Shannae Ingleton Smith (@TorontoShay) is a content creator and co-founder of Kensington Grey, a boutique Influencer Agency rooted in diversity. Not only has her agency made much-needed strides within the influencer industry, but over the past year, she has led the launch of The Standard, an advocacy platform focused on removing systemic barriers faced by Black Canadian Womxn in marketing. Read her Q+A below, where she discusses her impressive journey so far with Kensington Grey and her recent advocacy work.
Q: You are such a powerhouse in the influencer space. What made you step into the agency space and start Kensington Grey?
A: Before I ventured into influencing, I worked in the corporate arena for years in advertising and traditional media. While I loved my work, I was disillusioned at the lack of variety in the faces that were consistently booked for big campaigns. I realized that until the gatekeepers of the industry reflected the diversity of the real world, we would continue to see the same kinds of people represented again and again.
Between this realization and my own experience as a Black woman blogger in a realm dominated by whiteness, I decided to become the change that I was seeking. My husband and I started Kensington Grey Agency to celebrate womxn – particularly womxn of color – both behind the scenes and in the limelight. We work to give higher visibility to Black womxn, who are too often undervalued and under-compensated for their talent, skill, and creativity. We named our agency after our daughter with so many other little girls in mind – girls who deserve to see themselves reflected on billboards, television shows, in magazines, and advertisements.
Q: You have recently launched the advocacy platform, The Standard. This is so crucial in today’s climate. Tell us about this initiative.
A: Last year, we saw a huge push on social media for more transparency and action surrounding the diversity and inclusion efforts of big brands. While refreshing, The Standard was created to ensure that this push becomes more than a moment, but a movement. The Standard is a collective of like-minded Black womxn marketers and PR professionals who are leaders in their fields. We are passionate about using our decades of experience to build a safe space of networking, advocacy, and mentorship, all while breaking down systemic barriers to employment for Black Canadian womxn in the marketing industry.
Q: As you work with brands through Kensington Grey and The Standard, what are your recommendations for companies when thinking about influencer and marketing strategies?
A: My recommendation for companies is to always be authentic in your approach. The influencers in your campaign need to reflect the world we live in. If your campaign only features blonde hair and beach waves, you will lose out on perspective customers and audiences who cannot relate. At the same time, influencers are smart and can tell when they’re being pandered to. I would advise against reaching out to Black creators if you have made no efforts to increase diversity within your internal operations. Finally, when you are partnering with Black creators, be sure to pay them what they are worth and always avoid soliciting free labour.
Q: What has been your favourite project to work on and why?
A: I’ve been very fortunate to work with so many brands that align with my lifestyle and personal values, but a recent favourite was the #WeBelongToSomethingBeautiful campaign that I did in partnership with Sephora. Not only did I get to highlight the importance of antiracism and amplifying Black voices, but I got to do so while celebrating my dear friend and fellow influencer, Sasha Exeter. In an industry where most of my peers are white, it was refreshing for a brand as known and loved as Sephora to provide the space for two Black creators to lift each other up and celebrate friendship.
Q: What/who inspires you?
A: I am inspired by Black womxn, both in my life and in general. I am constantly motivated by the example of my mother, who became a successful business owner after a difficult divorce and raising two kids on her own. I’m also inspired and humbled by the strength of my ancestors who have paved the way for the Black success stories of today.
Q: You are obviously a BUSY lady. Tell us how you unwind after a stressful week.
A: As simple as it sounds, I look forward to any extra sleep and family time I can get.