TBS’ ‘HBCU Cash Out Challenge’ Contest Scores for Startup Pop’N Creative

TBS wanted to find a way to reach more Black viewers with its lineup of scripted and unscripted comedies. To do so, the WarnerMedia cabler turned to a pair of former TBS marketing executives who launched their own creative shop last year in Atlanta last year.

Lori J. Hall and Jessica D. Lane, co-founders of Pop’N Creative, came up with a consumer activation tailor-made for the YouTube and TikTok era. TBS’ “HBCU Cash Out Challenge” offered recent graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities the chance to get creative with a 60-second video explaining how their college degree is helping them achieve their dreams.

The Pop’N Creative team made the promotion eye-catching by offering three winners the chance to win $25,000 help pay off student loan debt. That number was meaningful because research shows that Black college graduates typically carry about $25,000 more in student loan debt than their white counterparts.

“TBS approached us about wanting to do something to recruit more black viewers to network and engage the Black community authentically,” Hall told Variety. “They were very specific about not wanting to do anything short-term or trendy.”

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Lori J. Hall and Jessica D. Lane, co-founders of Atlanta-based marketing firm Pop’N Creative Courtesy of Pop’N Creative

Pop’N Creative recruited two young Black actors who are also HBCU grads — former “Cosby Show” co-star Keisha Knight Pulliam and “MacGyver’s” Lance Gross — to serve as ambassadors for the contest that launched in February. The response was swift. TBS’ internal team could not settle on just three winners, so the contest expanded to four. Hall proudly notes that each victor does in fact get a full $25,000 to pay off debt because TBS threw in another $8,000 to cover the taxes on the prize money.

The imagination and passion that applicants poured into the process was impressive, Hall said.

“We had submissions that had drone camera footage. We had comedic takes on TikTok comedy. We had another one done as a duet by one person and one with multiple videos in one frame,” she said. “They all represent their schools and their pride in HBCUs. The creativity was out of this world.”

The four winning videos are posted on TBS’ YouTube channel (alongside promos for TBS shows, of course). Winner Kalen Robinson, a 2020 graduate of Howard University, sang part of her tribute: “Slide me that 25K/to fulfill my dreams of Broadway.”

Hall gives credit to TBS marketing executives Missy Chambless, Telmo Tabuas, Gabby Ballard and Shekia Morant for embracing an unconventional approach that delivered powerful content and resonated with the target audience. The skill portrayed in the videos crafted by Robinson and her fellow winners — Anastacia Davis (Alabama State University, 2017), Emani Nichols (Morehouse College, 2020) and Kevin Perry (Delaware State University, 2019) — will undoubtedly get attention as the winners pursue careers in acting, video production and employee recruiting. The winners were unveiled April 5 in a segment on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“This is how you build a better relationship with the Black community,” Hall said. “You’re literally changing the economic course of these young people’s lives for the better.”

(Pictured top: Emani Nichols, one of four winners of TBS’ “HBCU Cash Out Challenge” contest)