In episode 150, Erik and Kerel talk with Justin Barton, SVP of Digital Strategy & Partnerships at Black Enterprise, a digital resource for black entrepreneurs, black-owned businesses, and career, tech, and money content for black people. Justin was born in Brooklyn, NY to his mother and father who were both educators in New York. He eventually went on to Hofstra University to get his BA in Business Administration and got his MBA at Long Island University. Justin has been working in the media industry for about 18 years now and his repertoire includes Viacom, iHeartMedia, MTV News, and Daily Mail.
Justin stresses the importance of companies using black-owned media to reach black viewers as well as increasing the number of diversity hires in the workplace and media environment. He shares the different types of black stories they’re writing and sharing at Black Enterprise - lifestyle, local, financial, and more. Justin also talks through his career journey of climbing up the ladder from analyst to eventually SVP and what it took to get him there including skills, networking and experience.
“Don't stay somewhere where you're not appreciated, don't stay somewhere where your opinions aren't taken seriously”
We want to welcome all of our listeners to another episode of Minority Report podcast with Erik and Kerel. Each episode we talk with leaders in business, tech and media. And joining us today is Justin Barton who is the SVP of Digital Strategy & Partnerships at Black Enterprise. Justin, welcome. How are you today?
Justin Barton 0:29
I am doing well, doing well. Thank you for having me. It's been a long time coming. I've been a fan of the podcast since your inception. So, looking forward to this today.
That's awesome. Thanks. That's so exciting to hear and really excited to talk to you about so much. You've got such great experience across a lot of different media companies, and I think different roles that are really exciting. But first, tell us a little bit about you, Justin. Where were you born and raised and tell us a little bit about early days of Justin?
Justin Barton 1:00
Sure. Yeah, I was born not too far from where I am right now. I'm in Dumbo, Brooklyn. So, I was born in Brooklyn Heights at Long Island College Hospital. So, born in Brooklyn, raised my formidable years on Long Island. So that's this accent you'll hear throughout the podcast. I went to high school in Long Island. And then eventually also college, I went to Hofstra University, graduated with a BA in Business Administration. And I got my MBA from Long Island University at post. So through and through a Long Island child, but been in the city for the last, you know, 17, 18 years now working in the media industry, like you mentioned.
That's great. We'll talk a little bit more about that. I'd love to know how you sort of broke into the business and you've worked with some tremendous, tremendous companies, just to name a couple - Viacom, iHeartMedia, Mail Online and several more. But, Justin, before you broke into media, like, tell us a little bit about, kind of like, your family and, like, growing up, you know, on Long Island, like tell us about your family and how you ended up there.
Justin Barton 2:00
Yeah, family, originally from Brooklyn. Educators. So, my father was, you know, an English teacher, and then became an assistant principal in Brooklyn, in New York City. My mother, similar route, English teacher, became an assistant principal, Chairperson of English, assistant principal in New York City, eventually moved to Long Island. And especially from there, my mother, you know, she got her doctorate, she just retired last year, my father's been retired for probably almost 10 years now, but really instilling in us, my sister and myself, who's also a marketing professional at 5W PR, you know, instilling in us the work ethic, and trying to be the best at what we do, and just the success, and it's really paid off for both my sister and myself, when I look at where we are in our careers, you know, certainly just having them just be a steady light for us to follow. At the same time, putting us in the right situations, putting us in the right schools, guiding us to the right colleges and universities, all that kind of led me to where I am right now.
So you're gonna have to teach a media or marketing class at a university at some point, given the background.
Justin Barton 3:07
That, you know, that is something, I don't see myself as being that great of a teacher, but it is in my blood. So it's something I should try sometime in my career. So we'll see.
I think it's in the cards, Justin, it's somewhere there. I want to ask you about your career path because sounds like your family, as you said, you know, really sort of early on said, "Hey, here's how you can build an early sort of success formula," right, "If you do these kinds of things." What brought you into media coming out of school? Like, what were some of those stepping stones that brought you in that direction?
Justin Barton 3:39
Yes, so my first job out of college, I always wanted to be an investment banker, I was like, I want the money. And then you know, I graduated 2003 and it just wasn't the right time. I went to corporate finance, I worked at a Global Fortune 500 company staffing organization, where I started in collections, and then led data analysis for that same group. And, you know, I never really enjoyed the job overall. It was a job, it was, you know, it taught me so much. But at the same time, I always wanted something in the media realm. I just liked the whole immediate response of putting something out there and then seeing either, you know, ratings or seeing traffic or whatever it may be. And that's how I essentially eventually took a job at Disney ABC television. I used my finance background, I was senior analyst of finance there, and then it just snowballed from there. You know, moving from finance, to analytics to audience development to kind of where I am now running pretty much everything digital at Black Enterprise.
