obsidianworks, Jordan is working to further bridge the gap between companies and the consumer in order to encourage authentic representation of people of color.
“I think it continues the conversation on a different scale with this partnership,” Jordan tells Variety, explaining how this endeavor furthers his push for equity in the industry. “To be able to reach brands, to be able to continue that conversation across the board, I think is really important. We’re present in these rooms to be able to call bullshit, to be like ‘Hey listen in our humble opinion, this isn’t authentic, this isn’t real.”
“Sometimes when you’re changing systems, and you’re disrupting things, and you’re evolving something into different, sometimes it’s easier to lead by example, he adds. “It’s about just going out and doing it, and just building it.”
Now, Jordan and Obsidianworks co-founder Chad Easterling have joined forces with Endeavor’s cultural marketing agency 160over90, which has made a strategic investment in and partnership with the new company.
Jordan and Easterling, a longtime marketing executive with Nike and the Jordan Brand, founded Obsidianworks in November 2020, making use of Easterling’s experience in brand marketing and Jordan’s experience both in front of the camera as talent and behind the scenes as a producer. Alongside the agency’s core team — including CAA alum and nonprofit advisor René Spellman and creative and marketing agency veteran Bobby Moore III — the duo have been quietly building their client roster and their own brand ethos since 2018.
“It’s all been a soft launch for a really long time until the right moment, the right partners, the right way to scale,” Jordan explains, saying that partnership with 160over90 was the perfect opportunity to share what they’ve been working on behind the scenes.
The agency’s name is a reference to the obsidian stone, which shares similar properties to the company’s goals — it’s uniquely formed, multi-dimensional and purposeful, directly in line with what they hope to represent in the brand marketing space.
“Over the last couple years or so it’s been about evolving the idea and that identity,” he adds. “When you’re doing something different and creating a new-ish lane, it takes some time to build something that hasn’t really been built before.”
The team began with providing general counsel on Jordan’s personal partnerships with brands like Coach, while they evolved their role into a more official capacity.
“I think you could see drastically over the past couple of years Coach’s approach, how they market in their campaigns, and the talent that they work with, even behind the camera as far as their photographers and creatives,” Jordan says. “A lot of that has been with our direction and advice and counsel.”
Obsidianworks was behind the launch of Outlier Society’s free community-focused summer screening series “A Night at the Drive In,” as well as some elements of the rollout for Jordan’s latest movie, Amazon Studios’ “Without Remorse.” Piaget and AMPAS are also among the agency’s clients.
“I think having that period of going through the soft launch, gave us the time and the ability to work through the kinks and think about how we want to position ourselves, how we want to come across, come through, work with brands, service brands, and then also allowed us to figure out with who and how do we want to partner,” Easterling says.
When it came to signing with 160over90, the first priority was to make sure their objectives and goals were aligned. Ultimately, Easterling says, “We felt like 160, and Endeavor as a whole, really worked well in regards to what we’re trying to get after, and they would really help us to not only accelerate what we’re trying to do with Obsidianworks but focusing on growth and development. We felt like they were an amazing partner to help us achieve all those goals.”
Part of what makes Obsidianworks unique, of course, is its perspective as a Black-owned and led marketing agency. And as the industry works to be more inclusive, the team provides a much-needed voice in the room where decisions are made about how to best reach the consumer.
“Once you begin to see more Black people on this side and you begin to see how we provide strategy, execution, counsel, direction from a strategy and a brand standpoint, I think that is what begins to normalize that conversation,” Easterling says.
“Obsidianworks has the ability to bring a different perspective, a different voice to speak with communities in ways that brands so desperately need,” 160over90 president Ed Horne agrees. “The ability to marry that perspective that Mike, Chad and the team have, with the scale and the reach and scope that that 160over90 has, it just feels like such a natural marriage. We already know from conversations with clients and brands, it’s such a necessary service and ability.”
The New York City-based agency represents Anheuser-Busch InBev, HSBC, Kia, Lowe’s, Marriott, T-Mobile and Visa among its clients. Horne notes that in order for brands to create a real and relevant connection to the consumers, the industry needs to keep in mind that multi-cultural marketing is simply marketing.
“Our view is that consumers can smell the BS,” Horne says. “They know when they’re being talked down to or they’re being talked to in a way that isn’t real and authentic.”
The partnership was also a natural extension of WME’s longtime relationship with Jordan. Jordan is represented by WME, M88 and Ziffren Brittenham LLP, while WME and 160over90 are Endeavor companies. WME and Endeavor Content are also aligned with Jordan’s #ChangeHollywood initiative, which outlines steps toward a more equitable and inclusive industry.
Obsidianworks was advised in the deal by Fort Greene Partners LLC, Stubbs Alderton & Markiles and Ziffren Brittenham LLP, while 160over90 was advised by Latham & Watkins.
While much of what the partnership aims to create is being kept under wraps at the moment, Jordan and 160over90 recently partnered on the Hoops Dreams Classic, a one-day basketball showcase for four of the top Division 1 HBCU men’s and women’s basketball programs. The event is set to take place on Dec. 18, 2021 at the Prudential Center in Jordan’s hometown of Newark, N.J.
“I’ve never been the type to announce with fireworks,” Jordan says of keeping Obsidianworks’ plans close to the vest. “Strategy is everything. We’re in it for the long game.”
And the sky is the limit, Easterling adds: “We’re not putting a ceiling on what growth can look like or what our goals can be. It’s about being nimble and being able to evolve, with the times with the culture, with the movement.”