2 Mins With ... Amani Duncan, President of BBH USA
Veteran marketer and brand strategist Amani Duncan has spent nearly three decades helping brands grow their audience through strategic partnerships. She currently works as president of BBH USA.
Prior to BBH, Duncan served as MTV's senior vice president of music, where she strengthened the network's relationships with innovative artist-driven initiatives, strategic campaigns and the creation of music content, and breathed new life into classic shows like TRL, Fear Factor and Unplugged.
Before joining MTV, Duncan served as head of brand marketing at Martin Guitar, helping to reimagine the timeless brand. She also worked as chief marketing officer at Sean Combs' Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment Group, overseeing the company's many verticals, including fragrances, clothing, music, TV/film, spirits, and charitable initiatives.
We spent two minutes with Amani to learn more about her background, her creative inspirations, and recent work she's admired.
Amani, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up in Los Angeles. I currently reside in South Orange, New Jersey, with my husband, two stepsons, and my French bulldog Samantha.
What you wanted to be when you grew up.
I was planning on becoming an attorney and then a U.S. Ambassador.
How you discovered you were creative.
I believe it was around the age of 5 when I walked up to my family's piano and started playing melodies.
A person you idolize creatively growing up.
That is an easy one to answer, my Baba (aka, Dad). He was the epitome of elegance and grace. As a child, I would watch him go to work every day in a three-piece suit and tie. He excelled professionally and personally during a time when being a Black man was not convenient or safe.
He was also an incredible musician, fronting his own jazz quartet. He played every instrument imaginable but was known best as a flutist. I wanted nothing more than to be exactly like him. My hope is that I am doing that and making him proud.
A moment from high school or college that changed your life.
During my freshman year, I took an intro to sociology class and part of our assignment was to pick an organization to work with. I chose tutoring pregnant teens working to get their GED from the Watts area of Los Angeles. It was both rewarding and challenging; I chose to participate throughout college. This was the beginning of my "pay it forward" journey.
The first concert you saw, and your favorite band or musician today.
The first concert I went to was Luther Vandross at the Greek Theatre with my dad. Coming from the music industry, I can't say I have a favorite band or musician today. I respect so many like Khalid, Celeste, Damon Albarn, John Mayer, Tyler the Creator, The Weeknd, Snoh Aalegra, Samm Henshaw, Wyclef, Emotional Oranges... too many greats to have a favorite.
A visual artist you admire.
A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.
There are three books I must mention as each one was read at a pivotal time in my life and career. Each helped me tremendously in becoming the leader I wanted to be:
1. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran; given to me by my Baba and read at age 30.
2. Peak Performance: Business Lessons from the World's Top Sports by Clive Gilson; this was part of a leadership program I was in while I was senior vice president of marketing at Capitol Music Group.
3. Good to Great by Jim Collins; recommended to me by BBH's global head of talent. One day I will be a level 5 leader.
Your favorite Instagram or Twitter follow.
How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.
The time spent navigating through the pandemic has humbled me and helped me be okay with allowing myself the space to receive and give grace and kindness.
Your favorite creative project you've ever worked on.
Glass Ceiling Breaker in partnership with Chief and the National Women's History Museum. Once you watch the case study, you will know exactly why this was my favorite and one of the most important projects I have ever worked on.
A recent project you're proud of.
Google's Black Owned Friday. The idea was simple: to reimagine what Black Friday means by raising awareness for black-owned businesses that were disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Both of my parents were small business owners, so I watched first-hand the joy and challenges that came with being a Black entrepreneur. This project was also my very first as president of BBH so pride is an understatement for how I feel as a Black woman helping produce important, purpose-driven work.
Someone else's work that you admired lately.
At BBH NY, we have one of the most talented CCOs in the industry, Rafael "Rafa" Rizuto. Not only is he leading the best expression of the black sheep, but prior to coming to BBH, he was producing work that still resonates today. One piece of work that gives me chills every time I see it is the work Rafa did while at TBD in partnership with The Bloc, called The Call for EmpowHer NY.
This brilliant piece of work that was recently a 2021/2022 Cannes Lions For Change shortlist, illustrates how the difference in treatment can literally be life or death. Here in the U.S., there are studies that show how much medical prejudice impacts the health of Black people.
Your main strength as a creative person.
What happens when water encounters a rock as it flows downstream? To the eye, the water appears to stop. But that is not true. The water may move to the right of the rock or to the left. It may slow down. But what the water never does is stop. I try to be like water in all I do and that is what I believe to be my biggest strength as a creative person.
Your biggest weakness.
Debating passionately my point of view (is that a weakness?).
One thing that always makes you happy.
Seeing people thrive and succeed.
One thing that always makes you sad.
The void of integrity and tolerance.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.
Working for a nonprofit outside of the U.S.