As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy” I had the pleasure of interviewing Erika Nuno.
Erika Nuno is the Co-Founder and CEO of Champion City, a creative marketing agency that provides culture crafted integrated marketing solutions to brands, products, and causes. Erika makes her mark as a thought leader in culture shifts by leading strategic initiatives for communities within the Hispanic, arts, entertainment, and environmental sectors.
With over 15 years of experience, Erika has directed campaigns for Grammy and Latin Grammy-winning artists with major music labels BMG, Sony, Universal Music, and legendary Fania Records; launched regional and global programs for brands like Jack Daniel’s, Apple, Verizon; provided cultural insights to major retailers; worked with City of Los Angeles Council Districts on community-building initiatives and producing arts and culture festivals, plus more.
As an arts champion, Nuno serves as speaker and advisor for various organizations. Her expertise has supported nonprofits such as ArtsForLA, NALAC, and La Plaza de Cultura y Artes. She is currently leading the development of a new arts initiative in Southeast Los Angeles.
Erika is an environmental advocate, and was featured in the anniversary of the iconic film with former Vice President Al Gore, “An Inconvenient Truth”.
Erika holds a BA in Economics and Business Management from Occidental College, where she serves as Board President of its Latinx Alumni Association — the largest affinity group of the college.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Unless we were going on vacation or visiting extended family, there seemed to be a radius clause to how far my parents explored outside of our inner-city neighborhood in Southeast Los Angeles. My outlets to the ‘outside world’ were books, TV, and the radio. As a kid, I wondered why I never saw anyone on TV that looked like me unless I tuned into a Spanish-speaking channel. I thought of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, and how we were so far removed from that even though we were just a few miles away. I wanted to understand why our community was primarily highlighted on the news around violence and hate. This fueled my interest and curiosity to learn what and who determined how we were portrayed in the media.
Years into college, I was intrigued by the field of marketing because it was the perfect cocktail for me — part business acumen, and part understanding lifestyle and culture. Plus, it would allow me to play into my curiosity of why people behave the way they do, theorize on trends, and then develop ways to influence their behavior. I knew marketing would give me the opportunity to highlight the missing stories from communities I was a part of. The marketing field has dramatically and continuously evolved due to the emergence of new technologies over the last 20 years, and requires some degree of excitement to constantly learn and explore. This is the key to my success and enthusiasm in doing what I do. I like exploring the mainstream versus the other, and why each may be perceived as it is.
I experienced this immediately as I took my first step in marketing via the music industry, where I had the pleasure of working with remarkable talent in front-of and behind the scenes with the largest record labels and music distributors, including BMG, Sony Latin Music, and Universal Music Group. It was a very different industry back then where CD’s were just starting to become obsolete, and I was on the team to convert it into a thriving digital business. Social media, ringtones, and online videos were unknown territory, yet I loved being at the forefront of developing the possibilities of these technologies to shape the entertainment landscape. I was often tasked with educating my peers and partners on the opportunities of marketing campaigns through these then new platforms. I also made sure to drive the importance of culture in marketing. My team had many successes including several Grammy wins, leading creative digital campaigns and new types of brand partnerships.
I loved music, but I wanted to challenge myself as a marketer by working within an agency and with other industries. I have since worked in just about every marketing field from digital, consumer-centric, to multi-level, and culture-specific. I’ve spanned industries from the largest retailers to telecomm, worked with various media platforms,health & wellness, and created campaigns that have served as templates for global initiatives.
I always had a socially-conscious drive in me to find ways in which to give back to my community through my work somehow. This is what catapulted me to entrepreneurship and developing a business driven by purpose. I carved my own path to be able to merge these worlds of marketing, entertainment and community.With my remarkable partner Eddie Cota, we began creative marketing agency, Champion City.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I continue to make mistakes. Sometimes they’re minor hiccups, but at times they’ve also been pivotal in whether we land a client or not. The key is to learn from them quickly.
