How Lola Plaku Gets Money By Making Other People Famous
If you checked out photos from French Montana’s birthday party a few months back, you would’ve seen a babe in braids posing for solo pics with Drake, French, and Christina Milian. Was it an influencer? A groupie? French’s new girlfriend? Nope, it was Lola Plaku.
But who is Lola Plaku? You may not know her name, or even her face, but you know her work. She’s been a journalist, a brand consultant, an event planner, and an artist manager; and she’s worked with all your favorite rappers during their come-up, from Drake to The Weeknd.
But how did Lola go from working at a fast food place to building the brands for some of the biggest Toronto rappers? We talked to the multi-talented boss about how she created her own career for herself, how she made big rappers take her seriously, and what she’s doing to help younger girls follow their dreams.
What was your first job out of school and what you do now?
When I was going to university I was interning at the same time. I was paid to do PR work, I was paid to write bios, I was paid as a journalist because I was a journalism major. I was paid throughout that and when I moved to Canada at 15, I already had a job. I worked at A&W, I worked at a bank, I worked at a bunch of different places. So when I graduated university, I wasn’t handed a job, it was more so the money I would make from submitting articles or from interviews or PR work. The first place that got me a position was Little X, I did marketing for his event production company in Toronto called Maxamus Entertainment. After that I also worked at CP Records, a record label that housed some of the biggest Canadian artists at the time. In Canada they had a full service record label and I became the online marketing director for that label.
Okay going back, since most people aren’t getting paid to do what you were getting paid to do in university, how did you get to that point?
I interned a lot, I wrote a lot of articles, I became an editor for an online magazine called Hip-Hop Canada. I never got paid for that, it was always an internship the entire time. But whenever other people would see I got [interviews with] TI and The Black Eyed Peas or whoever, they’d be like, “oh, we want that content.” It wasn’t like anyone was assigning me [these people], I just had these relationships. And they’d be like, “well, we need this person for our magazine, can you get them? We’ll pay you $150 for this piece.”
Most people aren’t getting paid [to write freelance] now because a lot of time they don’t have the relationships for the story. They want to be able to get paid, but if the editor is giving you the interview and is assigning you content, they can give it to a staff writer.
I would send out so many pitches to American magazines hoping they would hire me, and I didn’t realize you needed a work visa. I was like, “I have experience, I know a shit ton of people, why can’t I get hired?” And then one person said, “maybe you can send me a pitch for a piece instead.” That’s when I realized that what editors are looking for was for people to actually go to them with a story, versus people being like, “hi, I’m a writer, can you please hire me?”
So you were saying you had relationships with these artists that other magazines wanted, how did you get those contacts?
Canada was an untapped market. So a lot of the content came from the editor assigning me little pieces coming from up and coming rappers. When he saw that I was adequate in writing a good story, he then assigned me a bigger piece. I was just really good at talking, I guess. I would always say to management or whoever I was connected with over email, “if you ever need anything in Toronto, just let me know. if you want to be booked for an event or if you need more interviews or need more press let me know.”
I wasn’t just doing one thing; I was all over the place. When I started working with Little X’s company, I had the opportunity to put some of their artists I interviewed together for a show. For example, I interviewed Fab and kept in touch with management, and I told them I wanted them to come back and do a party. And they were like, “okay, can you book us?” I said yes, I knew the promoters, because back then there was no Instagram, no Twitter, there was no way to find out [for someone who didn’t know]. Now you can just email artists, “hey, I want to book you for something.”
I was that person in Toronto, cause I knew the scene. So when an artist would need to come back to Toronto they would call me. I became kind of like the plug in Canada. I was sad it wasn’t the states, but it was an advantage to me.
Cool, so what do you do now?
Strategy development and artist management. That is it. I develop strategies and branding for artists to help gain more exposure in the industry and I also decided to get into artist management.
When you went from journalism to PR and marketing, was it a conscious decision or did it just happen?
It just happened. I would have upcoming rappers in Toronto be like, “hey, you go through a shit load of press kits, can you tell me what I should do on my press kit?” I would be charging like $150 for a bio, $1000 for a press kit, and I thought I made it. If I had known how to structure my business properly from then, I would probably have a super bombin’ business, but I didn’t.
It’s nice that with journalism they come to you, whereas in PR you have to go to the journalists.
Yeah, that’s the worst. When you do PR and have to go to editors or journalists and ask them for a story and sometimes you’ll get a really cool artist, and sometimes you won’t get someone so cool and they’ll be like, “uh I don’t know if that makes sense for our brand.” That’s what I’m going back to right now, instead of doing PR and articles, it’s more so developing a pitch.
At the time we used to send folders, it would be full press kits in folders, like printed biographies and full albums in there. We would put CDs in the press kits and whoever had the coolest physical press kit design got the story. I remembered Jesse was the editor-in-chief of the site and some people’s [press kits] would be one flimsy page, which sucks cause maybe they had a cool story to tell, but they just didn’t know how to put it together properly.
