Former Warner Music Executive Tatia Adams Fox Shares Model to Success (Interview)

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By Cierra Johnson

Former executive of Warner Music/ADA, marketing veteran, and entrepreneur Tatia Adams Fox recently stopped by Berklee and spoke at a panel organized and hosted by Diversity in the Music Industry. Fox was the first and highest ranking female executive at Warner Music/ADA, and she is currently the President and Founder of the New School of Etiquette, a social intelligence and leadership program for children ages 6 and older. She has held multiple executive positions in the past in the area of sales, marketing, and promotions at various Fortune 500 companies including Rodale Press, MTV Networks, Playboy Enterprises, Motown Records, and Universal Music Group.

I had the pleasure of interviewing her for the After Berklee Panel Series: Diversity In The Music Industry, where she talked to us about how to tailor an effective plan for success in business and music, how she pursued her passions to become successful, and her biggest piece of advice for graduating seniors.

Berklee Groove: What school did you attend and what was your major/area of focus?

Tatia Adams Fox: For undergraduate I attended Savannah State University and I majored in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing. I also have a bachelors in Mass Communications with a concentration in Public Relations in marketing, so a dual undergrad degree. And my graduate degree in Integrated Marketing is from Roosevelt University in Chicago.

BG: Did you end up following the path you originally planned for?

TAF: Yes and no. From the age of 7, I always knew that I wanted to work for a black publication. Growing up I was very aware going into the grocery stores, going to the magazine aisle, and being into hair and makeup. I wouldn’t see anyone that looked like me on the teen magazines. I would think, “Why is that?” I remember thinking at the age of 7, “I’m going to work for a black magazine,” and that planted a seed in me to major in journalism, mass communication, and marketing with the sole purpose of getting a job at a magazine, preferably Ebony or Essence. Long story short, I planned a path because my first job ended up being at Heart and Soul magazine. It was an African American magazine and when I saw it, it was the last month of my last year before graduation. And when I saw it, it was the first issue. However, you can plan out your life, but unexpected things happen. From there I went to MTV, and after I left MTV I felt I reached my plateau. My goal was essentially to get to New York. There were certain goals that I had and I literally wrote down a list of companies that I said I wanted to work for. And knock on wood I have worked for every single company I said I wanted to work for.

BG: Can you speak about your process a little more? So that we as students can possibly have a model to look at?

TAF: I think that everybody has a different process. I think that when you talk to people like me, or anybody who may appear to have a blueprint, you take bits and pieces of it and you always say, “Does this feel right for me?” And you use that and create your own path. Just because it works for one person doesn’t mean it’s going to work for someone else. But if you use it as a guiding point then there are lessons in how someone handles certain situations. I always say, anyone could have done exactly what I did, but it’s how I reacted to my situations when I did it. The short answer is this: Decide what it is that you want, write it down, and work backwards from that. When you decide what you want, ask yourself, “How long do I want to take to get there?” Then you give yourself a timeline, something I innately did. Be very specific to the goal you want because it keeps you focused. And when you work backwards from that, everything that you do every day, if it does not contribute to the end goal, the question is: “Why are you doing it?” If you’re persistent in everything you do that works towards the end goal, it’s filtering. If you don’t know, then redirect. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you’re supposed to. When you do the blueprint, be very specific in what the goal is, work backwards from that plan, and by working backwards that means decide what steps you need to take and execute that filtering system we talked about. Does that make sense?

BG: Yes it does, and that was a great answer. Thank you so much! My next question is on that track as well. In your opinion, what are the core aspects of marketing?

TAF: The first is knowing your audience. The second is, why is your product or service unique? And third is to remain unique to whatever the brand or service is there for.

BG: Why do you think you were so successful at marketing for large companies such as MTV, Warner Music, etc.?