One of the funniest mistakes I recall making is a time when I dialed into a business conference call. I was new to the position at the time, and was becoming acquainted with the amount of calls and meetings I had to attend, as well as my new colleagues. Some meetings were weekly, others monthly, and so on. Some seemed repetitive, and as many of us are experiencing now, some could have easily been an email. During this incident, I had just left a doctor’s appointment and was not in the office with the rest of the team. One person answered when I called in and it seemed like we were the only ones on, so I proceeded to have a rather personal conversation with them while we waited for others to join. It was my attempt at connecting and building a relationship given I was new. I began sharing my experience of the hassles of getting to the doctor’s office. In the middle of my story I heard a chuckle and interruption. That was obviously not the person I thought I was talking to. There were others on the call. One of my colleagues jumped in and thankfully stopped me to say they were on the call too! I was quite embarrassed. Not only was I sharing something that was not intended for the entire board room to hear, and maybe made some folks uncomfortable, but I was taking up unnecessary time on an important call with executives of the company. Most of the team was pretty relaxed about it, and at the end it was a funny incident that I was able to laugh about. But that didn’t take away from the fact it could have easily taken a wrong turn, and given a really bad impression to my new team.
Technology continues to evolve and so must we as we communicate with our peers, and conduct business. Now, this is less of an issue as new communication tools alert you when someone else enters a call or video chat., It’s more about having the appropriate technology so we don’t freeze with one eye closed during video chats. Or even moreso, learning to determine what conversations need to be over a call, video, or can simply be conducted over email. As we experience quarantine restrictions, we’re adjusting to new ways in which to communicate. This is going to continue to evolve, and we need to be ready and professional as can be with these changes. I no longer talk about my doctor visits on any call.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I’ve made reference to my admiration of author Sandra Cisneros as an inspiration in my career. While the themes she focuses her literature on may not exactly seem pertinent to my field — Chicanismo, border/immigration, social prejudice, feminism — ‘House on Mango Street’ was the first piece of literature that really helped me understand how to hone in on connecting with an audience. Not only was it the first time I felt someone was speaking to me and I could relate to, but she showed me that it was important to authentically understand a culture in order to tell a profound and captivating story. Cisneros broke barriers as the first female Mexican-American writer to have her work published by a mainstream publisher, and by doing so she proved that there was a need to tell other stories. And to me, it showed the importance culture has in connecting with others. These are learnings that I have applied to my approach to marketing.
Then there’s Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘The Tipping Point’. I was fascinated by his comparisons of the spread of an idea to the concept of epidemiology. This is going to be extremely relevant today and years to come as marketers analyze how to adjust messaging in the midst of a pandemic. There will continue to be many changes in the ways we approach marketing and advertising, and it is interesting to see that in relation to how we react to and control a pandemic’s repercussions.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Champion City is the result of the need to provide what we have coined culture crafted marketing strategies. The underlying purpose has always been to elevate communities and voices that are not being represented authentically and to support our clients in reaching them.. We believe that the experiences and privilege we have gained as professionals should be shared with our most vulnerable and under-represented communities. As we do so, we learn about their perspectives, interests, and other cultures that also need to be exposed. When we have opportunities to work with influential brands and entities that seek to reach these audiences, we groom these talented communities to be able to share their stories and seemingly benefit from the exposure. Ultimately, growing the opportunities for these communities to see themselves reflected at a larger scale.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
I remind myself to acknowledge my struggles, and my privilege. While I’ve overcome many barriers in my career to have a seat at board meetings, lead multi-million dollar campaigns, and now run a creative marketing agency with a variety of clients in government, NGO’s, and companies with billion dollar projects, I also have to remember that in many ways I now also carry a torch of power that must be shared. This dichotomy keeps me on my toes. It’s certainly been a challenge, personally and professionally, to maintain a sense of positivity and enthusiasm in what I do when I’m often confronted with rejection and adversity. That’s why I have to stop and celebrate the wins, however small they may be. Learn from the lessons taught, and acknowledge my growth through the process. But I also reflect on the fact that my success means I have an advantage, and the opportunity to open the door for others. For me, this is the biggest win in running a business. The ability to share my experience and provide opportunities to others.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Ensuring my parents were safe and staying healthy was one of my biggest worries during this time. They are relatively strong for their age (65+), but they also have a tendency to believe they are invincible. This might be one of the traits of being a resilient immigrant family that has endured many hardships. Mostly a good thing, but in the case of needing to ‘control’ their behaviors, not so much. As with many business owners, it’s been difficult to balance ensuring our families remain safe, while also thinking of how we would keep a sustainable business, and ourselves sane and positive. With my parents in particular, I had several conversations around the realities of coronavirus affecting the Latinx population at a higher rate, and ultimately it helped. My mom even made our family masks to wear around the neighborhood.
