CHL – For Young People Creating Their Own Lanes

Seyi Alawode
Future Leader & Founder of CHL

‘Youth marketing isn’t working anymore’: The marcomms & adland representative storytelling problem that led me to start my own agency. 

Representative Storytelling. It’s in the name; a marketing strategy that always works because the audiences you’re targeting get to represent themselves. They’re telling their own stories and in turn, your comms are hitting the ‘authentic’ mark every time. And what’s more relatable than authenticity? What yields more efficient results than a genuine, obvious understanding of your audience’s needs/personal experiences, thus enabling you to serve them better in return? As the marketing & advertising population oohs and aahhs at the newest ‘disruptive’ creative marketing hacks (it’s TikTok as we speak), representative storytelling is the hill CHL has chosen. We hold onto representative storytelling for dear life and it’s built-in our ethos. It’s a lonely hill, but it’s our lonely hill. And despite the FOMO, we’re happy to be on this hill, because it works.

A Creative Alliance

Before CHL was an Agency, CHL was a Creative Community. What started off as creative career events at Warwick Uni (with brand collabs with Amazon, Vogue, ASOS, Spotify etc) grew into CHL Hub, a digital + IRL collaborative network built for u30 creators self-starting their creative pursuits. CHL’s strong, loud & reactionary brand means that the Hub attracts talented, diverse creatives from all over, who believe in the exact same vision that we do. Our Hub includes 20-year old freelance photographers that work with Nike, 23-year old freelance directors that work with the likes of Stormzy & Dave, 19-year old uni students scaling creative businesses that serve other students, 28-year old established radio hosts — it’s a creative alliance of gifted self-starters from 13 countries and counting.

Fresh out of uni with still no plans to grow the CHL Hub into anything but a more nurturing community, I remember analysing adland’s diversity/relatability issues (see Campaign Article: Dear industry, you’re not half as disruptive as you think). I remember thinking a couple of things. Yeah the work was ‘good’ – no doubt – but it still wasn’t… relatable enough. A lot of the award-winning campaigns felt like shiny plastic; pretty to look at, but often void of much depth & impact.

I would rant often about campaigns to myself & my forced-enthusiastic friends (bless them). My unhealthy stalking-then-critiquing of British & Nigerian (my two homes!) marcomms work pursued for a while until THE transformative thought finally seeped in: ‘I’m almost certain that the CHL Hub can create stuff that hits better for these audiences’.

Creating Our Own Path

That was it, duh! It made SOOOO much sense! If the industry won’t let us in and would rather gate-keep & tell our stories for us, we’d have to kick the door down and do it ourselves, regardless of how young we are. With assistance from my industry-leading mentors, work experience & hella incubators, I excitedly began to design CHL Agency, my own comms agency that helps brands authentically connect with u30 audiences, by collaborating directly with u30 audiences! And CHL Hub — whose membership was well in the hundreds — would be our direct source of collaboration! It was a massive middle finger to my 5-year-adland plan that would see my work for a top agency as a junior creative/strategist & hustle my way up to director level. Upholding CHL Agency is the belief that my generation is amongst the most underestimated yet amongst the most creative and unpredictable. That you don’t need 5+ years of experience to have good ideas. That there’s a storytelling problem that’s silencing us and it desperately needs to go.

We’ll show people how to actually connect with these audiences, even if it means doing it ourselves, was a promise made to self.

Working for your own agency comes with the benefit of doing creative work & marketing services that reflect your values and integrity. I get to do things I actually give a sh*t about and say no to the things that I don’t. Even as a founder from diverse demographics, I still take several steps back when I feel I’m taking up space and instead lob the work over to the more suitable creatives. We’re a baby agency, but CHL has so far managed to create work and services that inspire, that connect, that give back that work.

Staying True To Ourselves

Early 2020 quarantine gave me more than enough time to carve out CHL into the type of agency I’d be working for had my journey into entrepreneurship not been so fast-tracked. As I reflect on our tenacity over time, like how we got to work with Spotify six months post-inception, during a pandemic, ‘proud’ doesn’t do my feelings half justice.

We’ve maintained our representative storytelling ethos throughout all our past projects. Like when we produced our client a nine-page creative content spread in collaboration with a team of 17 Nigerian creators from our community (that went viral), concerning #endSARS – Nigeria’s youth-led police brutality movement. Or the time we were vaguely asked to ‘create an artistic response to Black History Month’, and in 11 days created a 4-minute film & 2 editorial articles exploring the niche journeys of 14 black British creatives from 1960-2020. Behind the scenes, every time was a member (or an ally) of CHL Hub, who was unknowingly helping us birth a new culture in marketing.

Seyi Alawode
Future Leader & Founder of CHL