Joining the Cashmere Agency early on was a good bet for chief marketing officer Rona Mercado, the company’s third employee, and public relations SVP Brianne Pins, its seventh. Now, the two have worked there for over a decade, helping businesses reach consumers of diverse backgrounds authentically.
The award-winning lifestyle-marketing agency was launched in 2003 by its co-founders Ted Chung and Seung Chung, who saw most of Hollywood’s marketing efforts getting steered toward white audiences. Today, Cashmere has become one of the entertainment industry’s go-to culture-centered marketing agencies, and it has collected a large clientele list along the way, including Google, BET, Universal Pictures, Netflix, FX, Coca-Cola and more.
Mercado and Pins have been able to carry on the agency’s goal of creating space and opportunity for people of color while also working at a place where they can be comfortable in their own skin. In the midst of finding ways to remove barriers for people of color, they faced their own career challenges. One of them was tackling imposter syndrome. They’re not alone. A recent KMPG study showed 75% of female executives across industries have experienced imposter syndrome in their careers.
“Sometimes, in everyday life, I have to do a reality check of what I’ve accomplished,” Pins told TheWrap for this week’s Office With a View. “I’m not an expert on everything. I can always learn more. But I have to really ground myself: I’ve been in big rooms with people who have decades of experience over me. What I’ve done is say, ‘Where have I been, and what did I do to prevail in that situation?’ I use that as my driving force.”
“When I think ‘imposter syndrome,’ I equate it to being vulnerable,” Mercado added. “Women are just people, and vulnerability is a strength. Sometimes you’re going to be vulnerable. Like, ‘How do I stack up?’ You start counting your wins. In moments of vulnerability, I have a real narrative to remind me of why I’m here, what I’ve done, how much I’ve done — and then it’s fine.”
Mercado and Pins shared how they contributed to building the Cashmere Agency — and their own confidence in their work — along the way.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Is the type of work you do at Cashmere driven by a feeling that people of color are still in need of more opportunities and resources?
Mercado: Absolutely. It’s more than just checking boxes. There’s always room. It’s going to take more than a post. It’s about the culture. Like, why are things popping on TikTok? Why are these dances happening and becoming these worldwide things? It’s about the culture, and that’s something we zone in on when educating clients.
Pins: What’s interesting, even on the industry side, is it’s about the budgets. Some of the clients in the entertainment industry still split their budgets in ways like national versus multicultural. And African American versus Asian and Latino/Hispanic. There’s still different budgets. It’s one of the things we try to educate clients about.
Have there been challenges as women of Asian descent you’ve faced during your career?
Rona Mercado: I would say on the way up, it was more from external forces. Just walking in a room with the way you look, people don’t understand who you are. I’ve gone into rooms, pitching, and clients seemingly look like, “Oh, you’re Asian American, but your counterpart is… I’m confused, you’re multicultural.”
Brianne Pins: It’s AAPI Month. We have a month! I’ve worked with other agencies, other companies before coming to Cashmere [where] women often didn’t have a voice, especially where executive leadership was all-male. We do a lot of education even now on what culture means, what multicultural means. It’s still that education piece that we’re constantly having to do.
What do you think these “traditional” companies aren’t understanding about diversity?
Mercado: People can’t just be woke in three years, right? There’s a lot of education that needs to happen. And depending on where you are or what company you’re at, speaking with partners, some people have been there for years, and have done things very traditionally.
Pins: A lot of these traditional industry places aren’t looking at the world as a melting pot. There’s still separate budgets. It’s still very segmented when you look at how some of the marketing plans come together within the industry.
What qualities as a professional do you think helped you reach this status of success?
Pins: There are two things that I’ve always taken with me. One is networking. Two is accountability. I learned very early on that if you mess up, just own it — especially if there’s a learning opportunity there. We’re not perfect, especially when you’re up-and-coming.
For the networking part: The best friends I’ve had for over 20 years in L.A. are journalists I met from day one and PR coordinators when we were just grinding it out with no money and trying to figure it out. We’d go to different events. We were out every single night, just meeting and greeting people. I do think social media has drastically changed how we all work, but human interaction is not dead. You can never put a value on time spent creating that. The power of relationships and networking is key to where I am today. Whether it’s a difficult day or a wonderful day, I always lean into my friends and family for the support that really gets me up everyday.
Mercado: The other piece that really helped me was saying “yes” to opportunities even if they were maybe kind of scary. Sometimes I’d ask myself, ”Well, could I grow from it? Can I do it now? No, but I’m just going to say ‘yes.’ I’m just going to do it.” That got me somewhere every single time. Saying “no” happened later in my career when I was a bit more mature. And you learn that if you say “yes” to everything you’ll burn yourself out.
What advice would you give the next group of professionals in your industry who are coming up?
Mercado: As the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.” But with great responsibility comes great power. I feel like I have a responsibly to do right by my people, and people that could benefit from me, so that’s what I would say to them. And for advice, just shoot your shot. What’s holding you back?
Pins: Lead with empathy. Everyone is human. We have to put ourselves into other people’s shoes and try to understand what type of day people are having. I think that will get you far in your career professionally and personally.