If you haven’t heard of Briahna Gatlin then you should take this time to get acquainted
with the publicist who’s making a dynamic impact as a publicist in Chicago. Briahna has
been a writer, publicist, and talent agent before she even acquired it. Her passion for
writing and an ear for music led her to travel around the world and experience cultures
outside of the United States.
Throughout her years writing for publications like Source magazine, XXL magazine, and
being the executive editorial director of True Star magazine Briahna discovered a new
journey to pursue. The ability to set her own rules and denounce reservation and
limitations has opened the window of musical culture. Through her life revolves around
public relations (PR) she had no former teaching in how to be a publicist. She simply
utilize her journalist abilities to pitch a story and her vast networking connections to fuel
her entrepreneurial motive, which gave birth to her company Swank Publishing that was
established in 2006. Listen to how her journey to Swank came about…
WTW: What inspired you to become a writer?
Briahna: “I’ve been writing since high school. I started doing journalism as hobby,
preferably in class where I joined the school year book committee. Then, I realize like
that I had real passion for it. I was about 15 or 16 years old and I told my mother that I
could see myself doing this as a living.”
And that she did, while still in high school Briahna began to research different journalism
school to attend in college. As a result, to her intense diligence she was given an
opportunity, from her school, to study journalism in Oxford, England. There she met
Nelson Mandela and started to embrace the notion of journalism being an occupation.
During her senior year at Columbia College Chicago, Briahna interned for both Vibe
magazine in New York and Indigo magazine. However she didn’t gained employment as
a journalist until after she graduated. A friend of hers informed her about an opportunity
to work for Source magazine.
WTW: Tell us about your first published article?
Briahna: “My friend, who I interned with at Vibe, had started working for Source
magazine. So he called me and asked would like I liked to interview this artist named
Malik Yusef, who had an albumn coming out called The Great Chicago Fire. It was a
dope album. I ended up interviewing him for Source and that’s how I got my first
“I became the “go-to- person” in Chicago from New York because I had been traveling
back and forth since I was 15 years old. Also, I got a network in New York and I was
networking while I was in college, it just happened that. By this time I had been writing a
little under ten years and it was a very exciting thing for me.”
In using her New York sources and networking them through Chicago publications, she
became known as the ‘go-to girl’ who had resources and intellect to bridge the gap
between Midwest and East coast entertainment. By 2005, Briahna had the advantage to
remain vital among her peers.
WTW: How did Swank Publishing come about?
Briahna: “Swank came out of me working with a after school program called True Star,
which is teen magazine that produce by teenagers who write/edit articles and design the
layout of the magazine. At first, the company published newsletters. I came up with the
bright idea of teens being more interested in publishing magazines than just newsletters.
I, pretty much, became the Editorial Director became I came on board with the
experience of the magazine and knowing what magazine journalism was.
“Alongside True Star came Scream Star magazine. Michael Mauldin, who is Jermaine
Dupri father, hired us to do a custom magazine for the Scream tour. Swank came out of
us realizing we could do a publish magazine and have clientele. We started Swank
publishing because we wanted to do something that was custom, where we could get
clients, as well as, get people to hire us to do catalogs or anything that was custom. We
also wanted to surround it around sponsorship and events.”
Though, highly grateful for Swank Publishing, Briahna openly admits that she wasn’t
focuses on started her own company at first. In fact, when the market crash Briahna’s
position as a grant writer was in jeopardy with the Source. She became more defiant in
her search for employment elsewhere when her writer check from the Source did not
clear and she was left with little to no money to survive on. In desperation for a job,
Briahna took her mother advice in starting her own business as a publicist.
WTW: Did you plan to start your own PR Company?
Briahna: “At first, No! Because I had been working independently with entrepreneurs
before and I was cool with just finding a job and traveling. I was doing PR for True Star
before I acknowledge that I was doing PR. So, I pretty much started this company
because I did not have anything else going on at that moment. And Swank Publishing
was formed of out creative because I could not find employment.
WTW: What tactics do you use to maintain a successful business?
Briahna: “Before us, there really wasn’t a music publicist (per se) in Chicago. There
was Regina Daniels who mostly represented R. Kelly at that time. So she didn’t have the
time to represent many clients like I did. Also, by me being the only person that’s been
doing Hip Hop PR for so long, I got a lot of clients by default because no one had a
company. My first client was GLC, who signed to G.O.O.D Music. Once I had him as a
client and we staring working I was able to pick up more clients, which started a whole
movement of Hip Hop artists and people in the entertainment industry knowing theirs a
go-to publicist in Chicago. But mainly I’m able to sustain my business by being smart.”
WTW: You’ve been around the music industry for years. You’ve seen how the Hip
Hop genre has evolved throughout Chicago. So give me a description of the
Southside versus Westside music in Hip Hop?
Briahna: “Wow, that’s a good question. The Southside definitely has the drill music and
outlet of what is going on in their neighborhoods. From the industry standpoint, when
Chief Keef came out people in the industry was like ‘who is this’. So the fact that this
huge underground movement had been created and nobody in the music business knew
about it, in Chicago, was a scary thing. It literally catapulted and opened up this whole
entire world. The Westside music has more of a party feel to it. Though Westside music
contain the trap lyrics in them, it sounds is more geared toward having fun and enjoying
the moment. Westside music is definitely more fun where you can have a good time and
just kick it. We got DLOW, Kemo, and all these kids that will dance in the middle of the
street if their song is on.”
WTW: With that being said, what talent or attributes are you looking for within an
artist you decide to represent?
Briahna: “I’m looking for content. That’s number one. I’m looking for a message;
something I can pull out of it or a passion I get from it. They have to know how to rap. I
can’t work with anyone who can’t even write a hook because if I try pitch a artist to Sway
in Morning and you don’t know how to rap, then what does that say about me? You have
to know how to make good music, or at least an okay song. If you got something I can
work with, a message, and some good production then we can start working from there.”
WTW: Why do you think Westside artist can’t make it mainstream other than with
Briahna: “Well, I think that question is dumb because there are Westside artist that have
been mainstream. I think, overall, a lot of good artists in Chicago get over looked
because of what is already out. I think Bop music and Drill music are actually even
ground. It’s even ground because there only so far you can go with both of those
categories. What made Drill music more popular were the violence and the media
sensationalizing Southside violence. Now, Bop music is fun and trendy for that moment.
It’s more like ‘young kid’ type music. After awhile you can’t listen to it after you done
heard it five times. There both limited in what they can, so I would say they are even
WTW: Last question, In five years where do you expect Swank Publishing to be?
Briahna: “I don’t expect be working with just rappers. I will have one or two locations
in a different city. And I expect to be doing more major concerts and festivals by that
time. Overall, just becoming a brand like a Roc Nation.