Episode 167: Pam Zapata, CEO at Society 18

Like many entrepreneurs, Pam Zapata saw a need and decided to fill it. As an expert in influencer marketing and the CEO at Society 18, Pam is passionately bridging the gap between what’s been historically referred to as multicultural marketing and general marketing, helping companies reach diverse influencer partners, and vice versa.

This episode focuses on important topics of tokenism, diversity, and racial inequality.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty®. Hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHey everybody. It's Jodi Katz your host of Where Brains Meet Beauty® Podcast. Thanks so much for tuning in. This week's episode features Pam Zapata. She's the founder of Society Eighteen and if you missed last week's episode it featured Veronique Gabai. She's the CEO and founder of Veronique Gabai. Thanks for tuning in.

Hey everybody. Welcome back to the show. I'm so excited to be here with Pam Zapata. She is the founder of Society Eighteen. Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty®.
Pam ZapataThank you for having me. I'm excited.
Jodi KatzI'm so excited to get to see your face Pam. We've been talking and I know you've been talking with my team because we do work with you through the agency and I'm so excited to get to know you better.
Pam ZapataYeah, likewise.
Jodi KatzYou said something to me really interesting when we had our intake call and I wrote it down. You said sometimes you feel like you're playing whack a mole.
Pam ZapataYes.
Jodi KatzTell me what about your job is like a game of whack a mole.
Pam ZapataI think the hardest part of being an entrepreneur and running your own business is that you wear a lot of hats. It's like the best and the worst part, right? You get to do a lot of things but I feel like with that comes a lot of responsibilities and these things are also a cross of various different areas that you may not be as comfortable with. Whether it's accounting or bookkeeping or legal, the running of the business is a lot and then also the day to day management of the business. Just making sure things are happening, running a management agency. There's a lot of obviously incoming and outgoing negotiations happening, contracts, campaign management, things like that. I feel like every day is like something different, there's a different campaign going live. Social media's another thing we have to really focus on.

I feel like there's so many different things that on a day to day basis have to kind of flow. I feel like every day it's like, "Okay, what are we doing today? Are we doing this? Is this going live? What post has to happen? What caption do we need to put together? Which vertical are we posting on today? LinkedIn? Instagram? Facebook? There's just a lot of different hats you get to wear which is great but also I do feel like I'm playing whack a mole every day because if it's not one thing it's another. I've definitely solidified my problem solving skills because every day is just like, all right. There's a problem. What's the solution? How do we resolve? Yeah, it's part of the business but I love it.
Jodi KatzTell us, what is Society Eighteen?
Pam ZapataSociety Eighteen is a multi ethnic, multicultural management agency so we represent a roster of about 15 influencers of all races, ethnicities, cultures, religions, body types, hair textures. I really wanted to create an agency... What I realized after... Just for some background, after working in this industry for about 10 years is that there was a lot of influencers that weren't really negotiating deal terms, they didn't really understand the ins and outs of influencer marketing. Working on the brand side for as long as I have been, I just realized I wanted to switch over and become a resource to these influencers, especially I think influencers of color who were being underrepresented and didn't really understand their value.

I launched Society Eighteen about a year ago to really be a resource to a lot of the women that I felt like were being underrepresented, weren't really negotiating, didn't understand the value. Yeah, it's been a year about a month ago today almost and it's been great.
Jodi KatzPam, when I look back at your career journey, it's basically a peek into my TV watching habits because you've done so much in TV. You worked for E News, which is so cool. You worked in Ryan Seacrest Productions, which makes a lot of the reality TV shows I watch. Let's go back in time when you were in high school let's say, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Pam ZapataIn high school I actually did a lot of pageants and I remember after doing pageants I was invited to go do an interview at a local TV station and I saw a cameras and the lights and I was so excited and after high school I realized, "Okay, I want to work in this industry with... I didn't really know what it was. I thought I wanted to be on camera because I was like, "Yeah, I've been in front of the camera or on stage doing all of these pageants for so many years that I felt like that was just something that would be just an easy transition for me. I studied broadcast journalism. I went to Emerson College with a minor in marketing and PR and advertising and realized I didn't really love being on camera as much as I thought I was going to. The best part of college is that I got to get a lot of hands on experience through my internship so I interned... My internships... I did eight internships in college because I was just making sure that I did everything I could and was getting my money's worth.

