Christina Bellevue: Using unique experiences to connect dots in ingenious ways

—It is Black History Month, and every day this month, The Message will be sharing short profiles of Black professionals from across the industry: marketing, advertising, PR, media and production. Written by POCAM members, the profiles are a way to “fight invisibility,” an exercise in representation for an industry where representation must get better—

Christina Bellevue was drawn to communications and advertising 18 years ago because she was attracted by the creativity, ingenuity and pace of the marketing industry. Now, nearly two decades later, she’s a senior communications advisor after career stops on both the client and agency side. She’s also the author of one book, with another on the way.

Getting her start in the industry was “comfortably challenging,” she says.

“I had to work for it, and produce great work that spoke for itself, but it wasn’t impossible,” she says. “Early in my career, I also had to become comfortable evolving in places and spaces where I was an FOD—’First. Only. Different.’—to hopefully carve a path for others to follow in my footsteps.”

Bellevue’s role models inspired her to keep going in marketing. At P&G she met Essi Eggleston Bracey, who is now EVP and COO of Beauty and Personal Care at Unilever.

“I appreciate how she has brought strong marketing acumen, along with a passion for multicultural marketing and inclusion, that is now baked into the DNA of many of Unilever’s corporate and marketing initiatives,” she said. “I remember Esi from my days at P&G, when she was proudly wearing her bronde curly hair in the C-suite, when it was still uncommon to see Black female executives do so.”

Also at P&G she met Marchoe Northern, now the company’s senior VP for North American home care. “I’ll never forget meeting Marchoe during my assistant brand manager onboarding in Cincinnati… She was pregnant at the time, was rocking her natural hair, wore braces to straighten her teeth and welcomed us to the P&G family by sharing her personal and professional story in front of hundreds of new P&G employees.”

Closer to home, Christina is a fan of Shannae Ingleton Smith of TorontoShay and Kensington Grey. “To think that some of the most influential and successful Black fashion influencers in North America are repped by a boutique influencer agency out of Toronto is incredible. What an inspiring achievement.”

After spending most of her career client side, Bellevue made the move agency side in 2020. “It’s like slicing, marking and cutting client briefs to turn them into multi-faceted, polished creative diamonds,” she said. “For me, there was nothing like rolling up your sleeves, putting your nose to the grindstone, and then seeing a client’s vision materialise through the agency’s hard work. The personal and professional lessons I learned while working in advertising will stay with me for a long time.”

Asked how the industry can become more inclusive, she points to the work of Group Black Inc. in the U.S. “[It’s] enabling systemic inclusion in the media landscape through the advancement of Black-owned media properties to make sure our voices are heard in our own words and on our own terms,” she said. “I hope to see something as ground-breaking as this in Canada in the future.”

And she’s passionate about being the change she wants to see. “By thriving in it. By showing others it’s possible to take up space in an industry that shapes narratives, and help construct more narratives that are in our favour while we’re in it.”

Her advice to young Black talent who want to get into advertising, is to become “ferocious readers” and students of the industry, to be courageous, curious, and resourceful. “And to leverage our unique experiences and perspectives to connect dots in ingenious and unprecedented ways.”

Speaking of reading, Bellevue wrote her book, “A Black Traveler’s Guide to Japanese Beauty,” after living in Japan from 2018 to 2020. “Imagine a Lonely Planet guide, or Green Book, for Black expats and travellers who want to look and feel their best while in Japan,” she said.

The book covers everything from where to get hair braided, to niche Japanese beauty brands and products that work well for darker complexions and curly or kinky hair. “It’s the resource I wish existed when I moved to Japan,” she says. A second edition is in the works to include lifestyle recommendations, including Black-owned businesses in Japan. “One of my dreams is to travel and write similar guidebooks for different countries around the world.”

This profile was written by POCAM steering committee member Natalie Bomberry. Bomberry is  VP, operations at Pilot PMR, and a member of the Indigenous Professional Association of Canada.