Nowadays with social media I feel like so many people in this industry are trying to get their own 15 minutes, and trying to be influencers, but you were more helping other people get their 15 minutes, so how do you think that ended up working to your advantage?
I became an influencer by default when I started doing concerts and fans would see me with the artist. They would be like, “Oh my God, you’re so cool, you must be so important.” Being a girl and being around so many artists was also super difficult because fans look at you and are like, “Well, what do you really do? Why are you around these people, what is your job title and job description?”
Nowadays influencers are always just on their phones, or Snapchats and socials, and artists become accustomed to it and they want it. They want people who have high profiles and high followers to be around them. Like, we invite influencers on set to music videos. I have no problem bringing influencers around because we want their cosign, influencers now dictate what is cool. Before, artists wanted their privacy.
I’ve never said this to a media outlet before, but I took a photo onset of a major video on my Blackberry back in 2007/2008. Twitter had just started and I had like, no followers. One blog had followed me and saw my picture on set, and [reposted it]. I literally got shunned from videos from that artist for like five years. Now you get invited on set with artists and if you don’t put them on Instagram or Snapchat it’s almost an insult [to them].
So kind of going back to earlier about people being like, “oh who is that girl?” The music industry is dominated by men and most rappers are men. Were there times where you felt uncomfortable or as a businesswoman you felt disrespected?
I think that as a woman, most of the time people overlook you because they feel like you’re not assertive enough. It’s been difficult because a lot of artists don’t take you seriously unless you have crazy money. Rappers take financial success seriously to some extent, and as a women you have to either be up to par with their lifestyle, or be so accomplished they can’t say no to you. So yeah it was a struggle because no matter how much I did, it never equated to them saying, “you’re the shit, you have done this and accomplished this.” Only the past few years, the more I work with artists, the more they respect the fact that I can break them and I can help them come out into the public and build a fan base.
When I was younger of course it was fucking difficult. Cuz you would get into the room and they’d be like, “Oh she’s just a girl, oh she’s so cute, oh you’re so pretty.” So when I would do concerts, sometimes I feel bad because I would have to overcompensate and I would be really rude or really mean to a lot of people. When I worked with French [Montana], we would go to concerts and I would be like, “lights aren’t ready, this isn’t ready, we need this done, we need that done,” and it just automatically came, like the bossiness in me came out. Nobody would do it if you asked politely. If you are a woman, you had to have assertiveness for people to listen.
I also find that as a woman you also have to know what you’re talking about. When I was a journalist and doing all of my interviews, I would research the shit out of everybody I was interviewing because I never wanted it to be like, “What do you know about hip hop? You’re just a white girl.” So I would study tapes and everything I could do to be informed in that. When I wanted to book an artist, I knew everything about the venue, the capacity, the ticket prices, I would know everything. My strength was just to inform myself and to be able to be quick as possible when dealing with men or artists or whatever, and be just as capable as the next guy.
Are there times when it’s hard to draw the line from business and pleasure?
I’ve tried to be something unattainable. I don’t know if I just decided to wear overly baggy clothes or to not wear makeup, but I never wanted to be the center of attention, I never wanted to walk into a room and have people be like, “Look at Lola, she’s so bad.” I just wanted be unnoticed and to work, just work really hard. And I feel like over time people were like, “Yo, Lola works her fucking ass off.” To me that’s a bigger compliment then, “Oh my god, you’re so beautiful.”
Now it’s easier, if you’re really good at what you do people will deal with whatever baggage you bring. Or if you’re a women and you’re really popping or cool, no matter what people will respect that because you’re almost on their status, you’re almost just like a celebrity whereas back then when I was working I could never be the cool girl. I had to be the hard worker. I’ve never wanted to walk in the room and be the girl people would point out and be like, “Yeah, I smashed. I wanted to make whatever decision, I wanted to be conscious of everything I did and I wanted to walk into the room being able to hold my head up high knowing that whatever I did, I did it fully knowing what’s up. I just never wanted to let my free time fuck up my business relationships in any way.
How are you starting to share your knowledge of the industry with others aspiring entrepreneurs?
To me it is very challenging to see young women or men get in the business for the wrong reasons. Get in the business because they want to be around artists or be popular, they want to be in cool events or backstage. So I want to be able to teach young people that they can be great at anything they want to do. They don’t need to work in the music industry for them to see greatness. I’m starting a mentorship program in Toronto called Girl Connected, where I am accepting 50 girls to start with and I’m offering workshops to work one on one with them, to help create a direction for where they want to go in life and give them mentors and people they can learn from in whatever industry they want to be in. So I feel like that’s my way of guiding the youth in the right way, because I feel like Instagram and Twitter makes people think that [creative industries] are the only way to be popular and cool. Some of the most important things that we enjoy in life today are from people who work really hard in sciences or in other fields that have made discoveries to help us be who we are today.