Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on The Black Capitale, a Newslab Capstone Project.
WASHINGTON– Tina Wells, 37, is a young, global entrepreneur who possesses an infectious, sweet demeanor, but she’s more than just the woman behind her company, Buzz Marketing Group. She’s a daughter, sister, friend, author and far from the average businesswoman.
Though the makings of the Buzz Marketing Group started when Tina was 16-years-old, a year earlier, she was a product review editor of the then newspaper, The New Girls Times. “I got hired when I was 15 to be a product review editor and so I started reviewing all types of products from fashion and jewelry,” she told The Black Capitale. “I think my first review was for a jewelry company called High Intensity, but after [the review] I would send my reviews back to these companies.”
During this time, Tina solicited the help of her family and friends for marketing research. Will Wells, who refers to himself as “Tina’s loving younger brother”, told The Black Capitale that his sister offered him a job in the sixth grade. “She figured out quite early on that her first subjects [employees] were the people she knew that she could trust for objective opinions — they were her siblings and friends,” he said. “I would get my friends to do surveys for her and really just spread the word and building that first version of her base. A lot of that started at home.”
These surveys of various products would then be turned into marketing reports and sent back to the companies that the products came from. “I would say, ‘everyone take this survey’ and then I would average the scores and then literally in Microsoft Word you could create newsletters. I would make a newsletter template and that would be my report and I would give it to companies.”
This served as an outline for what would become The Buzz Marketing Group, but the company didn’t become refined until she went to Hood College in Frederick, Maryland. A call from a woman who received one of Tina’s reports shifted her career from an editor to a marketing entrepreneur.
“I got a call from a woman and she said, ‘I need to tell you something really important. I got just got your report and I want you to know that it’s ten times better than something I just paid $25,000 for,” she recalled. “The woman said, ‘you have a business called market research and I can’t tell you much else, you’ve just got to figure it out.’”
After that conversation, Tina went to her professor, who suggested she take her independent study course in the marketing and business fields. That course gave Tina the ingredients to strengthen the Buzz Marketing Group’s brand. “We spent 13 weeks doing business planning, looking at competitors, looking at pricing strategy and really figuring out how I was going to get real money to start this business,” she said. “That was really the beginning.”
Refining the BMG Brand
According to a recent study, there are around 1.3 million black women-owned businesses in the country. Buzz Marketing Group, a youth marketing agency specializing in research, events, and promotions, however, has over 30,000 clients worldwide. Tina credits press coverage, particularly her feature in the then, CosmoGirl! Magazine, for increasing her clientele. With the help of the press, Tina says that the company has been able to sustain itself for over 20 years.
“I got 15,000 applications from people all over the world who wanted to be trendsetters in our network [after the CosmoGirl! feature]. We ended up bringing on 9,000 of them and that was the start of our network and today we have 37,000 worldwide,” she said. The 37,000 network consists of influencers who are calledbuzzSpotters®, who aid in marketing research.
“You’ve got to think 17 years ago how important media coverage was,” she said. “I’m very fortunate to have that press that drove the momentum of the business and the story of the business as well.”
Since the Buzz Marketing Group’s inception, Tina has received many honors including Essence’s 40 Under 40, Billboard’s 30 Under 30, Fast Company‘s 100 Most Creative People in Business, and many more. In addition to being an entrepreneur, Tina is an author. She wrote “Chasing Youth Culture And Getting It Right” and the best-selling tween series “Mackenzie Blue.”
With many successes, awards and an ever-growing brand in the Buzz Marketing Group, the marketing maven said that things haven’t always been ‘fairy dust and rainbows’. Tina and her company have seen some hard times over the last two decades.
“The first big one [hardship] came in 2008, and what was interesting was, during that big financial crash, we were an established business, so we originally felt like, well we’re okay,” she said. “What I noticed, though, was that we signed tons of contracts and deals were flowing, but our clients were losing their lines of credit. So, where we really felt tension was the delay of people making payments.”
The financial crash of 2008 hit businesses from all over the globe. Many economists said that it was the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression in 1930. Though Buzz Marketing Group never took a hit in booking business deals, bill payment became a problem for them.
“It was a lack of ability for certain clients to actually pay their bills,” she said. “And it wasn’t just small companies. Most people thought it was just start-ups, but absolutely not. It also affected big companies who weren’t getting the credit lines that they were used to getting, so it became us as an independently owned shop, almost becoming a bank to certain clients and saying are we going to fund them to get certain projects done.”
Wells’ Good Reputation
Being able to stay balanced during the good times and bad, made Tina a household name. Finding people to brag about how amazing she is and the great work she’s done isn’t hard to find. Youth Entrepreneurship Council (YEC) CEO & Founder, Scott Gerber is one such person. He told The Black Capitale that she’s one of his favorite people. “I think she’s one of the most brilliant marketing minds of our generation,” he said. “She’s a giving person and she’s intelligent and I think she is someone who really understands relationships and what they mean. She’s an all-around great addition to our group.”
Dr. Renee Booth, CEO of consulting practice center, Leadership Solutions, has known Tina for nearly a decade and told The Black Capitale she met her when The Franklin Institute was recruiting the board of trustee members. “Tina was one of our top picks and I met her during the interview process to ensure she got on our board,” she said. “Her exuberance and enthusiasm were contagious. We knew wanted a new board to be reflective of the new generation and I love her energy and passion for what she did.”
Tina claims that her five siblings and parents, William and Marcia Wells, played a critical role in her success. Will, in fact, said growing up in the Wells’ family, was filled with a lot of love and encouragement from their parents and for Tina specifically, they allowed her to “explore” and “make mistakes”.
“When it came to my parents, anything was possible. We grew up in a household with encouragement and I think that was the most incredible gift they could have given us,” he said. “Our father was so encouraging and he would always push us along and mom, who is also an entrepreneur, was a bit more hands-on with her opinions.”
Speaking of their father, Tina said he passed down a mantra to her that helped her balance her career and personal life, as well as, get her through the tough times.
“My dad always had a saying that I find to be true. If I fail to plan, then I plan to fail, but I would always tell him ‘dad, plans change,’” she said, laughing. “I understand that fundamental of just having a plan and roadmap and saying this is where we’re going doesn’t mean you don’t change direction.”
Everyone surrounding Tina, from her family to her professional circle, was willing to drop everything in their busy schedules, just to discuss how great she is.
For example, Dr. Booth, who was on a 10-hour drive to her vacation destination, didn’t pass up the opportunity to praise Tina. “My experiences with her have been spectacular,” she said from her car. “She is the perfect example of somebody who has been raised well and she’s taken everything she’s got and put it to good use. I love Tina and will do anything for her. If Tina needs it, let me know and I’ll do it.”
Gerber, who consistently has back-to-back meetings, was all too eager to compliment Tina as well. “She’s always willing to lend a helping hand and give opportunities to our members and she’s just a genuine all-around good person.” And finally, Will, who was on tour in Berlin, Germany, made an international call to give love to his big sis. “I wouldn’t be standing here in Berlin, Germany on tour if it weren’t for her,” he said. “She’s just the sweetest and I think anybody that spends time with her can pick up on that and she just really cares. For me, I’ll really do anything for Tina.”