Never hesitate to ask for what you want…the business, the referral, the press coverage, the bank loan…it is not like I’ve not heard “No” before!
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Devon Blaine.
Devon Blaine is the founder, president and CEO of The Blaine Group, Inc., and was once named by the Los Angeles Business Journal as “one of the most influential marketers in Southern California.” Formerly an actress and model, Blaine established The Blaine Group, Inc., a Beverly Hillsbased, fullservice communications agency specializing in public relations, investor relations, crisis management, marketing and advertising in 1975. One of Blaine’s highlights was being elected delegate to the first White House Conference on Small Business, then appointed to the second Conference by U.S. Senator Pete Wilson and was elected by her peers to co-chair the California delegation.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific path?
How did I get into public relations? Not how I’d advise that anyone else do so. As with many good things in my life, I said, “Why not?”
I’d had a meeting with my then-managers for my acting career. We talked about what I wanted going forward. They said, “We’ll keep that in mind.”
Then they proceeded to ask me to take on handling the public relations for a client they expected to be the next major motion picture star. “The next Steve McQueen,” they said. He was going to play the lead in a motorcycle film.
When I responded, “Let me think about it,” they offered a seat across the room and requested an answer before I left.
After a short time, I decided, “Why not?” I was not doing anything that would prevent me from doing so.
Why me? They knew I’d been doing some writing. I’d studied journalism at UCLA, edited my award-winning high school newspaper, wrote obits for the local newspaper during summer vacations and local gossip column year-round. Why not me?
And with my first client, I had the one ingredient necessary to having a business! Another client signed on the next week, another the following month. All of the early clients were actors and actresses, many who moved here from New York and were getting established here in Los Angeles.
That soon expanded to included authors and their books. The outlets targeted (nationwide talk shows) were largely the same for actors and authors.
I then determined that I did not want to work from my dining room table for much longer. That meant growing the business.
When an opportunity came to attend a meeting leading up to the initial White House Conference on Small Business, I signed up to attend, knowing that “Procurement,” or “Doing Business with the Government,” would be a topic of discussion. I also knew the U.S. government was the 24th largest advertiser in the country. I knew part of that budget had my name on it. I was right. A few years later, we were awarded a contract that we held for nearly four years, placing advertising for the U.S. Air Force.
Back to that first meeting, I listened & learned the first part of the day. Then I spoke out the second half of the day. I was elected as a delegate to the conference was honored to attend the first two White House Conferences on Small Business in Washington DC, serving as the co-chair of the California delegation at the second one.
It was through this that I met other entrepreneurs. Many were prospective clients. I made many friends, friendships that have endured all these years. This is how The Blaine Group established a specialty of representing entrepreneurs, helping to brand their companies, launching their products and services, telling their compelling back stories, generating terrific coverage and positive results.
I’ve had the opportunity to learn so much and meet so many fascinating people. Never a dull day…my greatest fear!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
Being in the public relations business, there are always interesting stories!
The most unusual experience I ever had was in 2006 when our client, Soul Vegetarian, that was launching a delicious line of organic, kosher and vegan foods, invited me to spend 10 days in Israel with them at the Annual Celebration of the Kingdom of Yah. Many of their recipes had their genesis in the Kingdom. Having just been granted kibbutz status in Dimona, the Kingdom was holding an event to honor the 40th anniversary of when 99 US residents emigrated to Israel to start their group. One thousand people lived in Dimona in 2006 and there were communities of their believers in cities around the world. Three thousand of them came to Dimona to join the festivities while I was there. It was 10 days of experiencing the recreation of the civil rights events of the 50s and 60s with 4,000 people in African costume, temperatures exceeding 100° every day, half a watermelon for breakfast daily at 10 AM, beautiful vegan feasts and fabulous concerts at night, gorgeous and caring children making sure you were okay in the heat; offering heavily salted and seasoned popcorn and water to ensure that was the case. Definitely the most interesting experience of my career… and will likely remain that!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I certainly have made my share of mistakes, although few were funny, then or now.
Avoiding a mistake…I have learned a great deal about how to do that! Here’s one I frequently share with new team members…so they will start thinking, “What could go wrong? How do I prevent that?”
Imagine having the responsibility for planning a reception for about 300 people in the newly redecorated California State Capitol Rotunda. Invited guests included all state legislators, delegates to the state conference on small business, and local media. Our client, Glendale Federal, that provided small business loans, was the host; their economist was set to speak.
Sounds terrific, doesn’t it. What could possibly go wrong?
Thinking about it the night before, it became obvious! I planned and packed accordingly for the trip to Sacramento the next morning.
- We’d invited all of the state senators and assembly representatives, the governor and lieutenant governor. About 65% planned to attend
- We’d invited the 200+ small business owners from throughout the state of California who were delegates to the conference. Our reception was being held the night prior to the start of the three-day State Conference on Small Business. We had positive RSVPs from 90% of them.
- We’d invited the local press and prepared a press kit that our client had approved. Copies were assembled and would be available for the 10 to 15 members of the Sacramento media who indicated they’d attend.