Tell us about what's going on at Black Enterprise these days.
Justin Barton 4:40
Yeah, so Black Enterprise, you know, certainly when I arrived July 2019, we were about 400,000 unique visitors in comScore, but there was a lot of fertile ground at the company. It just needed to be cultivated. And essentially what really helped that was the pandemic. You know, having everybody focused on moving away from the magazine, which we sunset, to the 50th anniversary edition, in 2020. And moving towards digital and really, my background at the Daily Mail, taught me a lot about how to grow traffic. And a lot of that is investing in journalism. And right when the pandemic started, the first thing that I did, as people were being laid off from journalism jobs, was just hire. So we hired 10-12 writers, and just said, "Okay, let's get out there and let's create content." And that's essentially what we did. We published tons of stories that focus on the black community. If people don't know Black Enterprise, Black Enterprise was essentially a magazine started by Earl G. Grave Sr. in 1970. And the way I explain it to people, it's the black Forbes or Fortune Magazine, that's what it was. Essentially, our DNA is in business, so we cover all entrepreneurial stories that are positive in the black community. We also cover the lifestyle stories, every athlete and celebrity just doesn't want to be known for that profession, they want to be known for the business acumen as well, so we cover those. And just doing that is what, at a velocity this high, is what drove traffic. And we've been as high as 13 million recently, but we are, you know, if you look at comScore, the number one black publication out there, larger than TheGrio, the ROUTE, Essence, Ebony, Revolt, the only one a little bit higher than us right now is BET, but they're owned by Viacom and Paramount and we kind of put them in a second, a separate little bucket, but we are the number one in comScore when you look at traffic as black sites, that's where we are. So it's been a meteoric rise, it's really helped us, it's got our name out there more than we've ever had. And we see it translating into not just traffic, but obviously ad sales, and really our great events business that we have as well, translating there. So we went from putting on three or four in person events a year to doing three and four person events now, to also having 10 virtual events, six town halls, a whole bunch of digital shows that run throughout our website and social media. So this has been a great experience at Black Enterprise, being able to see that we had the pieces in place, it was just putting the right strategy behind it and now we're really winning.
Nice, nice. Well, congrats to you and the team there on all the success that you're having. I want to take a step back and talk about your career journey a bit and more specifically your career journey within media as a black man. One of the main reasons why Erik and I started this podcast is because as two men of color in our industry, we didn't necessarily see all the representation that we thought we should see. And, you know, we also sort of got tired of being looked at as like, the only ones in the room or few of the only ones in a room. And so I'm curious to hear from you, Justin, how has your career journey and experience as a black man been in the media industry?
Justin Barton 8:00
Yeah, so, it's been successful, and it's had its, you know, struggles as well. What I like to tell you about my career, it's very STEM. So if you see my LinkedIn, I was an analyst, a senior analyst, a manager, senior manager, a director, Senior Director, VP, and now SVP. So that has been a successful rise over, let's say, the past 10, 15 years within the industry. And what it really helps me do is, you know, I've done everything from crunched the reports to do the strategy and that's been a benefit. And I've had a lot of great opportunities to be in the room where it happens, as he would say in Hamilton, right? So when I was at Interactive One, I was a senior analyst in charge of the KPI report. So, every week, there'll be a KPI meeting with all the executives, and we would go through the report, and I would hear the back and forth. And this is when I was younger, in my early 20s and just learning from them. And then other organizations as I went up, making sure that I was in that room. So that part has been successful. It's helped me accelerate my career and have the success I've had because with no steps skipped in my career, I've done everything to move up the ladder. But at the same time, you know, when you're working at the big corporations, and we can still name them, like the Viacom's and iHeartMedia's, it is, like you were saying, a different experience when you are the only one in many of the rooms. Obviously Viacom's a little bit better with that, with the diversity hires. But it is challenging because you don't really have that person to ever really look up to in the organization say, "Oh, I can be that person," right, "Or that person can be my mentor, they can help me through this process." And a lot of the journey was me, having the trial and error going through it, to get my career to where it is. So, I had to go through the success and the failures along the way to get me where I am and, you know, a lot of that just really surrounded, I would say preconceived notions of who I was. And especially when you're high performing, you have intellectual curiosity, and you want to do good things, sometimes you bump heads with people who were just in the industry to, you know, it's a nice cushy job for them, they're high up, they're successful, but they don't want to like rock the boat. And throughout my career, I have been the 'rock the boat' type of guy, because I want to have this success. It has caused issues in the past, but we've seen the success I've had working through all that.