Did a pre-production internship at ESPN, worked at the local PBS station, worked at Disney Channel and their casting and talent relations department, worked at Univision in their social media department. I had all of these internships in different sectors of the business because I really wanted to understand how everything kind of aligns but also trying to figure out what it is that I really wanted to do so went from Boston to LA, did a couple other internships out there and then ended up at Ryan Seacrest which is where I got my first job out of college which was amazing.
Jodi KatzCan we just go back a second to talk about pageants in high school. How did you get into the pageant world?
Pam ZapataMy older sister always did it. We had a local pageant in our town. It would be a week long festival where we just celebrate our culture and it would be all Latinos in the community just kind of celebrating so it would be like live performances and things like that. Every year they would have a local pageant where there would be a queen of the festival. That was my first experience in pageantry but it was fun. I think now I think I have such a different perspective on pageants but I feel like at the time the confidence that it gave me and the interviewing skills and everything I pulled from it I think has really helped me throughout my career so I see the value in them.

From there I did Miss Massachusetts and all of these other local pageants, which was great because like I said, I think there's a lot of value and a lot of good training that once you stand on stage in a two piece swimsuit I feel like you can do anything. It really builds your confidence and it kind of helped me really get to a point to where I was like, "If I can get in really good shape and do this with my body and get my mind and my mindset and just get to a point where I feel like I'm solid and I can do anything," I really felt like I could anything. I think it was a really great kind of way to I guess kickstart my entertainment industry career I guess.
Jodi KatzYeah, I think it really ties into essentially participants in reality TV shows is not that different, right? They have a story to tell and they have to bridge the gap between telling it their own way and also telling it for the medium that they're in. That's really what you're doing in pageants, right?
Pam ZapataYeah.
Jodi KatzTrying to tell your story in the medium that you have at hand. That's so cool. I imagine your parents house has so many different photos of you and your sister in sparkly dresses.
Pam ZapataYeah, there's still trophies in my mom's house. The crown is still in the glass enclosed bin. It's hilarious when I go home. I'm like, "Mommy, why do you still have these up?" She's like, "No, their memories." I'm like, "I know," but it's crazy. We still have-
Jodi KatzWe need a picture of the crown Pam for social media.
Pam ZapataIt was the local town pageant was the biggest crown I think. It was nine inches high and by the end of the week the top of the crown was folded back because I kept walking into things with it because I didn't realize how high it was. In the car, every time I would do anything so it kind of started bending backwards.
Jodi KatzYou weren't just in pageants, you were the queen of the festival?
Pam ZapataOh yeah, I did win that one, yeah. I did. No, I was the queen. I was the queen for... It was a week long but there was events throughout the year that I had to attend so yes it was. It was a scholarship too so that was really nice and helpful for me.
Jodi KatzThat's so fun. Okay, so let's talk about life in behind the scenes of reality TV because you talked about Shahs of Sunset so basically it was channel E or Bravo programming which is the only TV that I watch other than Netflix. What was the most interesting things that you learned behind the scenes making these shows happen?
Pam ZapataI think going back to your point is that everyone has a story and so obviously in college I studied broadcast journalism and I was just always interested in the story, people's stories, people's backgrounds, what motivates them and I think it really working in reality TV for so long, it just really helped... It helped me find my way into this industry in a way that I was like, "Oh I really care." What is your background? Where do you come from? What are your struggles? We all have a story so I think it was great to learn how TV shows are made, how characters are built, even though their characters, they're still people. What makes them relatable? What makes them likable or not likable? What does their social circle look like? How do we build stories around them?

