Yvonne McNair is known for curating some of the most impactful events within the entertainment industry. As an industry veteran, she has consistently brought creativity and influence with each one of the events that she’s conceptualized. McNair is the President of Events and Entertainment of her own marketing and events company, Captivate Marketing Group, which strives to create experiences for their high-profile clientele. With a wealth of brand management expertise with entertainment, corporate and non-profit clients, such as BET, VH1, NBC, MTV and our very own ESSENCE, she has a proven track record of execution and #blackexcellence.
You might’ve recognized her work for the late Prince, as she was responsible for his record-breaking performance at the ESSENCE Music Festival in 2014 when she helped him turn the entire Superdome purple to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Purple Rain. McNair currently books and produces a show during ESSENCE Festival and is passionate about developing business opportunities and moments for her clients.
We sat down with McNair to discuss event strategy, entrepreneurship advice, and career lessons.
You have worked with some of the biggest names and brands in the entertainment industry and have been recognized by Black Enterprise as one of the “40 Game Changers” for your work with the Captivate Marketing group. What led you to create your own entertainment marketing and events company?
I was prompted to start my own business after feeling that I wasn’t being appreciated in corporate America. I started my business 5 years before leaving my corporate job which was the right step for me. The last position that I held was Vice President of Marketing and Events and in that role, I was able to save money and eliminate the need for outside vendors. I was working day and night to ensure that the business objectives of the company were being met and in the end despite everything I was doing, I still wasn’t being acknowledged or appreciated for all the transformative methods that I executed, plus I felt that there were no lateral advancement opportunities for me within the company. Initially, I struggled with many fears and doubts regarding entrepreneurship and I made a lot of “beginner’s mistakes.” I have been out on my own for 10 years now and I feel that I am just hitting my stride.
Your team is known for curating memorable and extraordinary experiences. Talk about your process when conceptualizing marketing strategies and events.
We have an extremely high customer retention rate, and I believe that a part of our success is really getting to know our clients. What’s most important is learning the needs of the client by listening. Listening and research will usually give me the ammunition that I need to start coming up with unique concepts and strategies. I take the time to process the event in its entirety from the company and the type of sponsors coming on board, to the venue and feel of the event. My goal is always to think outside the box and I create events that I personally would love to attend so I take all these things into consideration when I am producing an event. Over the years, budgets have changed so it’s critical that you help sponsors stand out and use dollars wisely.
Since starting your career at the age of 22, what has been your best event and marketing project to date and why?
In 2014, I produced the infamous secret Prince & NPG show at the City Winery in New York City. Rumors were spreading that Prince was going to perform, but we didn’t announce the show until 10p Twitter and by 11pm there were lines around the corner and the show was completely sold out. We had surprise appearances from Cee Lo, Alice Smith, Luke James, Doug E. Fresh and Prince performed until 6:52 AM. It was an amazing night but what made it even more special was that after Prince passed away I saw so many people posting clips from that show. The fact that so many strangers shared it online as one of the best experiences of their lives and how grateful they were to see him in what turned out to be one of his final New York shows.
Share a pivotal learning moment in your career and how the lesson propelled you forward.
I want to start with some great advice that I got from Doug E. Fresh. One day he said that his approach is that, "I am good with you winning as long as I am not losing.” That one pearl of wisdom resonated with me on so many levels. The advice changed my approach on how I work with clients and it was one of those life lessons in which I learned to always maintain a balance with my priorities. We can all win together but I will NEVER put myself in a situation where I am going to lose by working with someone.
Give advice for the woman determined to turn her passion into her own business.
The first thing you always hear when you are becoming an entrepreneur is that you need to take risks and that’s true, but you also need to take calculated risks and put together a strategic plan for your business.
When you turn your passion into a business, learn to take the emotion out of it. It also helps to have a strong team of advisors and mentors that you can bounce questions off.