- Because the event was being held in the beautifully-decorated state capitol rotunda, we’d worked with a number of vendors to arrange the party:
- Glendale Federal had purchased the wine in San Francisco at a good price. We’d advised that it be shipped in Coke and 7-Up cases so it would be received at the Capitol building.
- A local caterer was providing the appetizers. I had worked with them to select the menu.
- The capitol cafeteria was delivering ice.
- A constituent of the Assembly Small Business Committee Chair was providing wine glasses.
When the Vice President we reported to at Glendale Federal arrived, I walked him around. Everyone was setting up. It was beautiful. He was pleased. What could go wrong?
It was apparent to me, with all the disparate duties, that no one would take the responsibility for one item. I was correct. I possessed the only corkscrew!
My message to my team…always be the one to remember to bring the corkscrew! Or whatever is called for the in the situation at hand.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
One of the great joys of being in the public relations business is working with wonderful people on fascinating projects where I get to learn a great deal, too. We are blessed in having an abundance of these clients currently as we are representing:
- Marty Cooper, the “father of the cell phone” who just published Cutting The Cord: The Cell Phone Has Transformed HUMANITY. While the history of its development is intriguing, I especially love Marty’s futurist predictions on where we are headed with our cell phones.
- Operation Scrubs is a non-profit created by Pamela Jane Nye to encourage a billion people worldwide to say “thank you” to the 27 million nurses around the globe via their virtual billboard at www.thankanurseteamchallenge.com. There’s no cost. And it just takes a moment. Who wouldn’t do that? Especially after the past year.
- Carole Sumner Krechman has been a repeat client through the years. She recently was awarded a technology patent, at 80 years-of-age! How many women can say that? I suspect none! The patent is the foundation of her technology company, Logos-E, and has been used by her non-profit, Peacemaker Corps Association, in producing the Peace in the Streets Global Film Festival the past seven years. It was also the proof of concept.
- Polk Institute is a nonprofit, created to serve social entrepreneurs to help make the world a better place with the goal of exposing social entrepreneurship as a viable career option and method to find financial freedom for their targeted students — members of underrepresented minorities (black and brown people) — who probably did not grow up in households where business ownership was considered a viable career option. It started its first classes on February 1, with 26 entrepreneurs nationally, from Atlanta to Boston, from Chicago to Denver to Los Angeles. Industries range from apparel to autism to automotive, from bald heads to construction, from recidivism to solar energy to tele-vet. There are 17 women-led companies, nine with men at helm. Ethically-diverse, 11 are Black, six are Brown, seven are White, and two are Asian. Four are Baby Boomers, six are Gen X, 13 Millenials, and three Gen Z.
- Spinemark, headed by CEO Marcy Rodgers, is a consortium of early-stage disruptive device, drug, diagnostic and wellness products for commercialization. I love Marcy’s values and determination. One of her goals is to bring a concussion treatment to market. None currently exist. Knowing Marcy, I know, she’ll accomplish her mission.
Clients like these make it a joy to go to work every day! In fact, it’s a pleasure, not work!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
What I wish I knew before I started…
- How to manage a business during a pandemic. Definitely a challenge and one without much data to refer to.
- You’ll lose clients for many reasons. Doing a poor job is the least of them. Others include the jealously of the client’s partner, results so strong the client company cannot manage the number of incoming inquiries, a global pandemic, and others you never dreamt of!
- Creativity trumps contacts when it comes to generating media coverage although most people believe the opposite.
- Never hesitate to ask for what you want…the business, the referral, the press coverage, the bank loan…it is not like I’ve not heard “No” before!
- Learn to take “no” gracefully. You’ll have a lot of opportunity to do so.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
Networking tips include:
- When meeting someone new, being interested is more compelling than being interesting.
- Follow up after a meeting.
- Ask how you can help them. Seek to give. You’ll gain in return.
- If you say you’ll do something, do so. Promptly.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
- Do great work. Leads will follow it. Perhaps not directly. The right people will notice and remember.
- Ask for referrals.
- Be visible. Stay in front of your target market and referral sources.
- Help others.
- Give back.
- Being in the public relations business, we send recurring press releases to our data base. It reinforces and illustrates our stock in trade. Reminds people of what we do every day.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Napoleon Hill’s Think & Grow Rich was recommended to me by a mentor many years ago. For me, it is still the gold standard. I have a very dogeared copy of the paperback.
Other mentors have said many things that stayed in my memory.
Like, “It’s okay to make mistakes. Just do not make one from which you cannot recover.”
Or, “The rules of getting and keeping business…Get the business. Get The Business. GET THE BUSINESS. Then, Keep the business. Keep The Business. KEEP THE BUSINESS.”
I’m grateful to all of them.
Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
A movement already seems to be underway to return to kindness in our society. I’m 1000% behind that. There is no need to be any other way.
A former long-time assistant described me as being “tough but fair.”
I believe fairness plays a significant role in kindness.
And as time goes on, I value collaboration even more than ever.
Kindness. Fairness. Collaboration.
That’s a movement I’d join!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.
Thank you for this opportunity to reflect and share. I am so appreciative.