Just really understanding the format of reality TV in general and how characters are inserted for different reasons. Supporting characters helping tell the story. I think for me that was the most interesting piece. What I really enjoyed when I was casting for Shahs was that I was able to help elevate someone's story or elevate someone's career. That's kind of when I found the passion with working with talent, whether it's influencer or reality or scripted, I think elevating someone and giving them a platform and either tell their story or promote their business I thought was really powerful.
Jodi KatzWhen you would cast for shows, were people really receptive to the idea of putting their lives on TV when they're not the producer?
Pam ZapataI think it was... We got different reactions. Some people wanted to be a star of the show, some people just wanted attention. There were some people I wasn't interested in that were always just trying to... When I would go out and actually try to cast for these shows they would just do... Try to be this grand person so that their personality would shine and that could be effective but sometimes it's really talking to the people that maybe not be as vocal but have those really interesting stories. Sometimes people were open but what we found is that sometimes the people that were not as open were the ones that you had to really pull information from and kind of really pull their stories from were the most impactful and powerful. There are some people that just want to be reality TV stars. That's great but you just have to have... You have to be open and you have to be relatable and you have to have a story to tell.
Jodi KatzDo you watch any reality TV today?
Pam ZapataReality TV took up the first five to seven years of my career and so I don't really watch. I feel like I know too much now. I've seen it all. Working on the network side and on the production company side, I feel like I've seen too much. I know too much and so I can't really get the joy that I used to get when I used to watch them because I was like, "Oh, this is awesome." Now that I've been in it, I'm like, "Oh, I would prefer to kind of get lost in a scripted series." That for me is more of an escape where I remember reality TV always felt like work. I was like, "I don't want to watch this." I've done that, I've been there. It's all good. I appreciate it because I know it can provide value and people love it so because it's an escape at the end of the day. I just prefer scripted nowadays.
Jodi KatzRight. For me, because I don't know a lot about it, I watch that show Unreal. Did you ever see that show? It was scripted.
Pam ZapataI remember it yeah.
Jodi KatzIt was like behind the scenes of a Bachelor kind of show.
Pam ZapataWas that the Lifetime one?
Jodi KatzI think it was on Lifetime. It was behind the scenes of The Bachelor-ish kind of show. For me, those shows are such an escape because in my daily life I attempt to be very thoughtful and measured, right? I'm thoughtful and measured with my coworkers, I'm thoughtful and measured with my clients, I'm thoughtful and measured with my husband, most of the time with my kids. Sometimes not always. When I watch these shows, people really thinking about others or their end goals at all, right? There's this freedom that I see in them behaving badly. I'm choosing not to behave badly because I know that's not going to get me to my goals but sometimes I want to throw a temper tantrum, right? I get to do that a little bit through the behavior that I see in these shows. That's why they resonate with me so much because I'm not going to throw the dish, I'm not going to scream at somebody. There's a little bit of a release that I get from watching other people behave poorly.
Pam ZapataI get that.
Jodi KatzI also love their relationships as well.
Pam ZapataNo, I totally get that. You're kind of living vicariously. You're like, "If I could get away with throwing a plate across the table or smacking someone in the face, I would but I can't do that so I'll get it through them." I totally get that.
Jodi KatzRight, who doesn't fantasize about throwing a plate against the wall. I actually don't but just the ability to do it, right that freedom. I think that there's so much joy that I get out of the shows because it's really the opposite of the way that I live my life and sometimes I need to release that. Okay, let's move on from reality TV because then you built a career out of management talent management which is when you started your own company. You worked for other agencies and talent management. What did you learn at those other agencies that inform the way you want to run your company now?
Pam ZapataI think after working period after 10 years I've worked at places that did it right, I've worked at places that did it wrong. I've always taken note of, if I were the boss I would do this or I would put this process in place. I've always kept a mental note of how I would want to run things. I think after I left E is when I dove into the talent management space. I worked at Style Hall for a little bit in the talent management space and then I went to this startup called Sweetie High and created their Gen Z influencer studio and did a lot of their innovative marketing and working at a startup really kind of helped invigorate that excitement and passion of, "Wait, I can actually build something." I built it under this umbrella but I could kind of build something on my own one day."

