The question to ask Dwayne Waite Jr. ’08 isn’t “What did you do while you were at Elon?” but rather “What DIDN’T you do?”
RA, OL, Head Staff leader, president of PRSSA – these are just a few of the many titles Dwayne held during his college years. And the frenetic pace didn’t stop after he graduated from Elon in 2008. After working for a couple of months for an advertising firm in Charlotte, Dwayne struck out on his own, founding JDW: The Charlotte Agency in 2009 and bringing a fresh approach to corporate communications in the city. And in July 2011, he joined the industry blog “Beyond Madison Avenue” as a lead blogger.
What inspired you to found your own company?
The entrepreneurial spirit that Elon seems to breed in its students: If you don’t like what you see in the world, change it yourself. That’s what drove me to start my own marketing and advertising firm because, after working in the Charlotte agency industry, I saw that it’s so “blah.” It’s not really exciting. It’s really conservative. I said, “Well, I think I could try to change it, be funky and silly and still be able to deliver a message that people can relate to.”
How did you get started?
I came out of Elon in 2008 with a job with a marketing agency in Charlotte, and their big clients were in the financial industry. Their biggest client was Wachovia – and you know what happened to them. They’d hired six managers, and we were the first six managers to go.
Before that, I actually began doing PR for the agency itself, which was quite a big task to give to a new graduate – to try to promote this company with $14 million in revenue. I met with senior executives on a weekly basis and working with all the business plans for each of its arms. I was learning how to run and promote an agency, just coming out of school, which was exciting. After being let go by the firm, I began doing PR for another client and I asked myself: “why find a job when I can create one?”
With my background in marketing and business strategy, I contacted my friend, John (Dermott) from high school to be my creative director. We always talked about working together in high school, so I sent him a facbook message: “Remember when we talked about doing this? How serious were you …?” That night he called and asked, “Are you serious?” I said, “yes.” We started the company and ran with it, and we’ve been running ever since.
What’s been the coolest project your firm has worked on?
Ignite Charlotte – it’s a series of five-minute talks during which people speak about an idea or something they’re passionate about. It’s local people sharing these huge ideas with an audience that might love them, hate them or might want to partner with them. I do all of the event promotion, marketing communications and I talk to all of the local and regional news outlets for them. Just about any marketing communications that come out of Ignite Charlotte, I either wrote it up myself or approved it.
What’s the biggest challenge you face as a young entrepreneur?
To be given a chance. To be new, to be young and to be a northerner – to be honest – some people fall back to the traditional, established marketing people because they don’t know how long you’re going to be around. It’s a Catch-22: you want to be given a chance so you can be established, but because you’re not established, you’re not given a chance.
But what’s the best thing about being your own boss?
The ability to create your own schedule and to know that if you succeed, it’s because of your own determination. If you fall short, you have the ability to learn and change the way you do things quickly.
What would be your advice to other young alumni interested in entrepreneurship?
Definitely talk to people who have been in the business. Definitely try to find a mentor. Whenever you hear people talk about mentors and professional development, it’s so true. You can’t survive by yourself anymore, you just can’t. To have professionals who are willing to give you advice, and for you to not be afraid to swallow your pride and ask them questions or say “I really don’t understand this…” is so crucial.
Tell us a little bit about your new blog work – how did that come about?
The blog is called “Beyond Madison Avenue” and it’s an advertising blog for the website Talent Zoo, which posts jobs for media professionals. I’m not exactly sure how I found them, but one of the aspects of promoting yourself is that you have to put out a bunch of content. I was looking for a place to write, and one of Talent Zoo’s other blogs, “Digital Pivot,” was looking for a writer.
I emailed them and sent a bunch of writing samples. They said “It seems like you’re in advertising, so are you interested in writing for our advertising blog?” I was definitely interested, and I started writing for them in 2011. I try to cover things that aren’t usually covered in the trade media that’s out there – I try to give them something different.