Personally, I started gardening and beautifying our property. It’s a project that I was able to get my family to participate in, and this seems to have created some happiness for everyone to stay home and stay safe.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We were on a really positive streak, growing our client base, our name, community impact, and team. I was conducting interviews to hire new team members just before the orders to quarantine were enacted in Los Angeles. I had to put that on hold quickly, as the uncertainty of the months to come were weighing over our heads. Some clients asked us to pause work, one had to end our contract because they also had to lay off staff, and others asked to amend our agreements. We had to develop new strategies for clients quickly, and ultimately our own.
Our business values include providing opportunities to underserved communities and creatives. Certainly, in unprecedented times as today is when the need to contribute our experience and resources is tenfold. Our response was to touch base with communities we serve, current and past clients, and our overall network to spread the word that we were here to help in whatever way we could. We’ve offered pro bono marketing consultations to small businesses and nonprofits who have been affected by the pandemic. It is to all our benefit to see these organizations thrive, and they need as many resources now more than ever. Our intention remains the same, to advance our clients’ mission and vision while having a positive impact on community and culture. Diversity & inclusion, creative innovation, and integrity drive us. It was a matter of adjusting our resources to advance these objectives. I know that all good intentions with a good business sense will ultimately pay off all round, although I’m also aware of the fact that as a Latinx-led small business our work ahead is immense.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
This is a time to go inwards. I’ve had several conversations with loved ones about what they may be experiencing at this time, and have heard a sense of loss and uncertainty that leads to many other negative emotions. The interesting thing about this pandemic, is that it is a global experience. We are all in it at the same time. That’s not to say that everyone’s experience is the same, because it is not. However, by understanding that we are collectively undergoing similar restrictions and challenges, the best thing one can do is think of and care for oneself. Do the internal work that needs healing. If we understand ourselves, our fears, our desires, and try to become more in tune with that little voice in our heads, then we are accomplishing something that will allow us to grow stronger. This is awareness. Becoming aware of those thoughts and emotions, acknowledging them, and deciding whether or not you want to continue to feel that, are big breakthroughs and accomplishments for oneself. Coming to terms with the fact that I have the power to control my thoughts has been a life-long challenge. I have to make a decision every day to focus on how I want the day to feel to me. It’s certainly challenging during this time, and I do find it important to acknowledge each and every emotion as negative as it may be. But it is up to each of us to take that energy and refocus on what one can and should do for our own self-fulfillment. For some it may mean volunteering to help distribute food, take an hour to read a book that’s been sitting on that shelf for months, seek financial resources, talk to a friend, encourage a family member, create an exercise schedule, or simply go outside and hug a tree.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
One of the biggest opportunities is the ability to rebuild our society with a greater sense of responsibility for a sustainable and vibrant economy. This means learning from history, and taking into account what has and has not worked in the past. It is not about reinstating old policies and going back to ‘normal’, but about analyzing what factors into having a healthy, prosperous economy that takes into account everyone’s livelihood. It’s about creating business with purpose.
For one, the environmental movement and green businesses need to be at the center of the economic development conversations. Climate change has not stopped because of the pandemic. While we may have witnessed news centered around clearer skies and cleaner waters, the fact remains that the climate continues to warm and glaciers are melting at greater percentages each year. Coal industries, meat packing companies, and an overwhelming amount of plastic continues to harm our planet. There are new clean technologies, tried and true ways to cultivate what our society cherishes that do not cause pollution or other hazards. Our economy can be rebuilt with a new green-conscious, that is profitable, sustainable, and provides greater opportunities to enrich people’s lives. This uninvited pause in our lives may just be the opportunity needed to reassess business models, develop what is needed to heal our planet, and create new career pathways to rebuild our economy.
