Exclusive — Mastering the world of digital content with Zack Ahmed
Zack Ahmed is an award winning marketing executive who’s been recognised for his creative strategies and behind-the-scenes direction for some of the world’s largest branded campaigns. He’s worked with YouTubers, musical artists, and renowned brands, and we recently chatted to him about his early beginnings and finding success through the self-starter lifestyle.
You may not know digital marketer and Gen Z networker Zack Ahmed by name, but there’s a good chance you’ve seen at least one of his many campaign projects online.
At only 21, he’s clocked up a hugely impressive list of partnerships through his digital design work that have helped him reach big influencers like KSI, mainstream musicians including NSG and Bugsy Malone, and even forge a relationship with the president of Sony Music. He’s built networks that generate over 100+ million monthly views on YouTube for a range of global brands and has serious networking clout these days, but it hasn’t always been swanky backstage events and high-level conference calls.
Zack is a self-starter in every sense of the word. Growing up in Cyprus as an orphan until he was 10 years old, he moved to the UK and quickly discovered a passion for design, teaching himself Photoshop skills via YouTube tutorials. It wasn’t long before he found himself working with brands across the UK and beyond on digital content for albums, video covers, and YouTube gaming channels.
We linked up with Zack on a Zoom call from across the pond this week to discuss how he got started, how he learned his craft, and where he thinks the digital media world is headed in the future. We even managed to get a couple of tips for other young entrepreneurs looking to make a splash online — Zack was very generous with his advice.
Self-starting and learning the craft
The first thing I notice on our call is that he seems eager to tell us about his life thus far and his early start in the industry.
He says he first got inspired by superhero films when he was in Cyprus as a young boy. ‘We used to always watch Disney and Marvel movies and I’d question where these companies come from, I had a real sense of curiosity’. Moving to the UK a few years later, he saw product logos at Heathrow airport and felt opportunity beckon. ‘I realised the bigger brands I saw as a child were now on my doorstep’.
That enthusiasm to tap into business continued throughout his life in England. ‘During the time I’d be off school I’d be learning stuff on the internet’, Zack says. ‘My aunty and uncle who adopted me bought a laptop for my birthday as a gift, it was a DELL Inspiron. I jumped on Facebook and asked a designer about what software he uses, and he told me Photoshop. I started using that and began YouTube tutorials — it became my life’.
Zack’s initiative is impressive, but it’s also indicative of a larger generational shift towards self-starting and entrepreneurship. In a recent Nielsen study over 54% of Gen Z said they wanted to start their own company, with a large amount of those also considering skipping college. Thanks to online courses and self-help videos, it’s easier than ever to teach yourself new talents and translate them into employability opportunities.
Such was the case with Zack from the beginning. ‘I was working with SBTV very early, from 2013’. SBTV is a hub of youth culture and music that has over 1 million subscribers on YouTube. Zack began working with musician Kid Ink and other international clients as his industry clout grew. ‘One event promoter from Copenhagen reached out to me and I did a graphic for him. It became a norm and I was good at doing it. I was doing a lot of design work, that’s when I started getting introduced to Faze Clan and Call Of Duty clans. I was 15 at the time’.
Zack has been making a name for himself both in the US and in England ever since, juggling university with his business ventures. He says he was initially thinking about studying media but ended up applying to a law course ‘because everyone was telling me to’. Eventually he got into journalism school in Cardiff, however, where he realised that ‘listening to myself and seeing the vision for content and media was the right thing’.
A changing digital world for Gen Z
Given Zack’s extensive experience with both huge brands and independent creators, we asked him if he had any guidance to give to other young entrepreneurs eager to enter the tough world of digital media.
‘I would say never stop creating’, he says. ‘It’s all about being mentally tough, not giving up. Sometimes it can take ten years to look like an overnight success, and I’ve been doing this for nearly a decade’. Zack’s insistence on constant output and disciplined production makes sense, given that Gen Z is ruthlessly savvy with digital advertisement and marketing.
For campaigns to be successful they need to be immediately engaging. ‘We’re living in the attention economy right now. There’s a lot of information out there, so try and find a way you can shine’. Zack found his niche in networking and design, creating a plethora of digital assets for musicians and brands to use on their social platforms while expanding his list of contacts.