That was really powerful for me and then I moved to New York, I worked at a couple of agencies out here. Just really understanding the influencer landscape. Everything from putting together a strategy to influencer casting and procurement and negotiations and contracts and kind of seeing everything from the beginning to end was such a great experience for me to kind of see the picture overall and then how these influencers fit into these bigger overall strategies was really helpful. Like I said, once I started realizing there's a lot of influencers that aren't really negotiating, they're not reading contracts. There's just so much to this space and they're really under valued I feel like. I thought, "I want to be a resource for these women. I'm still passionate about the space but kind of wanted to attack it from a different perspective, something a little bit more passionate and meaningful and also realizing women of color I felt like were underrepresented and could really use a resource. That's kind of where I founded the agency off of that passion and just desire to want to just do something a little bit more meaningful.
Jodi KatzYou told me that if you were working so many hours you wanted to build something for yourself. Now that you're a year into that, how does it feel to be working so hard and building it for yourself?
Pam ZapataIt feels great. It's definitely more hours than I was even doing at the agency and it's really hard to turn off. I think that's the hardest part of running your own business is that there's always something you could be doing and so I've always already struggled with work life balance because I'm such a hard worker. I will say I'm one of the hardest working people that I know. I've always even when I was working at other agencies have always found it challenging to turn it off and to just take a break. I think now that I'm running my own I have to really work on finding that work life balance because I think it's very important to avoid burnout. I think it's all worth it for me. I did it a year ago not knowing what was going to happen.

I started with five clients that I reached out to and now I'm at 15 and I've made my first hire. I'm hiring another person. I'm really building a team now and all of my clients by the grace of God are referral based so I haven't actually had to reach out to any new clients so my goal this year is to really grow and build a team and build the ecosystem that I would've... That I've worked at before because I've worked at places that were great, hired amazing people so just building a nice company culture and a team that shares the same values and passion about this space specifically what we're doing. That's kind of my goal for this year.
Jodi KatzWe had a really interesting conversation during our intake call around the labeling of agencies, right? There would be general market agencies and there'd be something called multicultural agency and I asked you... I guess I'm older than you because I'm 44 so when I was growing up in the advertising business there was the general market agency and then there were these spin off shops as multicultural. The multicultural, it felt like either just supported maybe a Hispanic market and that's all they did or then there were these other agencies that I think they called themselves urban which I think was an attempt to connect with black customers but it wasn't a multi culture. It was a specific culture. I was always really confused by the language around this thinking that isn't the general market agency the one that should be the multicultural and then if I need to get specific into a region or a language then I might have specialties and special departments that can really understand the language and different elements of different cultures. Am I wrong for being confused by the terminology and is this terminology relevant?
Pam ZapataNo, I think you're right. I've actually had this conversations with a couple of people who I worked with at previous agencies and it shouldn't be a specific multicultural department. General market is all people, all colors, all races, all ethnicities, all religions, all body types. That is general market. But to your point, I think we had talked about this before until people just have it ingrained in their mind that they need to make sure that the general population is being represented, we have to have these departments that are focused on just these cultures or markets because I think there are just bias, subconscious biases happening all around and so when someone's cast in, let's say it's a brand campaign and they're just casting for general market and they just don't happen to cast an Asian or someone who's a black person or a Latina or... I think that goes back to having people at your company that are also representative of the general market of the bigger population because I think it's so easy for people to just forget, oh I need to...

