When hip-hop artist Cardi B climbed to the top of the Billboard charts in September of last year, Lyft let users turn the cars in the app into her face and nails. The stunt was the company’s first in-app takeover with an artist and “the perfect moment” for Lyft to execute it, said Jessica Zhang, manager of culture and entertainment at the ride-hailing company.
Zhang is part of the team at Lyft that works to bring together partnerships with music, entertainment and influencers to elevate the company’s brand awareness. She started her career at CAA and turned to tech after realizing how intertwined Silicon Valley and Hollywood were becoming.
Adweek spoke with Zhang at ColorComm, a conference for women of color in media, and learned about her journey, what it’s like bringing these experiences to Lyft and what others can learn from her.
The switch from Hollywood to tech made sense
During her four years at CAA, Zhang noticed one key change happening in the industry: Entertainment executives were meeting with Silicon Valley companies and startups. Zhang saw an “opportunity for storytelling” that fell out of “traditional advertising,” she said.
“The celebrities and these YouTube creators and Instagram stars were the new Hollywood, the new media channels that people were really engaged with and following,” Zhang said. “I saw an opportunity for a tech brand to tap into this talent to tell their brand stories. Instead of creating these disruptive 30-, 60-second commercials, why can’t we create the content that people want to watch?”
It wasn’t a quick process for Zhang to find the role at Lyft, mainly because she noticed tech companies weren’t necessarily finding the value of working with the entertainment world. But, she eventually did in February 2016.
Education is key to bringing such partnerships to Lyft
While Lyft is open to working with all sorts of partners, the company understands it takes a lot of work to foster relationships. That’s why Zhang relies on education for both Lyft and the creators she works with to explain how a partnership can benefit both parties.
“There’s a level of education [needed] because I think a lot of the more traditional Hollywood talent and the creators who are being represented look at a brand and see a paycheck,” Zhang said. “I think the challenge is just educate them on all of Lyft’s offerings. I think there are a lot of creators that understand the value that Lyft can bring beyond just a paycheck.”
For Zhang, that means building out long-term relationships and making sure Lyft also understands the projects and passions an artist might have and seeing how they can work together.
Why Lyft loves Cardi B (and partnerships)
It’s hard not to love Cardi B. Which is why Lyft wanted her to be the first artist the company worked with for an in-app takeover. Lyft and Cardi B have since worked on another in-app takeover for her album release, and Lyft’s been featured in two of her music videos.
Another partnership Zhang and her team worked hard on was with Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), an independent record label that represents artists like Kendrick Lamar and SZA. TDE was a brand Zhang wanted to work with for a long time, and one she knew would take a lot of relationship-building because it doesn’t partner with many companies.
After spending time nurturing that relationship, Lyft eventually became a partner for TDE’s The Championship Tour, a two-month music tour with artists like Lamar and ScHoolboy Q. The partnership included a short placement in the promotional video for the event. TDE was also part of an in-app takeover for select cities.
“[It’s] a good example of identifying a partner in the industry that is really kind of pushing culture forward that we really wanted to partner with and proactively went out and sought out that opportunity,” Zhang said.
These partnerships are part of the growing trend Zhang’s seeing in Hollywood—and why her work matters so much.
“I think the fans are the ones dictating who the celebrities are, who they are engaged with and who they want to see more of,” Zhang said. “Now, celebrities don’t have to be discovered or get their big break by being in a movie or even having an agent. They can connect with their audience in a way that’s very organic to them.”