Keisha Whaley

Brass Tacks Collective 

Year Founded: 2016

Industry: Advertising and Marketing

One of our favorite things about Keisha is that she never intended to start her own business. An “accidental entrepreneur” as we like to call them here at Kelly CPA. Many great ideas are born out of frustration. If an issue doesn’t work itself out naturally, it’s only a matter of time before someone decides to DIY. Read on to hear how this problem solver is growing her one-of-a-kind agency.


A “teaching advertising” agency? We’re not familiar with that term. Tell us more!

We call Brass Tacks Collective a teaching advertising agency. It’s the first of its kind. We merge foundational application skills in advertising and marketing with a paid apprenticeship to provide comprehensive agency experience to upcoming job candidates. We prioritize clients who are nonprofits, small businesses, and local organizations who support our goals and our belief that everyone deserves quality work. Our core team members are industry professionals who understand the importance of being the mentor they needed when they were younger.


Where did the inspiration to start Brass Tacks Collective come from?

I joke that Brass Tacks Collective was born out of seven years of frustration. It seems that some agencies’ best work to help build communities is directly tied to press, rather than passion. It seems unfair that the expectation of an intern is to have the skill-set of a junior employee, but the willingness to work for little to no compensation. Then, to hire entry-level, everyone asks for one to two years’ experience, but few are willing to provide it. There is a message being delivered here about not being deserving; that low budget clients aren’t deserving of great work because they haven’t earned the funds to get it, and that people entering the ad world aren’t deserving of training and pay unless they’re lucky enough to catch a break (which usually means knowing the right person). After a lot of reading, conversations with colleagues and professors, and some soul searching, I decided there was a business model here. Thus, Brass Tacks Collective became a thing.


What differentiates Brass Tacks Collective from the competition?

The first way is that we don’t view the rest of the industry competitively. As far as the apprentices are concerned, our goal is to provide the most and best experience possible for the year that they’re here. That means collaboration and opportunities for partnerships, but it also means we’re providing their newest job candidates at the end of the program.

For our clients, there will always be someone willing to do work for less than we do. We price on a tiered system that recognizes where a business or organization is in its growth and overall budget, but we don’t do cheap work. We’re unwilling to sacrifice quality to undercut costs, but we’ll make adjustments to deliverables to work within a budget. We spend time getting to know each of our clients, asking questions, and developing our strategic approach to their brand and deliverables. We never simply ask what they want and produce it outright. Everything we create comes back to the “why.” Even still, the time and effort we’re spending on the project isn’t billed minute for minute. Any hours spent learning are footed by the agency. We only charge our clients for actual hours worked on their projects.


How has being a part of the WeWork community helped your business grow?

WeWork is a great champion of its members and we’ve benefitted from that in many ways. The most impactful way was our win during last year’s Creator Awards pitch competition, when we were granted $72,000. It was a game-changing moment for us, as we were able to buy computers and software for all of our apprentices, hire our first full-time employee that wasn’t me, and start putting on regular workshops where all instructors were paid for their time.

But my life with WeWork has been so serendipitous, I can’t just boil it down to the Creator Awards. When I needed space, but was given a small budget by my bookkeeper, Wesley Metter, on the WeWork team, made it happen for me. When I needed more space because I thought I’d only have four apprentices, but ended up with seven great candidates, another WeWorker, Chelsea Barrett happened by my office to tell me about a promotion that doubled my space for the same rate I was currently paying. When I was nervous about how we’d get through a year of work relying on our apprentices to provide their equipment, that’s when I found out about the Creator Awards. Since then, The potential member tours around our floor have resulted in several clients and collaborations as there’s always a stop at our door with a shoutout about what we do.

We doubled in size and in revenue within just a year at WeWork. I can’t wait to see what this year brings!


What can we expect to see from Brass Tacks Collective in the next 2 years?

We’re working on a nonprofit arm that the apprenticeship program will fall under, allowing us to expand the program to allow for more than seven spots each year. We’ll also be implementing a summer initiative (pre-apprenticeship) to reach younger talent in overlooked areas and give them another career path to consider. After that, our sights are on expansion to Austin! There’s a lot of work to do, but we’re excited to continue to grow and learn.


What is one piece of advice that you can offer to aspiring entrepreneurs?

I have a tattoo on my arm that says, “if not now, when?” It was something that stuck out to me in a seminar years ago and ended up being the note-to-self I needed when it came to starting Brass Tacks. I’d never planned on being an entrepreneur. I was fairly risk averse and, though I was told my whole life I was bossy, I didn’t want to be THE boss. I saw the problems that inspired Brass Tacks and tried, unsuccessfully, to implement the concept at my previous agencies. It became clear that I was going to have to do something on my own or the whole issue would go unrealized and unresolved. That intimidated me, but what choice did I have? Wait for someone else to do it and try to work for them? How long would that take considering seven years had already passed since I first saw the solution?

I think there are a lot of people who are probably sitting in the same position I was in. To them, I offer that question, “if not now, when?” The world won’t wait for you to be ready for entrepreneurship. There are a lot of considerations to make, things to prepare, and nights of sleep to lose, so why not get started now?



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