Data-Minded Creativity, Digital Strategy and Famous Family: Q&A with Andre Smith

Andre Smith, who joined Mission North in May as senior director of digital strategy, is a fountain of rich stories about his career and home life (rock ‘n’ roll legend Lenny Kravitz is his cousin) that provide a glimpse into his proven marketing talents. For Mission North’s clients, Andre will combine data and creativity to drive the kinds of strategic media campaigns and activations that have been hallmarks of his career.

I chatted with Andre about the defining work he’s executed for brands like McDonald’s, how he got started in the music industry—fresh out of college—and what his passions are away from work. What follows is an edited version of that discussion:

You have worked with interesting brands and clients while social media came of age. How would you describe your career arc so far?

It’s funny. So, my initial foray into agency life began strictly within media strategy/consumer PR and I remember thinking, “What’s the reason behind certain digital recommendations and how do they truly inform what we’re doing from a PR perspective?”

That type of curiosity from a fresh-out-of-college grad really laid the foundation for my current role and how a truly integrated approach to digital shaped my career. In those nascent days—back in 2011—digital didn’t really involve an audience-first/data-driven approach. It’s truly been amazing to watch the evolution of digital and how integral it is for any aspect of business today.

“It’s truly been amazing to watch the evolution of digital and how integral it is for any aspect of business today.”

What kind of digital strategy will you offer Mission North clients? Is it data-driven? Or more creative?

It’s a little bit of both. As practitioners, I believe we get so caught up in our clients’ business or industry and we rely so much on data, that we forget that once we log off for the day, we are consumers too. So the onus is on us, as practitioners and consumers, to be at the nexus of data-driven insights and creativity which will ultimately allow for impactful activations for clients.

What campaign or activation are you most proud of in your career to date?

The most recent example came about last year during the COVID-19 pandemic. With uncertainty at an all-time high, clients looked to my company to provide sound recommendations on how to navigate one of the most unprecedented times in recent history.

As a result, I co-led and spearheaded the development of the Coronavirus Response Index: a real-time measurable tracker of brand communication and subsequent consumer response during the height of the pandemic. This index leveraged both data science and qualitative analysis, and resulted not only in data-driven recommendations, but also provided a sense of reassurance for our clients.

Another example came during my media strategy days. I single-handedly pitched and secured over 100 placements in a span of two to three months for McDonald’s Nutrition Network campaign, which provided seed funding for nonprofits across the tri-state area to establish healthy nutrition and wellness programs within their respective communities. That effort was my first time pitching and proved that, even if I wasn’t an expert in something, I could do what it takes to get the job done and make the team look good.

“The onus is on us, as practitioners and consumers, to be at the nexus of data-driven insights and creativity which will ultimately allow for impactful activations for clients.”

Do you have other “superpowers?”

I can eat a whole box of pizza in one sitting [laughter].

Ha, nice! You went to Ohio University. Are you from that part of the country?

No, I’m from Queens, NY, originally. However, my family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, during my junior year of high school, and I received an early-decision scholarship to Ohio University’s School of Business. I wasn’t too thrilled about being in the middle of nowhere, in Athens, Ohio, but it turned out to be the best four years of my life and really allowed me to grow into the person I am today.

Fresh out of college, you worked at Def Jam/Island Records. Did you once see yourself working in the music industry?

Oh, absolutely! Music has always been a pillar of my household growing up. My father has an eclectic taste in music, so he had vinyl spanning from Spyro Gyra, Miles Davis, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Teddy Pendergrass to Wu-Tang—that one was on cassette, actually—Beethoven and Michael Jackson. As a result, I grew up playing alto saxophone, DJing and producing music. But with the advent of streaming and the subsequent industry model changing, I knew my dreams of becoming a producer/AR/exec would probably not come to fruition.

Do you have any fun stories from your days in the music biz?

One of the coolest times was my first day interning at Def Jam: I had a one-on-one lunch with the company president, L.A. Reid, I recorded drops with Reverend Run from Run-DMC—for what would become his TV show “Run’s House”—I met Nick Cannon, and I was next to Beyoncé in an exec’s office. And yes, Beyoncé was literally glowing, all while eating Chipotle!

You are related to Al Roker and Lenny Kravitz, which is also amazing. Can you briefly explain the familial connection?

Lenny Kravitz is our cousin. Lenny’s mother was a Roker—Roxy Roker (a.k.a. Helen Willis on “The Jeffersons.”) Al Roker is my mother’s brother. Uncle Al is the best! He’s hilarious, extremely intelligent and an amazing cartoonist. And as with all the men in my family, he’s a great chef.

What are your favorite pastimes? What do you do when you are not working?

I enjoy working out. It’s a good release for me after being stationary most of the day behind a desk—or in this new COVID-norm on my couch. I’ve competed in a few bodybuilding shows, and I am aiming to get my pro card—fingers crossed—in December.

Riding my motorcycle and taking road trips are another pastime. I find it extremely cathartic to be at “one with the open road.” Additionally, I’m a huge space nerd so I enjoy stargazing. In fact, I suggest downloading the Star Walk 2 app for great constellation spotting!

Which hobby is your number-one?

I would say working out is my favorite hobby. Outside of the obvious health benefits, staying active allows me to channel pent-up energy in a positive way, and provides me with an elevated level of discipline which in turn, transfers to other aspects of my life.

Are you interested in joining the Mission North team? We’re hiring! Check out our open positions here.