In the series, Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx shine a spotlight on the diverse journeys of black women in sports – from veteran athletes to rising stars, coaches, executives and more. Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sport.
Jocelyn Monroe is a goalscorer. She sees a dream, takes aim and hits the mark: mission accomplished. The accomplished entertainment and sports marketing expert wants nothing more than to share that golden touch with her clients. Fulfilling her dreams and building a system for the future generation of leaders at Creative Artist Agency (CAA) is the mission she faces every day.
Since working for groundbreaking PR and personal brand builder Terrie Williams, Monroe has had one desire – to earn the highest level of trust and respect from her clients. And whether she’s serving as a liaison between an international mega-brand and the NBA, or helping to shape and build DEI at CAA, Monroe jumps into the game headfirst, always focused on mastering what’s right in front of her.
In coveted Madison Square Garden, this graduate of Albany State College (BA in Marketing) and North Carolina State University (MA in Sports Management) took her first steps toward becoming a leader in the sports world. Not bad for a first job as a marketing rep, a role that landed her at Terrie Williams Agency, where she was brought up to start the agency’s sports division; Allan Houston Company; and then Chinese sports brand Li-Ning, where it became the catalyst for the first China-NBA deal.
After positions at Coca-Cola and OMD USA, Monroe ended up at CAA. In her role as a thought leader in entertainment and sports marketing, Monroe’s current focus is on expanding CAA’s diversity, Monroe said. “I really want young women like me who are in smaller institutions to be more aware of the jobs that are available to them,” says Monroe, who began working with a colleague on the CAA golf team to build on conversations about diversity.
These discussions led to CAA hiring a new head of global inclusion strategy. “My personal part of this framework is going to the HBCU campuses and talking to the students in the business and communications schools about my journey,” she says. “And to let them know that there is an opportunity for them to get in touch with this organization if they are interested.”
Another step in Monroe’s process is the expansion of CAA’s Explore, a virtual weekend program where students can hear from a variety of CAA leaders. “That’s the goal of my work,” says Monroe, who joined the agency in 2018. “And if you’re interested in what you’ve heard from our team, the next step is to consider our internship program. So we’re trying to create end-to-end connectivity to create opportunities for students who might not even know the opportunity exists.”
Acceptance of connectivity was a major factor in Monroe’s success. When she was ready to leave Allan Houston Enterprises, she decided that the corporate sector would be her next destination. Yvette Chavis, a good friend who was then working in the NBA, knew that Monroe would be a great fit for a key role at Li-Ning (the “Nike of China”). Securing this position would not only change Monroe’s life, it would also transform the relationship between the NBA and international sports marketing relationships.
The largest Chinese-owned sporting goods brand at the time needed help working with US players and understanding their culture. Monroe was the ideal match. Chavis told her that “Li-Ning needs someone in America to really leverage the NBA and really work with it, to connect them and guide them through working in the American market.”
As US marketing manager for Li-Ning, Monroe laid the foundation for Li-Ning to become the first Chinese-owned company to become an NBA sponsor. It’s an amazing memory now, but back then, Monroe was afraid of the opportunity. Still, she made the best of it, cautiously and strategically.
“It was probably my first real understanding of how to sell myself, my ideas and what I brought to the table,” she says. “These were people who had no idea who I am. They had no idea who Terrie Williams was and the schools I attended meant nothing to them. I sold what was right in front of them. Me and my brain.”
She went on to explain that “Chinese culture wants to connect with you in ways that go beyond business. They want to feel like we work as a family. It’s very important to them,” says Monroe. “I was a southern girl from a small town in Georgia working with a national brand and an international brand based in China. As a person, I was probably a foreign word to them.”
Ultimately, she left Li-Ning executives feeling very competent, and that helped lay a real foundation for success in the US market. Monroe made her next career move to OMD Worldwide ahead of Li-Ning’s first US deal. However, she had broken the floodgates of that international relationship, which set the tone for sports icon Shaquille O’Neal to leave Reebok and sign with Li-Ning. Retired basketball sensation Dwayne Wade is celebrating 10 years in partnership with the brand. “I was trying to help them create a great foundation where they could gain exposure and really establish the brand as a viable opportunity for American athletes nationally,” says Monroe.
The former Coca-Cola marketing executive also dabbled in entertainment with some of the music industry’s biggest names long before they were multiple Grammy winners. “We did a music series called ‘Uncapped,’ which featured then-unknown artists like Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar,” she says. “Kendrick performed on a small 175-person stage at an indoor skate park in Portland very early in his career when no one knew who he was. It was a great opportunity to harness the power of Coca-Cola and work on brands that have done amazing things.”
The Nissan College 100 at OMD Worldwide was another first in her career, allowing Monroe to focus on her HBCU and diversity mission. She worked on the Japanese car brand’s 100 deals with 100 different schools over a period of six to eight weeks. It was the biggest deal in college sports at the time. “I think we’ve all had Power 5 conferences in the country,” she says. “We included all 22 sports and had five or six HBCUs.”
The former high school cheerleader and college dance team member continues to champion the next generation of leaders, helping them achieve their dream careers just as their mentors prepared them for success. People like Jeannette Solomon, who Monroe worked for throughout college and inspired her to do whatever she wanted in life; and Darryl Cobbin, the former Coca-Cola executive who was instrumental in developing Sprite’s “Obey Your Thirst” slogan, played a pivotal role in her life. “They just opened up their knowledge base and said, ‘I’m here for you.'”
And she has every intention of maintaining that legacy. “I want people to look back and say there are others who got opportunities because Jocelyn was here,” says Monroe. “The diversity pipeline is very important to me because it provides opportunities for students of color to be successful. And when I say we make people’s dreams come true, I take it seriously. I want to work with someone in a way that will pass it on and open up the possibility to someone else who looks like me.”
Bryna Jean-Marie is an employee of Strengthen Onyxa diverse, multi-channel platform that celebrates the stories and transformative power of sport for black women and girls.