TAF: I know that I was successful in terms of marketing because I knew my audience. I’m going to try and do a parallel. The parallel is this: myself as a marketer. The other parallel is: myself as an employee to a company. The company wants to know that the employee understands their needs and goals. That’s the same as the marketer understanding the audiences’ needs. Know what the company stands for and give them what they want, and at the same time, be able to see what they lack and see how you can fill the void. How can I make things different? That’s number two. My approach has always been very analytical and of substance, and it think that has always given me a really strong upper hand. I quantify everything. It was never me sitting in a meeting saying “I feel like we should do this,” or “I feel like this is a great idea because it worked for someone else.” I also lay out a plan that is fail-proof. It’s also important to understand the team you’re working with and the strengths that everyone has. The best thing you can do in terms of being a successful person, not just a marketer, is having a strong team around you, trusting them, and delegating. It’s knowing how to deal with people, it’s knowing how to empower them, how to use their assets to benefit the entire team, and at the end of the day, it’s super serving whatever the end goal is. And know that if something doesn’t work, change it fast. Don’t dwell on it.

BG: What are some of your proudest career moments so far? Can you elaborate on the circumstances that led up to those moments?

TAF: They’ve all been great! Every time I get that “Yes” to a job. Because the “Yes” to a job is always validation for anyone. It’s saying, “You approve of me, you think I’m worthy of working for your company.” In terms of a story, I’ll tell you about Playboy. When I left MTV, I Googled, “Top 10 brands in America and in the world”. Because while working at MTV, I believe they were the 12th most recognized brand in the world. I thought, “Where do you go from MTV?” I wrote down every company that had brand awareness around the world. I remember going Playboy, and thinking, “Now that’s interesting, let me see if they’re hiring!” Lo and behold, I Googled them and on May 12, 1999, they were looking for a college marketing manager, must live within 5 mile radius of 5th avenue in New York and please no phone calls. I was in Chicago, and I called them. I said, “Hi, I know you said no phone calls but I’m going to be in New York next week, and I would love to stop by and drop off my resume.” They said, “Ma’am we said no phone calls.” So I said, “No problem,” and did my research to find out who the hiring manager was, did a presentation, and went to Playboy. I asked the HR person specific questions that I knew she couldn’t answer so she would have to get the hiring person, and I knew who it was. She walked me over to the hiring person, and she said, “I can’t talk to you right now, but we will send for you in a week if you can come back.” They gave me a call after the interview and said, “We want to offer you the job. We will relocate you and you can start whenever you want to.” I was in grad school at the time and they said, “We will wait for you.” They could have hired anybody in New York, but they took a chance on someone from Chicago. They said they weren’t going to relocate but they did. That to me was like, you broke through the clutter of New York! Every job thereafter I pursued. The highlight is always getting that call. Back in the day, every time you tried to take a different approach to make yourself stand out and end up getting the call, it made a world of difference.

BG: How important is social intelligence when working in the music business?

TAF: I think good business etiquette is important in anything, not just in the music industry. Social intelligence is really just being aware of the people you’re dealing with and being in a place of open-mindedness where you really want to listen to them and absorb everything they’re saying. Pay attention to the person. The words they choose, the words they choose not to use, how they say something, how their voices may deflect. That to me is something I’ve always done because I like people. So I listen with intent. When I say, “How are you,” people know that I really mean it and I listen. That resonates with people. No one likes to work with anyone they don’t like. So anyone who is good with people is a plus. Now imagine that you’re good with people and you’re dope as hell at what you do! That combination is phenomenal! Then you can give them what they need from a technical aspect, but they still like you as a person. Social intelligence is very important. There’s two things that everyone should remember when climbing the corporate ladder. The first is: Treat everyone the way you want to be treated, and the second is to remember number one. From the intern to the CEO, treat them accordingly. So when I ask the janitor, “How are you?” I listen.

BG: What are two pieces of advice you would give college students graduating in 2016?

TAF: Pursue your passion. We’re growing up in a generation now where education is very important, but so are interests and hobbies. When you find things you are genuinely interested in, you can make a living doing that. The education supports that. I would tell someone graduating in 2016, yes you’re going to get this degree and that’s wonderful, however really hone in on what your passions are. Anyone can be an entrepreneur, but if you’re not comfortable with that, then align yourself with companies that speak to who you are and where your interests lie. Manifest your interests. Whatever you think you want to do today, it will change in a few years. But master it now because it will help you get to the next level. Stay true to your interests and perfect whatever technical expertise you’re learning in school and combine the two, and as you combine the two, find companies that will give you the real life experience.

tatia group photo

Diversity in the Music Industry leaders pose with panelists, including Tatia Adams Fox (far right).