Younger generations have already experienced a tremendous amount of grief. They’ve lived through 9/11, wars, gun violence, racist confrontations, a recession, climate change, and now a pandemic and a second recession. All of this adversity can cause extreme reactions. From depression, to making people much stronger and innovative. Because we have technologies that allow us to stay connected, we have the opportunity to share everything from feelings to ideas of how to create a brighter future. It is through social media that social justice initiatives have come to the forefront of conversations, gained exposure, and advanced opportunities to regulate injustices with movements like Black Lives Matter and #metoo. We are coming to the realities of what living paycheck to paycheck looks like across America. It’s devastating to see so many industries and its workers helpless. I anticipate the next social movement being focused on reforming employee rights and benefits, which will also create jobs.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
We are undergoing a major culture shift. A culture shift is witnessed when people’s behaviors, language, and ways of being dramatically change. We may not see it at first, but that adjustment causes a change to what we believe, and how we interact with the world at large. Adapting to how we experience going to a restaurant or a concert is going to take some time. It will not be the same, it will be an experience compressed by the inability to completely roam free without protection (masks or perhaps a vaccine).
Because of this change, we will see that while some people will refrain from accepting the regulations, and not abide by new rules, those that are following the safety measures will be even more circumspect to the situation, and the people that they may find themselves having to interact with. Given that during this quarantine we have been physically interacting only with those that we live with, people we have the closest next physical interaction with are those deemed essential workers. They will be our first example of the effects of this pandemic. As we interact with them, we’ll begin to shape the emotional behaviors of a new culture. Just as we interact with others over zooms, DMs and phone calls, it will all create a new culture with the probability of a new way to communicate all around. Overall, I see this culture shift as something that will define how we communicate with each other, and for marketers specifically, how we innovate how to engage with our audiences.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Diversity and inclusion are at the core of our values at Champion City. With the American economy being drastically impacted, and Latinx and Black folks at the top of those most affected by this pandemic, I find it necessary to continue to ensure that D&I initiatives continue to be key in decision-making at businesses. As a business owner that is advising clients on marketing strategies and business development, it is my responsibility to ensure that this conversation is top of mind, and not human resource rhetoric. I want to make sure that we continue to work with clients that feel strongly about expressing this message, as well as introduce others to the significance of this need. I believe that in seeking to fill this larger social need, we will also grow our business as culture leaders in the marketing space.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I encourage others to revisit their mission. Why did you start the business that you did? Reflect on those feelings and purpose. Are you still on track, does it need to be revised given our current situation, or do you need to rethink what you are doing entirely. These are difficult questions, but the sooner you get to the truth of those answers, the sooner you’ll be able to make the appropriate moves that will get you excited and ready to conquer what’s to come. Also, don’t be afraid to ask others what they are doing, how they are dealing with the situation, and share what you are experiencing. Vulnerability is a strength. We are all going through our ups and downs in various ways, and sharing those sentiments can draw you closer to those that can support you in your journey as a business owner.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have a little notebook I keep on the side of my bed for quotes, brief thoughts, and good words in general that captivate me somehow. When I come across something inspirational or thought-provoking, I write it down so I can reflect on it again. The first quote I have in my current book is the chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” I’ve always liked this quote. It’s a reminder that while I cannot change the past, it is never too late to start something new, cultivate it, and watch it grow much beyond me. I started Champion City almost 5 years ago with my partner. I really hadn’t considered the word entrepreneur next to my name, but when it all was developing, I realized entrepreneurship was in me the whole time. I’ve been creating new initiatives throughout my entire career. I just took a different approach this time.
How can our readers further follow your work?
My creative marketing agency can be found at championcity.la
To learn more about me, go to erikanuno.com or find me on social media as @soynuno.