Contrecia Tharpe is a marketing, branding and communications professional with over 13 years of experience in the industry. In 2008, she started neuIMC, a boutique integrated marketing and communications firm in Nashville. She has worked with national and international brands, businesses and individuals in the nonprofit, sports, entertainment, travel, small business and education sectors. Contrecia is an advocate for small and medium business success and works to maximize and identify opportunities, craft strategies and create solid business foundations for her clients.
With a passion for education, redemption, desistance and equity, Contrecia started The DREAM initiative with Robert Sherrill in an effort to change the narrative surrounding recidivism and second chances. Contrecia is a current board member of Nashville CABLE, Impact Youth Outreach, and Shelters 2 Shutters, where she serves as their Chair of Communications. She also volunteers her time as a mentor with SCORE and Nashville’s Entrepreneur Center.
Contrecia obtained her doctorate from Trevecca Nazarene University in 2019. With her seven years of higher education faculty experience, she is a faculty member at Nashville’s Tennessee State University in the communications department where she teaches public speaking, marketing and communications courses. She’s currently writing her first textbook, Strategic Integrated Marketing Communications: Practical Theory and Application, and her second consumer book, The Pursuit of Done: Overthinker to Doer.
At our upcoming Mentoring Matters event on September 22, Contrecia will be serving as a guest mentor and discussing “Authentic Vulnerability and Brand Storytelling: Building trust through relatability and realness.” To join Contrecia’s virtual table, click here.
We sat down with Contrecia to learn more about how she got started in her career and the impact mentorship has had on her journey.
WHAT LED YOU TO A CAREER IN COMMUNICATIONS, BRANDING, PR, AND THE POSITION YOU’RE IN TODAY AS THE OWNER OF YOUR AGENCY AND A COLLEGE EDUCATOR?
Initially, I started out as a makeup artist in college. When I was at the University of Memphis, my aunt was a wedding planner and I assisted her for extra funds when I was in school. One day, her makeup artist didn’t show up and I filled in. From there it blossomed into a career as a makeup artist. As a professional makeup artist, I was signed with an agency. I was doing book covers, magazines, music tours and award shows. I worked hand in hand with the publicist for the talent and I realized makeup was not my passion. It was something that I was good at because I liked the creativity of it, but it was never really what I felt like I was called to do. So, I jumped ship. I made a lateral jump using the connections that I had, and I started in communications. That was 13 years ago. I’ve never worked in a marketing and communications department, but I’ve always had the freelance behind me. So, in 2012, I stepped out of corporate America completely and into my own agency full time. And we’ve been rocking and rolling ever since.
As far as the education component of it, education has always been something that I’m passionate about. I’ve always asked myself, “What is my retirement plan? What is it that I want to do after entrepreneurship is no longer my thing?” Higher education just seemed like the perfect fit. I love being able to pour into the future professionals of the industry and I love being able to leave my imprint and my mark on them. I still talk to a majority of my students and it’s just it’s an amazing feeling. Higher education is where I want to retire eventually and because of that, it makes sense to become a faculty member in the industry that I’m in.
HOW HAVE YOU TAKEN ON THE ROLE OF A MENTOR THROUGH EDUCATION?
I’ve taken on the role of a mentor through education, the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, and SCORE. I started mentoring with SCORE in 2014 and then I became a part of the Entrepreneur Center in 2017. Mentorship is one of those things that wasn’t something that I adopted but rather it was something that was needed. Mentorship now is very popular, and being able to get information from people who have been where you’ve been before and who understand the hardships, so you can speak transparently about what you’re going through can make or break a business. It’s being able to say, “Hey, this is my pain point. This is what I need help with. How can you help me?”
We’ve seen an influx in entrepreneurship and small business ownership, and I think that that’s directly correlated to the number of mentors now, because prior to it, people kept the struggles, the hardships, the circumstances and the tough times to themselves and only let the good things show. But being able to talk through those so that you can learn, if A happens, this is normal, and then B needs to happen so I can overcome it. Whereas before you had to just feel your way through it.
HOW HAS MENTORSHIP IMPACTED YOUR PROFESSIONAL JOURNEY?
I have a bigger respect for mentorship now that I am a mentor, as well as a mentee. When I first started out, having a mentor was something that you heard that big time CEOs really had. You didn’t really think about mentors for smaller businesses, even though we had opportunities like SCORE, because there was such a gap in the experiences that they might’ve had at that time. A majority of the SCORE mentors were matured white men who had a very corporate experience. Whereas here I am, a 23-year-old Black female, trying to start a small boutique agency. There was such a gap in our experiences that my issues seemed small, and their experiences were so vast. Now I’m able to really respect it and value the opportunity to be a mentor or a mentee because there’s so much information out there and you can Google anything, but to deal with someone and be able to hear and take from their experiences, that’s completely different.
IS THERE AN EXPERIENCE YOU HAD AS A MENTEE THAT HAS INFORMED OR SHAPED HOW YOU APPROACH BEING A MENTOR?
I think it was more as a student, understanding what impacted me and which educators left a mark on my life, and why. It was their leadership in the classroom and the way they mentored me as a professor and as a teacher, regardless of what grade I was in, that shaped me, not only as a mentor, but as a professor myself.
The fact that I can recall that my kindergarten teacher’s name was Ms. Land, and my first-grade teacher was Ms. Fox, and my PE teacher in fourth grade was Ms. Abernathy. It was those teachers that really, really left a mark because they were passionate about what they did, and passionate about their students. Ms. Abernathy just retired from MNPS. I kept up with her, even up until I graduated high school, and Ms. Abernathy was at my high school graduation. She cared about how successful I was. She genuinely cared about what I wanted to do. She genuinely cares even today about what I’m doing, how my son is doing. My high school volleyball coach is the same way. It was the passion that kind of flooded and trickled into every area and every outreach point that they had. That’s the biggest thing, being attentive, being in the moment, being aware, being present—that’s what made the difference. It wasn’t just a job for them. It wasn’t just the title. It was something that they enjoy doing.
WHAT’S THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE A MENTOR HAS GIVEN YOU?
Control the controllable. Why? Because I think that we can get so weighed down by the uncontrollable things. I was a person who, and I’m writing a book on it now called The Pursuit of Done, was an overthinker. And most people are, regardless of what you’re going through, regardless of what you’re doing, a lot of people overthink where they’re currently at or where they’re trying to go, or that distance between where you are now and where you want to be. That’s filled with a lot of doubt, a lot of worry, a lot of overthinking. And so I was the person who was constantly focused on the destination that I could never really enjoy the journey.
A friend of mine, Judge Rachel Bell, that is her tagline: Control the controllable. And it just means, I can’t control the journey, I’m just on it. Right? So it might rain, it might storm, there might be construction, I might need to take a detour. All of those things that happen are from external factors that I can’t control, but I can’t control how I deal with it. I can control my actions, my behavior, my mindset. And so if I can remain rooted in controlling the controllable, then the uncontrollable things can’t deter me.
Contrecia Tharpe is serving as a Guest Mentor for our upcoming event Mentoring Matters, a professional group mentoring and networking event taking place virtually on September 22 from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. At this event, you’ll have the unique opportunity to spend an hour with Contrecia or another prominent leader of your choice. Contrecia’s discussion is entitled: Authentic Vulnerability and Brand Storytelling: Building trust through relatability and realness. All proceeds go to supporting Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee’s programs and services.
Buy tickets to secure your spot today at www.mentorakid.org/mentoring-matters.