I recently had a conversation with Bem Joiner, a co-founder of Atlanta Influences Everything (AIE). AIE is a brand & creative consultancy focused on combining civic, corporate and cultural understanding to harness the influence of Atlanta’s culture to do good and connect communities. They also make dope shirts. Bem specializes in perspective. During our conversation he stress tested ideas against other cases to improve his understanding. It was fascinating to hear him examine his worlds through this. My favorite part of our conversation was speaking on the future of the city, his opinions on workforce development & his ideas on education.
Bem has a unique perspective on the Atlanta’s culture. He’s been involved with the cultural scene for years and uses this as his business’ moat. When describing Atlanta culture he rattled off a 2 Chainz lyric from the song Falcons Braves Hawks, “you fuckin wit us, we fuckin wit you.” His takeaway, “To do well in Atlanta you don’t have to change anything. We will accept you for who you are. One of my partners talks about how it’s like the early days of Gangs in New York.” We know you aren’t here forever, but love you because you showed up. This helps create a creative dynamic, everyone has a story and wants to tell it. To survive in a city like Berlin or New York you have to become a local; Atlanta celebrates you for who you are. This lets Atlanta Influence Everything. “It’s a sentence that justifies itself, but its up to the wearer.” Because we accept everyone, regardless of color or creed Atlanta is the home of urban culture. which he sees as one of the
The 3 C’s as he refers to them are what makes the city incredible and unique. They are the three pillars the city stands on; Civics, Corporations and Culture. The Civil Rights Movement was at home in Atlanta. As Bem pointed out, there are very few mythical figures in humanity; people that do something so special we herald them as superheros. Ghandi, Mandela and our own Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was the flag bearer for a crucial movement in American history and he called Atlanta home. Because of this history of standing up for each others rights, Atlanta proper is a city that built on civics. In Atlanta everyone . It is the first major southern city to have elected a black mayor. Former President Jimmy Carter adopted Atlanta as his home, the cities leadership figures extend to the top. The next pillar comes from the Corporations in the city; famously the worlds most recognizable brand, Coca Cola. “The downtown Atlanta area is so small, that when you think about the fact that two of the worlds biggest brands, Coke & Dr. King, are from the same place you have to wonder if there is something special here.” Corporate growth has translated to the population, and allowed business to thrive. Finally, Atlanta is the home of Urban Culture. Atlanta is known for its blossoming arts & culture scene, and is the home of trap music. “Here we start & remix things. Everyone brings themselves & the city gives them a place to thrive.” Bem expanded on this thought by speaking on how deeply the city influences the world. Everything from “Fuck 12,” to your favorite rappers are from Atlanta.
The version of best version of America embraces and reflects urban culture centers. When you think about amazing times in America a lot of people think about the 1920’s. The culture was influenced by amazing Black artists through the Harlem Renaissance. While there was a lot wrong at the time particularly in the south, there are parallels drawn to today and a century ago. Some of the most prolific creators of both eras are black; Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington to Andre 3000 and Love Renaissance. Among the cities most important exports is Culture. The an intangible measure of creative output and influence. He immediately posed the question, “How do you compensate a city for its influence and let a city cash its social capital checks?” Atlanta is number one city for income inequality, with only 4% upward mobility, the rate of upward movement from one social class to another. There is a massive discrepancy between what the city is producing and what it’s receiving in return. “Detroit had success because it could count the number of cars coming off its production line.” Atlanta is still seen by some as a second class city because of its inability to use its assets. He challenged me to look up #atlanta and ask myself if what I see is a reflection of my city. “Social Media gives us the opportunity to express what’s happening here, all the culture & entrepreneurship generated within the city, but that’s not what we see.” The culture is moving faster than the establishment. Atlanta is a cultural hub that lost control over its narrative. Nashville provides an excellent example for using culture as a selling point. As soon as you’re in the city you understand the vibe and know that you’re in the home of country music.
Corporate Atlanta is one of the drivers of the cities growth. It’s being fueled in part by one of the hot startup scenes in the country. Atlanta startups tend to specialize in B2B and fin tech business, which often times aren’t the sexiest industry ever. Roughly 70% of all transactions in the US are processed in Atlanta, almost all your money flows through Atlanta. Our biggest tech community Atlanta Tech Village has helped over 300 startups raise over 900 million dollars to build their businesses. Several companies like Kabbage, which provides fast & easy loans to small businesses, have reached unicorn status (a privately held company with a valuation of over 1 billion dollars) while being based in the city. These growing companies have an incredible talent pool with schools like Morehouse, Spelman, Emory and Georgia Tech all located in the city. Along with development of local talent, Atlanta provides transplants from New York, Los Angeles and Silicon Valley an affordable tech forward city to come to. Bem described the city as a rising star in the startup scene because of the alignment of all these factors and wants to ensure that city takes advantage of this growth opportunity. However he sees the movement of temporary workers as a challenge to be over come. “The city doesn’t benefit from people moving in & out of the city… How can we create an economy around people moving in & out of the city?”
Bem is supporter of controlling the narrative, “everyone has the ability to say or do something then upload it. That gets eyeballs and eyeballs shift narratives.” This statement really shocked me, while it seems like such an obvious truth it isn’t one that I would have been able to distill on my own. I asked him to expand on what his background as a marketer has taught him about changing peoples perspectives. “You can always get older people interested by proving what you’re doing directly helps their kids. People love their tehm more than anything and if you can show how something benefits kids in the short and long term, your campaign will work. Everything is emotionally based. It’s about leveraging cultural influence to build a better future.” I’ve always looked at marketing as this big abstract concept that doesn’t really have a definition, this has become my working definition of what marketing is. He also gave me what seemed like the golden ticket, “there is so much bullshit out there & people are good at sniffing it out. You have to be authentic.”
“Watch the D1 Enterprise commercials. How do you go from being around a certain sport all day every day and not get involved in a surrounding industry.” Why are these guys who are some of the best athletes in the country working for a car rental company and not developing their sport even more. He opened my eyes to how athletes are groomed to only fit a very particular set of roles in the entire industry. You spend years being groomed to coach and play but aren’t often given the opportunity to get involved in the industry of sports. “Sell the business of the culture everyone loves, instead of teaching people that talent is the only position in an industry.” Mav Carter’s recent rise to prominence is so important because of this. Mav Carter is LeBron James’ childhood best friend and business manager, he is the one who is making a lot of the moves that are making LeBron such a powerful cultural icon. When kids are presented with the immensely talented like Cam Newton the idea that the most talented are the ones who make it is further drilled into their heads. Why not show off the teachable skills that support the industries in unexpected ways.
While our conversation wound down I asked Bem if he had any advice for me. He did, and it was awesome. “After 25 life moves fast, you have to figure out how to be an adult but keep your youthful nature.” To me it seems like he’s done an excellent job of doing this, he seems to have no fear of others opinions and yet has the empathy to walk miles in the shoes of others.