Gotcha, gotcha. And curious, you know, based on your experience, like you said, doing the sort of trial and error, learning as you go, I'm curious, as you sort of, I hate to say, look back on your career, because you're not, you know what I mean? Like you're not retiring tomorrow or anything like that, right? You still got a ways to go, but as you think about the earlier years in your career, and where you are now, right, how do you think about mentoring or opening doors for diverse groups of people, that next generation that's coming as well, too?
Justin Barton 10:52
Yeah, so I look at it twofold. One is, you know, it's been a real interesting perspective being at Black Enterprise, because if you think about Black Enterprise, they've had what's called the Board List. And Black Enterprise was very instrumental in getting black people or diversity hires on corporate boards and in executive C suite positions. So when I look at the work I'm doing now is to continue that, you know, we just had a Board List come out, I think, a couple of weeks ago, and I think something like upwards of 76% of Fortune 500 companies now have a black board member on the board. And that's extremely important. Ten, fifteen years ago, it was under like, 20%, so it's come a long way. And you know, really helping to get that information out there, do different events and put out content that shows people this how you can get to this level, is certainly what I try to strive for and help people learn about and understand. On the flip side, looking back, there was perspective, like, I never really thought about that, when I looked at a company to see what their leadership looked like, or who was on the board. And those are things that never really occurred to me until I really got to Black Enterprise and say "Oh, that's very important." You know, when I look back at the days at iHeartMedia, and I was actually checking this morning just to make sure I was correct, they finally got a black board member two years ago, and I give them kudos for that. You know, they should, right? But if you look at their executive structure, there's probably 20 executives in that structure and they have one black person. And I know this is a very inclusive podcast, and I'm very inclusive of our allies, but we at Black Enterprise are looking at things as very, you know, black focused, obviously, but when we look at it and we look at people who are in charge of DEI, the person at iHeart is a white woman. And I'm not saying anything's wrong with that, but those are the kind of things you see is like, the commitment to diversity is diversity as a whole, which is important but black people have a particular history in this country where we've been left behind, whether it's you know, just Jim Crow laws to outward racism, that, you know, you see on a day to day, police brutality and all that type of stuff, there is a extra emphasis that we at Black Enterprise put on that to make sure that we have diverse voices and diverse people in these structures. And diversity for us focuses mainly on black African American people, and generally women and men. So it just shows, like, I never knew to look at those type of things and now when I look at companies, the first thing I look at is like, what's their board makeup? Who's in their executive suite? You're telling me you can't find a person of color to do that role? I find that surprising. So, you know, it's a commitment that at Black Enterprise, like I say, we push forward all the time. And that was a commitment that I pushed forward to make sure that I'm looking out for other people to get into those type of roles.
Thank you for sharing that, Justin. I'm curious, you said a few things that really sort of dialed into words like commitment. And I'm thinking about the way that you're sort of directly having your finger on the pulse of just like what's kind of happening, reaching diverse audiences, and especially, like you said, maybe with a little bit more focus even on Black and African Americans sort of audiences that are male and female, right? And I want to ask you this question, are you and then others and I want to say kind of like your network of work peers that might be able to also sort of speak to budgets, and actual media dollars starting to flow, reaching diverse audiences. What's your take, and what are your peers and others around you sort of feeling when it comes to that?
Justin Barton 14:28
Yeah, so I think there's been a commitment. There's been an effort. I heard Detavio on this podcast recently, and he said the same thing. Like there's been a tremendous increase in agency dollars, in corporate dollars flowing to black owned media, and that's extremely positive. There's a ways to go, but seeing post George Floyd and everything that went there, the commitment has been there. There's a lot of great people, Gonzalo over at GroupM, Mike Roca over at OMG, there's so many great people who've been focused on this, and helping us make the connections. And that is for us in the black publishing and media side, to also help educate the agency people and say, "Hey, this is a qualified audience who you should be reaching. And you should be reaching them through black owned publications because we are an authentic voice, we are an authority in our community." Obviously, you can reach this audience by buying at different spots, you can probably get, you know, black audience at ESPN or nba.com, or Complex or wherever it is, but there's an importance to funding or helping support the mission of black owned media. And just seeing the things that Black Enterprise does, when I talk about all the stories we write, we don't cover all the salacious stuff that everybody else covers, we're covering significant business movements within the black community, entrepreneurial opportunities, investment opportunities, all those types of corporate opportunities, those type of things, we are a unique brand and publication. And that's where we go to market with that way. So we've seen a great movement from the agencies and the advertisers our direction. And we want to keep working with them to educate them and educate them about the brand of Black Enterprise and all black media in general.
