Chester Sharp launched his creative agency in 2015 with a focus on in-person experiences and interactions — both online and in the real world — that would promote brands and bring people together. And that was going extremely well.
"With the pandemic, you really kind of had to go back to the drawing board and adjust and figure things out, but that's part of being a business owner," says Sharp, who founded Sharp Creative after careers in sales and events management.
With their experiential marketing plans for the year largely scuttled, Sharp's team moved fast to focus on social media and online content, community service messaging and streaming platforms to share their clients' messages about pandemic response. What started as a hurdle became an opportunity, Sharp says.
"We've actually grown, we've had our biggest year," Sharp says. "It's good, but also we realize we're fortunate. We're blessed to be in this position."
Sharp is from Cleveland, Tennessee, and grew up watching his entrepreneurial parents build their businesses and invest in their community. In developing his creative agency through the last few years, Sharp has also encouraged the people on his team to chase their own dreams.
"I tell everyone, you've got to own something," he says.
Jarrett McGhee, vice president and one of Sharp's earliest partners in the agency, says empowering people is essential to the success of the business. Everyone at the agency is also working on developing their own interrelated businesses, he says.
"We're building platforms for everyone inside of Sharp," McGhee says.
With seven employees and plans to grow, the agency has people in Chattanooga and Atlanta, where Sharp himself lives with his two children. Sharp's clients include BMW dealerships across the region, Chick-fil-a, Coca-Cola, Mercedes and Verizon, among others.
"Lots of creatives just really need the opportunity," Sharp says. "Because we have these established relationships, we're able to create opportunities for others who wouldn't have the opportunity to work with these types of brands. We're able to be in this position because someone did it for us."
Sharp keeps his eye on social media, and connects with photographers, videographers and designers whose work he admires, with the goal of creating opportunities for people of color and Black creators.
"The marketplace is changing, there are so many different cultures, different subcultures, and it's no longer one-size-fits-all," he says. "There are so many talented creatives and strategists and a lot of the most viral movements and creative ideas don't necessarily come from people who went school for marketing or branding.
"If they are leading the culture and leading the trends, why not put them in a position of leadership?"
Aaron Thomas, director of photography for the agency, got Sharp's attention when he liked a picture the group posted on Instagram.
* Business: Sharp Creative Agency, online at sharpcreativeagency.com
* Personal: Sharp, a native of Cleveland, Tennessee, lives in Atlanta with his 14-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son
"I just happened to follow them, and I got an email about setting up a meeting," Thomas says. "I thought it was someone trying to sell me something."
Myron Douglas, lead photographer for the agency, got a similar cold call after Sharp saw some work Douglas had done for a mutual friend.
"He saw photos I did and reached out to me," Douglas says. "I was like, who is this guy?"
Sharp says that mission — creating community and growing opportunity — is the most fulfilling thing about owning and growing his business.
"For minorities, and I speak as an African American, it's part of our culture," he says. "We realize what our ancestors and forefathers had to go through to put us in this position. They fought for something they never got to see. We have to not only kind of be trailblazers, but have to go back and create opportunity for others."