Not just cast one or two people of color but really cast people that look like what the country looks like. There's a lot of tokenism that happens sometimes where it's just like, "Let's plop this one person in and that person and now we're a diverse group of people," but it's not really about that. You have to really make sure that your casting looks diverse in every way, shape, or form and that doesn't mean putting a couple people of color in your campaign. I think until we get to a point where we can train ourselves to not be bias because some people just don't even realize it, they don't even know it based off of their upbringing or maybe based off of the company just didn't hire enough diverse people so we always have to be reminded of it and that's why I think it's important.

But to your point I don't think it should exist because I think we should just be better. Let's just all make sure we're casting the right way and not secluding urban or Latinos or multicultural or multi or Latinx. It should all be one and so when you're there, yeah.
Jodi KatzThrough your business by specializing you're saying I can develop a voice for my clients here so that over time we become the general market, right? It's sort of a progression of I guess building your voice right now and then maybe in a year or two years you're able to through the voice of yourself and your team and your clients make it so that brands are just automatically thinking like of course we need diversity in our campaign. Of course we need a lot of point of views.
Pam ZapataYeah.
Jodi KatzLet's talk about tokenism because I want to make sure that my team isn't placing casting direction in a token way. When we're thinking about brand communications, we're thinking holistically across the year. Let's say that our client hires us for but then we're also thinking project by project. Is it tokenism if we're saying, "Okay, we have three spots to fill and we want one spot to be a black woman and we want one spot to be a Latino woman, and we want one spot to be, I don't know, an Asian woman. Is that tokenism?
Pam ZapataI don't think that necessarily is tokenism. I feel like for me it's more, this is the first thing that comes to mind because I just had a conversation with someone where a lot of times they'll have these influencer PR trips, right and they'll have for the most part a lot of Caucasian and they'll pick let's say one or two black or brown women and just kind of put them in and sometimes they'll just happen to be the ones with the fairer skin or like the bigger curls or and they're the ones that always end up getting chosen to go on all these trips and now you have your... But they're not really including... I've heard a lot of influencers going on these trips where they casted these two or three people of color just to check off a quota but they're not really integrating them into the experience and it feels like, "Oh, we just checked off these boxes."

I think it's two different things. It's not just checking off a box and feeling like your just casted this specific person in your campaign or your trip but also making sure you're not just casting the same... Because we just tend to... A lot of people subconsciously just tend to gravitate towards even fair features or women that are black but may have fairer skin or... I think it's also getting out of your mindset, I've had influencers that I've spoken with before that have said, "Am I not getting casted for this campaign because my skin is too dark? Why does this person always get casted for this campaign?" And that broke my heart because I don't want to see that happening and it's not right and so yeah, I think it's more of like making sure you're not just checking off a box and that you're really being inclusive and it's not just a trip but in all of your initiatives. I've been to brand events where it's like there's not really anybody of color and the two or three people that are we just tend to gravitate towards each other because we're like, why does this look like this? This shouldn't look like this.