That's great, Justin. I want to ask you a follow up to that, because I think there's something significant there. And I want you to sort of think about why it's important that your publication focuses specifically on that content, so this is a content related question. Why is that important today?
Justin Barton 16:35
Yeah, I think a lot of it is, you know, you want to hear stories from a trusted voice. And we could tell stories that are solely black stories, like a woman owns like eight Mack Trucks, you know, and that's her business. And it's like, "Wow, we didn't know that she existed." Or, you know, you have a young girl who starts a Barbie doll company, "Oh, we didn't know that existed." We can help take local stories and make them broad and national. And that's a lot of what we do, but at the same time, we could take random, general interest stories, and put our spin on it or give it, you know, an authentic voice and say, "Hey, this is an important story you need to know about. You need to know why the Fed is raising interest rates, you need to know about the student loan," whether it's a pause or forgiveness, we want to be able to help the community and have a trusted voice hear from us. And it's the same thing you see, maybe in the political realm as well, people like to hear from their trusted voices to understand, you know, cut out some of the noise and other things that are out there. And I think that's what we do at Black Enterprise.
That's awesome. Thank you so much, Justin. That's super helpful. And great to hear. I want to sort of go back in the time machine again, thinking about where you're at now, and all of your experience across many different types of companies, even all the work still to be done. There's the early days of Justin, there's Justin where he is now and looking back, what are some things that you could pass along to others that you've learned along the way that would be helpful to others in their career? Because I think so much about what you said just a few minutes ago, it resonates so much with Kerel, myself, so many listeners that we talk to and we see at events that said exactly what you said that you had no one really you sort of learned from, right, you know what I mean? And that's a big reason why we do this, right? There was no sort of folks to look up to, there were no sort of mentors necessarily readily available. And when we say available, you know, it doesn't always mean that you are going to sit down and get a lunch or get a coffee or hang out with them. It might even be listening, watching, seeing, hearing, reading. So, what are some things early on or what were some things that you think you could pass along, one or two things, to some listeners out there that may be listening and thinking man, "Justin's had an awesome career. I could learn from a few steps that he's gone through already."
Justin Barton 18:57
Yeah, well, I think certainly the first thing, and this is actually digital media specific, is that you have to have an intellectual curiosity with this industry. This is not something that's a slow moving type of situation. This is like fast moving, changing every 18 months. So you have to be reading all the different periodicals, whether that's Digiday, MediaPost, AdAge, Adweek, whatever it may be, making sure that you're keeping on top of that. What I was able to have the opportunity doing early on, or mid career was making sure I went to industry conferences. So, you'll always see me at all the industry conferences that are out there. Similar names I just mentioned for publications, the same thing and those same conferences, being in the picture, speaking to people who were just like you, who were going through the same thing. So when you have an issue, you can call up a person you know who works at another publication and say, "Hey, what are you doing about this? Or where do you see the future going there?" I think that another thing that I've been very good with is being close to the vendors. And I consider them partners, not just vendors, is that, you know, these are people who speak to 50, 100 different publications all the time. So they have insight that you can glean from them, as well. So in that realm, on the digital media technical side, I think that's one way to do it. When it comes to just, let's say, rise in the corporate ladder, or dealing with micro aggressions, or things like that, it is a little bit more tough, because as we are diversifying more and there are more people who are willing to help, it's still very sparse out there, in you know, minority leadership, and not everybody has the time to essentially sit down and walk you through the process. But it is good to do podcasts like this, to tell your story, make sure people understand that, you know, this is something that happens all the time. And how do we navigate through it? I don't really have a great answer for it, but it's just you have to experience it. And I call it spinning the wheel, like you keep spinning that wheel until you hit like the right number. And it happens every once in a while. And you might go through some situations that aren't perfect, and you stay there for a while, and then you find the next situation is right. That's the things that I would recommend is don't stay somewhere where you're not appreciated, don't stay somewhere where your opinions aren't taken seriously, or you have a whole bunch of micro aggressions, or whatever it may be, because there's opportunities out there to succeed. And if you're a high functioning individual, you'll get to the right spot, and then you'll make it happen. And that's essentially what happened at Black Enterprise. I had great success at Viacom, MTV News, increasing traffic, I did great at iHeartMedia, but when I got to Black Enterprise, Butch Graves, the CEO, was essentially like, "Hey, I'm gonna give you ownership of everything. So now you can control editorial, you could control programmatic ad ops, social media products," and having that control allows me to be my free self, my full self, and put together the strategy that I know can work that I've seen work other places. And it's just like, I consider myself, like, a person who was offensive coordinator for many years running someone else's offense to a certain extent. And now like, I have people running my offense and my defense, and I'm just the head coach of this and they've learned a lot. And I look at some of my coaching tree, where they are in black media, and they have the same thing, and they've done well as well. So I think there's just so much out there, you can learn, but it's like really being in the right space in the right place at the right time. And sometimes that's difficult, but if you keep trying, you can get to that space.
