Trusting your gut instinct and having faith in your decisions is difficult. Enter the world of hip hop PR and marketing and that difficulty multiples by tenfold. But Lola Plaku, Founder of iLuvLola and LOLA MEDIA GROUP has managed to stay afloat in an industry that often tanks careers before they’ve barely had a chance to begin.
As a woman, she demonstrates exactly how to balance a career with a personal life and how to stay business minded while also creating and maintaining genuine connections. Artists like A$AP Rocky and the A$AP Mob, Big Sean, Trinidad Jame$, Fredo Santana and French Montana have all put their careers in her hands with good faith that her knowledge of the industry would steer them in the right direction. And it has.
Lola is hard-working, fearless, honest and so down to earth that it’s easy to see why she’s been successful. While in New York, she took time out to speak with Bad Perm on the evolution of her career as well as dishing out invaluable advice for up-and-comers.
Bad Perm: Back in the day, I remember seeing your profile on TDotWire promoting events and then you went on to write for HipHopCanada and you climbed the ranks there before transitioning into marketing, PR and media. You’ve been very open and honest about your career in interviews before but what’s one thing that people don’t know about your come up? Something about your journey that you were reluctant to share before?
Lola Plaku: I’ve never really been reluctant to share anything. I’m very upfront and honest. I don’t believe in disclosing everything about yourself but I believe in speaking your mind. There isn’t really anything I haven’t shared when asked. There’s been a lot of free work. People have this idea that you reach a certain level in the industry where everybody thinks that you’ve made it; that you’ve done so much work and they see that you run with celebrities; they see you on Instagram and Twitter – well, before there wasn’t Instagram or Twitter – but now they see social media and they think your life has always been like that.
I did a lot of work for free. When I was in university, I was working for HipHopCanada. I was writing for Swaggnews at the time, I was contributing to The Smoking Section and I was constantly doing interviews. I was also working at the bank and I was working at Mr. Sub on the university campus. I was never never getting paid for the interviews I did. It wasn’t until like four or five years later that I actually started getting paid work to write for magazines or to write biographies or press releases and whatever else I came across.
All my work was free. Students in university and kids who want to be in the music business always ask me how they can get in the same line of work that I am in or do all the interviews I did and they think that’s going to get them paid. And it’s not. I’ve helped a lot of people and done a lot of free work because I believe it helped me build my portfolio and develop some great relationships and get my name out there, but not necessarily paid at the time.
BP: Touching back on social media, when you first started out it was very basic – things like blogs and forums where people kept it fairly clean and professional. But now with things like Twitter and Instagram which are literally known to discredit people in their careers, how do you maintain that delicate balance between being personable but not implicating yourself? Between promoting your business but in a fun and fresh way?
LP: That’s actually a great question. I want to give you an example. Somebody tweeted me recently – not to put that person on blast or anything, they’re just a fan – but they were asking me when a French Montana song was going to drop and I didn’t respond back to the tweet. The person tweeted me again and was like “I know you saw my tweet, when is the record coming?” and I went off on them because I would never want to be that person that leaked something -even if it’s just a release date – just to earn bragging rights or be the one with the “exclusive.”
I think a way that I’ve maintained a balance between my personal life and my professional life is that I keep what’s personal, personal and I keep what’s business, business. If it’s somebody’s project and I want to put it out there then I’ll announce something. But just because I’m around certain people doesn’t mean that I have the right to put their business out there. Artists especially don’t want you around if you are going to put all their work, or their personal stuff or whatever they have going on, on Instagram or Twitter. I refrain myself from going “Oh my God! I’m hanging out with this person!” unless they’re O.K. with it. Sometimes they want me to be around because they want me to tweet about them or their project for more publicity, but in most situations I’m not going to put what I’m doing this very second on blast. I also don’t want to over-hype something unless I’m directly involved with it.
I think that’s given me the opportunity to balance my personal life and the professional iLuvLola. Does that make sense?
BP: Yes, definitely! In terms of nurturing relationships and not asking a favor from key industry people right off the bat, how do you manage networking and are there any things that you would have done differently in retrospect?
LP: Oh my God I would do everything differently!
[We burst out in laughter]
I can’t change the past. I hate when people ask for help because nobody’s helpless. Everybody can do something to better themselves. Ask for help when you are close to achieving something but still need that little extra push. People that ask for help right away are lazy. I don’t encourage that at all. My business has moved forward because I’ve been able to maintain great relationships with people. In this business, you have to be needed in order for people to want you around. You have to make yourself irreplaceable. I was always offering to help people without an underlying motive and I think that’s why people respected my ethics.
I never thought of it like ‘I can get you on XYZ Magazine but I’m going to charge you X amount of money for it, or I need something in return for it. It’s more of a “I think you’re a talented artist, I genuinely respect you and your music and/or your movement. Let me see if I can help with what you have going on.” Also on the same token when I pitch a story about an artist to a writer or the magazine, the story has to make sense to who I’m pitching it to. It’s not because I’m trying to use my relationship as Lola being like ‘hey, you’re my friend, hook me up, do this for me and I’m going to do this for you in return.’ It’s more like ‘if it makes sense for you, I’m going to come to you with it.’
What I would do different?
I cannot change who I am and I’m always going to want other people to succeed, but If I could go back I would probably take a regular job in the music industry, learn the ropes and then branch out on my own and focus on my goals. I had to do things for free in order to build myself but for a long time I was on my own doing everything myself and that’s always harder than being a part of something bigger.
BP: Sometimes the lines are blurred between business and friendship, working and having fun. I feel like it’s especially hard for women because people are quick to use awful labels like “bitch” or “slut,” so what advice do you have to give young women in terms of maintaining a respectable reputation?
LP: Once again that’s a very good question and it’s very true. I have no personal life, that’s basically my life. Going back to your question for a second “If you could do anything different,” I would have tried harder at maintaining a personal life. My personal life is somewhat non-existent. I’ve neglected my friends over and over again and I’ve put industry acquaintances first. I know a whole world of people in the music industry but few of those are actually friends. There are very few genuine lasting relationships with people that you’re doing business with. It’s always business, even when it’s personal. If it has to do with money or a career, it’s always business.
I don’t have a personal life. I don’t date – I barely ever date. Nobody ever dished out gossip on me because there is nothing to really dish out. I literally work all day, everyday. I make work my priority. For other women in the music industry in general, I feel like it’s about how you see yourself and how you want to be seen. If you see yourself as a businesswoman then other people have to see you the same way as well. People should be comfortable to be themselves around you and discuss ideas with you, but not so comfortable that they are okay to use you or step over you. It’s just about being able to balance.
Thank God I haven’t really had to deal with too many people bad mouthing me. When someone does call me a bitch, it’s because they’re not getting what they want. It’s O.K. sometimes to be a bitch. It’s ok to not be everybody’s best friend. But you have to find the balance between being yourself and being the person that other people respect.