‘I noticed the need for digital billboard content. That’s when I started animating album covers for musicians, established my own agency called Task Wrap, and earned the respect of music labels such as Sony Music. I worked with NSG on their song called ‘Options’ and was responsible for the creative direction behind the single. It’s sold over 1 million records now and we’ve received a Platinum Award from The BRITS’. Exciting stuff.
He says his work in the music industry lead him back to his first creative passion, YouTube. ‘I’ve been helping friends revive channels such as Top Trending recently. The channel’s generating 10 million monthly views and we’ve pushed the subscriber count from 4 million to 5 million’.
YouTube is the place to be for Gen Z digital content, with over 89% of young people using the platform on a regular basis. Though it’s had its fair share of controversy over the years from high end creators like Logan Paul, it’s become the driving force for digital content online and now boasts more than 2 billion monthly users. All of that engagement can be tapped into with the right approach and there’s rife opportunity for independent creators to grow.
Zack explains how working on the platform and generating this growth comes naturally to him. ‘Building brands, networks, sponsorship deals, it’s what I do. We’re building out smaller channels well. I was also part of taking the channel Tech Vision to over 170K subscribers in less than 6 months. It’s all about finding the right people, building out your content, and maintaining quality. The beauty is that there doesn’t necessarily have to be a face behind it all’.
Diving into social change causes
It’s worth mentioning the Zack isn’t just about digital marketing and business building, though it is a huge part of his hustle.
He’s also been involved in a ton of social change causes and charity work, giving back to local communities and helping bring about reform in a number of public sectors. You may have seen him in an investigatory BBC video titled #towerlives four years ago that explored the unconscious racial bias of employers in Wales. Zack interviewed locals in Butetown about high unemployment figures across the country.
‘I lived in a council estate home growing up. Seeing poverty motivated me to work as hard as I can and social change is a big part of what I do. I’m hoping to get involved more with orphan charities and community mentorship programmes in the future’. He’s done plenty so far though. ‘We set up a boxing organisation which helped troubled kids off the streets. It started with five kids per week and now we’ve got hundreds coming. Parents say it makes a big difference to their children mentally, seeing something productive they can do’.
He’s also had a hand in a company called Reworn, which — as you can probably guess — repurposes old clothing to create designer vintage items. ‘We promote sustainability and general recycling, we’ve built a great brand’.
Add Citizen UK and a role as Advisor for the Children’s Commissioner for Wales onto his CV too, with plans to join more initiatives in the future. He’s also sat on creative panels with Take More Photos and made campaign decisions for the likes of Lovebox Festival and Adidas. Hopefully Zack’s getting an adequate amount of sleep with all this going on.
What’s next for Gen Z and the industry?
We rounded off our Zoom call discussing the future of digital media and where Zack sees Gen Z taking the industry over the next decade or so. He was quick to stress the ‘rise in independent creators right now’ who are ‘building their own hubs and channel networks’.
This wave of new-age influencers and single person brands has been noted by marketers and creators alike. We’ve written before about ‘dark social’ and the power of commercial sponsorships for individuals rather than full scale companies. Gen Z are far more likely to be receptive to advertisement that comes from a single creator rather than traditional media — hence why Emma Chamberlain has deals with Louis Vuitton, for example.
As well as the rise of independent creators, business CEOs are getting younger. Zack points to one of his previous creative partners and gaming brands Faze Clan as a good example. ‘They started as a bunch of young kids, but are now sponsoring clubs like Man City. I’m excited to see more young founders as Gen Z are a lot more emotive and inclined to take action and get involved. I can see the swing of the world going towards that’.
In terms of his own plans, Zack says he still doesn’t see himself as successful. ‘There’s still a long way to go yet. I don’t think anyone has it figured out, you kind of just work it out on your way up’. He has ambitions to become a diplomat for the UK, and says that ‘getting involved on more decision making panels would be great’. He leaves us with a final message that feels rather apt given the breadth and scope of his portfolio. ‘You have to adapt. If you don’t evolve you’re extinct, you know?’
I very much doubt that Zack will be falling off the map anytime soon.