Ok, full disclosure I’ve been a huge admirer of Akbar’s work for some time, so I was so excited to sit down with him in advance of the NFT NYC conference kicking off this week.
Akbar’s visionary public relations, communications, social media and marketing strategies have established a reputation as a leader specialized in a digital-first world. Founder and CEO of his company, The 5th Column, he has succeeded to enter a field few of his contemporaries had the vision or ability to do – see an emerging trend and capitalise on it through starting a dedicated NFT, blockchain, + crypto division, 5CRYPTO. The NYC-based company is spearheading the field with clients that include some of the biggest innovators in the space from Metaverse leader, The Sandbox to WAX blockchain, William Quigley and VC legend and NFTs for social good thought leader, Bill Tai.
Hamid has been recently selected as a Forbes Next 1,000 honoree this year as well as recognized as an Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) making history in 2021 by Good Morning America. His professional success is reflected through his agency which has worked with an array of brands including Rémy Martin, Belvedere Vodka, Champagne Bollinger, Van Cleef & Arpels, Montblanc, Publicis Sapient, iFlix, R/GA, Boxed, The Dalmore Whisky, and more. With a well-marked global cultural perspective and business acumen starting in an altogether different place, 5th Column now plans to leverage their agency expertise to become the bridge between consumers and crypto.
Hamid: “When I interned in the U.S. Embassy in Paris under Ambassador Craig Stapleton, I was going for a career in foreign service or law, but I ended up working a lot with his attaché on events and public facing activities and realized it was something I really enjoyed. One of my best friends at Tulane University, Allison Garman, who is now one of the top publicists in Hollywood at Rogers and Cowan – really pushed me forward to explore that as a career path. I have to thank her for that!”
Fast forward a couple of decades later via stops at Peppercomm, Quintessentially, Harrison & Shriftman, Nike Communications and Mission Media, Hamid founded The 5th Column in 2015, turning it into a cutting edge communications practice of his own. Today, The 5th Column is a creative communications consultancy that prides itself in a bold, open, and visionary environment with freedom to present creative ideas and design unconventional solutions beyond the traditional PR agency model.
“Our tagline is ‘Conspiring Against Convention’. We do anything but traditional. We are minority-owned and women-led with a diverse team across the country. We’ve always pushed the envelope,” explains the founder. “In this industry it is important to be ahead of the trend and 5CRYPTO is a perfect example of that.”
Sensing an opportunity and seeing an early burgeoning trend, Akbar set up a cryptocurrency, NFT, metaverse and blockchain practice – 5CRYTPO to help facilitate B2B thought leadership and partnerships, B2C education, innovation and integration of consumer brands into the world of crypto. Today his team helps brands across music, gaming, collectibles, fashion, sports, lifestyle and technology in many aspects of crypto and NFT collection drops, expanding into the metaverse, partnerships and collaborations.
“5CRYPTO is helping brands bridge the gap between consumer & crypto and leading the conversation in an emergent #cryptoculture, bridging crypto into the mainstream, and disseminating the message and educating leaders on how to tap into the movement,” says Hamid. “We have a very unique positioning in that we work closely with both leaders in the crypto space and consumer space and have a strong understanding of both worlds.”
Akbar and his team are seeing a succession of mainstream brands undertake marketing strategies around implementing blockchain and crypto technologies. They are privy to insights for brands that want to be involved in this new transformation.
“Many brands are sitting on intellectual property goldmines and have so many assets they can already work with – but don’t know how to tap into the NFT space. It is crucial for MarComm’s pro’s to integrate NFTs into their campaigns authentically. Brands must learn to create programs that build communities and drive value for those communities and the businesses themselves.”
NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are the latest craze in both art and technology. In just over a year this new asset class has moved from being something of an insider tip to a $300+ million market with the potential to exceed $25B. While the growth and use-cases are unquestionably in art and media today, we are poised to see adoption in many other historically in-person-only collectables markets. From the likes of the Bored Apes Yacht Club – a crypto and NFT based community – that just sold one of their apes for $2.7Million (or 696.969 ETH), to Dolce & Gabbana who just sold their first ever NFT digital fashion collection for upwards of $5.7 million. Hamid invites brands into a new conversation and dialogue that is evidently to front the future of sales and media in due time.
“We work with a wide variety of leading clients in the NFT space. From iconic heavy metal band, Avenged Sevenfold, launching their Deathbats NFT experience and leveraging the technology to engage with fans to the Worldwide Asset eXchange™ (WAX), a leading global eco-friendly blockchain with NFTs across gaming and collectibles for brands including Hasbro (Power Rangers) and Mattel (Hot Wheels). WAX’s vIRL NFT technology is going to change the face of commerce as we know it.”
The NFT community is also just tapping into the beginnings of the possibilities in which this technology will change the way fundraising for charities will operate for the better. The concept of perpetual giving where philanthropic organizations selling NFTs can benefit in perpetuity every time the item is resold and continue to fundraise. Other brands are looking to charity, sustainability and other social issues that can benefit society as we know it.
“One of our clients, Metagood, is hoping to inspire people to help solve the climate change crisis through a new NFT marketplace for digital collectibles that benefits causes. Metagood is co-founded by Bill Tai (Silicon Valley investor who has funded companies such as Canva and Wish), Danny Yang & Amanda Terry. Metagood’s next NFT collection, focused on climate change, officially unveils in Glasgow today during the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26. They are partnering with the team behind the climate change projections at the Vatican and the Empire State Building. Together, they will project several new portraits taken by Steve McCurry on Glasgow’s “Armadillo” venue.”
Akbar’s disruptive and innovative approach should be inspiring to current marketing, PR, and communications leaders yet to cross the frontier of cryptocurrency, metaverse and NFTs. For celebrities, artists & musicians this tool is invaluable too as they can remove the middleman and directly communicate with fans and create unique experiences and giveaways through blockchain technology.
For brands there are already so many key use cases. The key is authentically-approached NFT campaigns through the lens of your community to strengthen the connection between brands and fans to create a mutually beneficial program experience.
It is a space of infinite possibilities. If you are not sure where to start there may be a hint in this article as to whom to speak to! Akbar’s vision as a communications leader is transforming and innovating our traditional marketing practices and starting a dialogue we ought to participate in to advance as a society.