I think one of the things you said there, Justin, that's key to grow in your career and our space and probably a lot of other spaces too, is the networking piece. Being out and about at events at social gatherings, whatever it may be, meeting people. I tell people coming into the industry all the time that your next job is going to come from someone you met that's a connection. Not you filling out an application on LinkedIn, right? Or any other website. And I think that that is so important for people to realize that your network is so important to your growth in this space.
Justin Barton 22:56
Correct. Yeah, and I've always heard it referred to as almost like a pyramid, right? At the bottom, there's so many positions, as you go up the pyramid, there are fewer and fewer positions. Like to say, you're not gonna get another SVP job most likely sending, you know, a resume through LinkedIn, but if you know somebody, and they're looking for somebody, and you're out in that space, they'll know your name. And they'll be like, "Oh, yeah, Justin, he's a person who'd be great for this job. We've seen the work he's done," or whoever, not necessarily me, but whoever it may be, that's what you're going to see is, you know, having those relationships and building rapport with people. And on a personal level, like when I told people at different conferences, it might be some about work, but it's a lot about life, it's a lot about family, it's getting to know people. And the same thing with the vendor partners, I always want to make sure that I have a great relationship with the vendor partners, because if something goes wrong, they know me personally, they know my family, family situation, or at least a little bit, and they're like, "Hey, we don't want to make sure that Justin's not going to be successful, we're gonna help him out." So it's always good. I rarely ever make a deal with someone who I haven't really broken bread with or met at a conference or something. It's very important for me to not have all the relationships in my life be transactional, I want to make sure I have a deeper connection with people. That's what I always tell people is make sure you have that connection.
Absolutely. Absolutely. All right, fun question that I love asking every guest that we have on the podcast, which is to give us the top three apps that you use on your phone. You can'y name email, calendar, or text messaging, because those are just too boring.
Justin Barton 24:25
Ya I know, I knew this question was coming and I didn't really think about it. So, I'm not using those apps, I do use them obviously, but you know, I'm a big political junkie. So I'm always on the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post. Those are the three ones that I probably use the most, just so I can know what's going out there. It gives me business, it gives me politics, it gives me national news. Those are the three that I kind of work with. I'm not really a gamer. I dabble with the social media, but I'm not an influencer. And Twitter is interesting for a lot of things that I like to personally look at, you know, like when I'm watching my sports teams and communicating and commiserating with the New York sports scenes when they have, you know, losses and injuries and a whole host of things that are not winning. That's great. But yeah, I'm really more of like, I'm a news junkie. That's why I'm in media. Those are the three that I probably start my day off with.
That's awesome. I'm going to ask you to give us one more, not in the sort of biz, politics, national news. When your mind is like "I want to unplug from that," what's maybe one more? Music? Social?
Justin Barton 25:36
Well, yeah, I use Spotify a lot.
There we go. (laughs)
Justin Barton 25:39
It's so weird, like, you get so focused on just the music that you put together, and you don't experience other music, that's out there. And because you know, I'm a New York City person, I rarely drive that often. So I'm not, even though I have Sirius XM, I don't use it as much. So my thing is really, you know, obviously, I use Spotify a lot. And then all the other apps [inaudible], so the Netflix's of the world, the Hulu's, the Apple+, etc. So I'm not so interesting in my app selection. It's like the broad apps that most people use, but those are the ones that I focus on normally.
That's cool. All right, Justin, thank you so much. And thanks for spending some time with us. Really enjoyed our conversation. And thank you for passing along your personal experiences and sharing that with others. A lot of times our listeners like to stay in touch and reach out to you, what are some easy ways that they can get in touch with you?
Justin Barton 26:33
You can get in touch with me on, I say Twitter, you know, I think it's Justin Barton NY, @JustinBartonNY and then certainly on LinkedIn just find Justin Barton, I work at Black Enterprise and certainly you can look me in there. Those are the two easiest places to get in touch with me. And certainly I can give my email address if we continue a conversation, but reach out to me on those platforms.
Excellent. Excellent. All right. Thanks very much, Justin Barton. Appreciate it. Everyone, thanks again for listening to another episode. You can find more episodes where you find all of your audio and video, just search Minority Report podcast and look for the logo. Thanks again.