From Marketing Beats By Dre To Forging Hip-Hop Collaborations, Karen Civil Makes It Happen
Meet Karen Civil, the 29-year-old head of a small but growing empire in digital hip-hop media and strategic marketing. Civil has been carving her own path since her days at Hot 97 as FunkMaster Flex’s intern. She rose from that entry-level position to A&R coordinator to shaping the careers of up-and-coming rappers. Hailing from Elizabeth, N.J., Civil is also a force behind marketing campaigns for Beats By Dre, serving as the brand’s social media manager.
MN Business had a sit-and-chat with Civil about how she started and how she’s creating profitable brands for herself and some of hip-hop’s biggest names. She was mum about the Beats by Dre marketing that we’ll see at the upcoming Olympic Games, but we’ve heard some awesome things are in the works.
MadameNoire: Tell our readers who Karen Civil really is.
Karen Civil: I like to consider myself a Social New Wave Entrepreneur. I take heed to the digital media space, understanding what it is and how to help talent and products grow in it. I am currently the social media manager for Beats by Dre headphones, I have my own marketing company, Always Civil Enterprise, as well as run a hip-hop tastemaker site, and on online positive affirmation forum. I also have my own clothing line, Civil Clothing, and I am in the process of writing my first book.
MN: Is this what you dreamed of growing up?
KC: Actually growing up, my dream job was to be an on-air radio personality. I admired and wanted to be a lot like Angie Martinez. As I got older, I realized that I had a soft monotone voice and that being a DJ may not be the career for me. However I was so in love and infatuated with hip-hop that I still wanted to be apart and give back the community, so I decided to carve my own path and make my own lane.
MN: How did you start in the hip-hop community?
KC: While interning for [Funkmaster] Flex, I met Duke Da God. He invited me to work for Dipset. I taught them how to build a profitable e-commerce business and wrangled New Era to make a run of Dipset hats. At the time, I was also fortunate to bring on Max B and Wale as digital marketing clients. All was going well and one day it fell to pieces.
… In 2008, Max B was facing life in prison, Dipset split up, and my contract with Wale came to an end. All that I worked so hard for came to an end, and I needed to seriously figure my life out. I did the ‘right’ thing and got a corporate job on Wall Street. That did not last long. I felt like I was throwing all my years of hard work and relationship building down the toilet. I eventually quit, went and bought a camera, and built a website. That was the birth of KarenCivil.com.
MN: What were your intentions with KarenCivil.com?
KC: I don’t just post music and videos. With civilized talk, the fans are given the opportunity to delve into the lives and artistic brains of their favorite hip-hop artists. I also post about new artists before they drop anywhere else. I was the first to feature Nicki Minaj, J.Cole, and Drake on my website.
… I think the fans really enjoy the fact that they are getting an insider glimpse and getting to experience music before anybody else. Also, strategic branding and marketing of the website and myself was essential.
MN: Did you use those skills to apply to Beats by Dre? How did you get such a high-profile position?
KC: Actually, Beats approached me. They said they liked the way I branded myself online and wanted me to help them with their digital marketing and finding their online voice.
When I was brought on, Beats by Dre was at 300,000 Facebook followers. We are now at almost 6.5 million and was at 5 million not long after I was there… One month, we saw Facebook followers jump by 1 million when Lil Wayne wore his Beats headphones to the Grammys and listened to his album the whole time. Another time he wore his million-dollar custom made headphones to an NBA game. When Chad Ochocinco played for the Patriots, he gave out $50,000 worth of Beats headphones during the Super Bowl. You can’t pay for marketing like that; it’s priceless and now synonymous with the brand.