Subconsciously a lot of times women of color will gravitate towards each other because it feels like a safer place because we're just like, "Why should it be like this? It should just be all types of people." I don't know, I struggle with this myself because I'm... But also understanding your own privilege. I'm not a black woman. I'm Dominican, I'm a Latina. Dominicans are mutts so we're black, we're Spanish, we're India, we're like a bunch of different things so even within myself yes, there is black in me but my experience is different from someone who's darker than me or might have a deeper skin tone. I think understanding one's privilege too is also really important.
Jodi KatzRight. I think if I'm trying to distill this down into guidance selfishly for my team and anyone who's listening, it's not just about the one trip or the one campaign. It's really about every initiative that we're doing where humans are involved, whether it's influencer casting a photo shoot, a party, an expert panel that your whole consumer audience is represented in some ways during those observations. Is that right?
Pam ZapataYeah. It's really integrating them into your strategy for the year. Making sure that all of these people are being represented throughout all of your activations, all of your campaigns and I think that's what Rihanna did with Fenty which was so amazing is that it was even her fashion show. It was what it was and it was beautiful because it was everyone felt like they were seen and I think a lot of people are not feeling seen and I think that is kind of a bigger, the bigger problem.
Jodi KatzRight. I'm hopeful for brands and marketers who are really thoughtful about what their consumer is seeing that the consumer will actually feel that. The energy of that important work will come through into the little jars and bottles that you buy at the end, right? I've seen on social and I've had feedback from friends in the industry, models, influencers that they know when a brand is being inauthentic in this way. It's just that one photo shoot has 12 different women and they're all different shades of women but then the imagery on the packaging and the imagery on the website, the imagery on social is just like one color of skin. They know that that's just a marketing tactic and not really holistic in the way the brand thinks. The consumer's super savvy about this. They see it.
Pam ZapataMm-hmm (affirmative). 100%. 100%. I think brands started taking note with all of the natural hair care movement really took a big... we've seen them actually start to listen to us. Before I think even the natural hair movement was really hard for a lot of women weren't going natural. We were doing the perm just as an example. I think now brands are kind of being... Now we feel like we're being catered to but also we don't want to feel like now thanks for coming, showing up to the party late. We're glad you're here but why weren't you catering to us before? I think it's like when you do it you have to do it right as well. We don't want to also feel like you're just trying to, "Oh, now we're realizing how much money these women are spending on hair care products. We should get a piece of that pie." Where it's like, "Oh we should've been doing that before. Thanks for coming but now a lot of times I hear a lot of women are just supporting black owned brands just because they way they've always been there and so it's a whole thing. We could talk about this forever. There's so many layers to it, right?
Jodi KatzRight. I'm wondering if your clients, the influencers are as discerning about do they like the goop in the jar for a partnership as they are about the rest of the brand's marketing? Are they using the rest of the brand's marketing activations in addition to if they like the product as a way to decide if they want to work with that brand?
Pam ZapataYeah. A lot of my clients will... We typically like to try our products before we even promote them just to make sure it's a brand that the product works well for them, for their skin or for their hair but also we want to make sure that they align with the brand overall. I think even with pull up, the movement that happened via Instagram where everyone was like so what are you guys doing? What does your team look like? What does your leadership look like? Now I think it's a little deeper because I think around that time even we were looking at all of our brand partners and we were checking to see what they were doing, how they were activating. I think there's a lot that goes into a brand partnership, not just the product efficacy but also the brand. The brand's background. What are they known for? Do we feel like they're inclusive all the time or just when it benefits them? There's a lot of things we take into consideration.
Jodi KatzRight. One of the learnings that we saw when we did an audit of all the conversation on racial inequality on social media and how brands were reacting, is it seem like so many brands saw this as a marketing decision, how to respond and it's not a marketing decision. All the values of your company decision. This is not about the social media marketing manager making a decision on this, right? I'm hopeful that it was a wake up call to some brands that this is not marketing, this is soul of your brand. This is the everything. There's some really interesting reactions to that because I do think a lot of brands saw it as, "Oh let the social media community manager deal with this," and not really think about who they are, who their customer is and how they can make her feel welcome.
Pam ZapataYeah, 100%. I agree with you. It's not just a social media marketer's job to figure out what's the caption for this post? How do we position this? It's so much bigger than that.
Jodi KatzRight. I do think that this push for conversation on social is illuminating because the brands that misstepped by designating, yeah the 25 year old social media manager will solve this for us, probably learned it pretty hard that that's actually not right and hopefully they can reboot and say, "Oh this is about the values of our company."
Pam Zapata100%.
Jodi KatzThis is not about social media. Yeah, I love the work that you're doing. I'm so excited to know you and I'm so grateful that you shared your wisdom with us today Pam. Thank you.
Pam ZapataThank you. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
Jodi KatzFor our listeners, I hope you enjoy this interview with Pam. Please subscribe to our series on iTunes. For updates about the show follow us on Instagram @wherebrainsmeetbeautypodcast
AnnouncerThanks for listening to Where Brains Meet Beauty® with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

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