By Jacqueline Holness
The 2010 Oscar-winning movie “The Social Network,” was, for many, a fascinating foray into the mind of Mark Zuckerburg, who co-founded Facebook as a Harvard University student in 2004. Kevin. D. Johnson, 37, who founded Johnson Media Inc. as a Morehouse College student in 2000, however, felt as if his life was unfolding on-screen.
He wrote about that experience in his 2012 book “The Entrepreneur Mind: 100 Essential Beliefs, Characteristics, and Habits of Elite Entrepreneurs.” “Just like Zuckerberg in the movie, I was a geeky computer science major with a handful of brainiac friends; then suddenly I was ‘the man’ with more friends than I could have ever imagined. I had created a popular, online community for college students, complete with a dynamic book exchange, a dating service, chat rooms, news, photo galleries, and other neat features.” To faciliate the content for the online community, a fellow Morehouse student and Johnson created OmniPublisher, software similar to WordPress, that was eventually sold for “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to a publishing company.
The online community became AUC (America’s Urban Colleges) Magazine, which at its height had a monthly circulation of 100,000 and reached 140 colleges and universities throughout the nation. “What we figured out very quickly was that companies are always trying to target that 18 to 24 demographic, and our magazine did a good job of serving that demographic.” When the magazine became a victim of the economic downturn in 2008, and folded due to a lack of advertising dollars, Johnson Media was able to leverage its relationships with advertisers. “When the market bottomed out, we decided to change our business model. We asked advertisers, ‘What do you think about us creating and placing the advertising?’ We know that you’re still advertising and have budgets. They said, ‘Great!’”
In addition, the media company, which provides many services including marketing and media consulting, media placement and custom publishing, narrowed its focus to target the financial, automotive and food and beverage industries. Ironically, the recession in 2008 led to Johnson Media’s most profitable account to date. The company scored a $40 million account with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling in 2013. “The foundation wanted to get consumers back to banks. After the recession in 2008, a lot of people left banks and were going to credit unions and other places.” Through the “Sharpen Your Financial Focus” initiative thousands of consumers gradually began returning to banks, Johnson says.
Since then, Johnson Media acquired more important clients such as Porsche Cars North America Inc. Recently the Atlanta branch of the American Marketing Association awarded Johnson Media with the Atlanta Marketer of the Year Award for its work with Porsche. Other important clients include The Coca-Cola Company and JP Morgan Chase Bank. In addition to winning awards, Johnson’s entreprenuership enables him to travel nationally and globally. In 2015, he was invited to the White House for a special event regarding entrepreneurship with President Obama and entrepreneurs such as Mark Cuban, owner of Dallas Mavericks; Steve Case, chairman and CEO, Revolution, LLC and co-founder of AOL; Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO, Airbnb; and Rich Barton, founder, Expedia, Zillow and Glassdoor.
This month, he’ll speak about entrepreneurship at Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra in Santiago de Los Caballeros, Dominican Republic. Aside from his business, Johnson cultivates other worldly pursuits. Also while a Morehouse student, he co-founded Río Negro, a Latin band in which he plays the piano and performs throughout Atlanta including at the National Black Arts Festival. Last year, he was appointed as a commissioner by The City of Alpharetta’s mayor and city council, and finds time to mentor young entrepreneurs as a Georgia State University Entrepreneur in Residence. His experiences as a collegiate entrepreneur resonate with his mentees, particularly because he was a self-proclaimed “nerd” who spent much of his time writing code. In fact, Johnson’s college girlfriend broke up with him because of his devotion to his business. “She wanted to go out or make out, but I had a goal,” says Johnson, now married with two sons. I won’t lie. I was disappointed, but I knew that ultimately, the nerds win.” AT
Connect with Kevin D. Johnson at the 2017 Men of Excellence Reception on May 9th @ 6:00-7:30 PM.