Music, fashion and sports.
To urban youths, they are the essence of a highly stylized hip-hop culture.
To businesses, they are the elements of a major marketing campaign.
Beginning today, leaders in the urban entertainment industry will mingle with the general public in Washington at the VIBE Regional Music Seminar, a two-day trade show sponsored by the New York-based urban culture and music magazine.
In the thick of things will be corporations looking to gain some exposure, if not credibility, among urban youths -- the multiethnic group of 18- to 34-year-olds who always seem to know what's in style and the second something isn't.
The seminar's theme this year is "Build," as in "businesses must build their presence in the urban youth marketplace," said Keith T. Clinkscales, president and chief executive of VIBE magazine.
"Urban entertainment is a very fertile business environment," he said. "Young people are fanatics about the music, the clothes and the athletes. Corporations see this as an excellent market in which to make an investment."
Len Burnett, VIBE's associate publisher and former advertising director, said urban youths are at the epicenter of what trends are hot.
"Companies realize more than ever that urban youths are some of the most savvy, energetic and loyal market leaders with their products," he said.
Hobnobbing at show
"Everyone knows that if urban youths think something is cool, it begins to matriculate out to the suburbs and even to different parts of the world," Burnett said.
For four summers, VIBE magazine -- a monthly glossy that has a circulation of 600,000 and was recently named one of the country's hottest magazines -- has held the national music show in New York.
Hundreds of attendees -- including many urban youths -- pay $100 and more, depending on when the tickets are purchased, to hobnob with industry giants during panel discussions and parties, and to attend talent shows for unsigned artists and movie screenings.
This year, the August event has been expanded to include a pair of two-day regional shows, the one in Washington and another in Atlanta at the end of the month.
Gaining a foothold
Wherever the venue, the core issue will be how to gain a foothold in the urban marketplace and benefit from the estimated billions of dollars in spending power of urban youths.
Urban music sales accounted for more than $4 billion in 1997, VIBE officials said. And that market also is looking to spend on brands -- such as Tommy Hilfiger, Coach, Nike and Nautica -- that are endorsed by urban entertainers.
The exact spending power of the market is hard to judge because its members cross ethnic lines, said Samuel J. Chisholm, president of the Chisholm-Mingo Group, a New York marketing agency that helps companies reach black, Hispanic and urban markets.
But he noted that the annual buying power of blacks is an estimated $341 billion. For Hispanics, the figure is an estimated $244 billion.
"Take those two markets and add in the adopters," -- mostly white youths who have adopted the urban culture and lifestyle -- "and we're talking a significant amount of money, maybe as much as $500 billion," Chisholm said.
To attract those dollars, Chisholm said, he encourages some of his clients, such as General Motors Corp., Seagram Co., the Army and Denny's restaurants, to align themselves with events, such as the music seminar, that will be frequented by urban youths or advertise in publications such as VIBE.
Starter Corp., a New Haven, Conn.-based licensed sport apparel company, began stepping up its urban marketing campaign three years ago, said spokeswoman Robin Wexler. One of the company's first forays was sponsoring the music seminar.
"There's really no doubt that urban culture drives popular culture," she said. "Throughout the years, urban youths have proven to be an influential consumer of our goods."
Starter-brand hats, shirts, sweats, shorts and jackets with the names and logos of almost every major professional sports team have a history in urban fashion. Music artists and athletes have sported the clothing in their public appearances for years.
Recently, the company hired Funkmaster Flex -- a New York disc jockey who has done remixes for some of the top hip-hop artists -- to endorse its clothing line and an urban marketing company to reinforce the Starter name and product "on the streets."
VIBE magazine was founded in 1992 as a joint venture between record company executive and entertainment heavyweight Quincy Jones and Time Inc. Ventures. In 1996, it was sold to VIBE Ventures, a partnership headed by Jones.
In August, VIBE Ventures plans to launch a new magazine, BLAZE, which will be devoted to rap music and culture. Last year, it acquired alternative music magazine SPIN and it also released the New York Times best-seller "Tupac Shakur," a book about the life and death of the rapper, a Baltimore native.
Its other media ventures include "VIBE," a late-night television talk show that airs locally on WNUV, Channel 54. The show, with host Sinbad, a comedian and actor, is produced by VIBE TV in association with Columbia TriStar Television Distribution.
Pub Date: 6/05/98