A healthy relationship means setting boundaries: For many years, I allowed some of those with whom we worked to take advantage of myself and our services in different ways. I was taught growing up that it was more important to keep quiet, not rock the boat and let others make the rules even if it meant being taken advantage of or disrespected. But what I have since learned is that a professional (and personal) relationship should be a two-way street and that it is only healthy when both parties are getting their needs met. When you set boundaries, you create a level of respect that allows a relationship to be healthy and flourish for both parties.
As a part of my series about the things you need to know to excel in the modern PR industry I had the pleasure of interviewing Steven Le Vine is an award-winning publicist and PR strategist, and founder and president of Los Angeles-based grapevine pr + consulting, a lifestyle and entertainment public relations and strategic consulting agency he launched in 2006. with additional offices in Austin and Nashville. His clients include actor, philanthropist and cultural icon William Shatner, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb, and actor and HIV/AIDS activist Danny Pintauro of ABC’s beloved 80s sitcom ‘Who’s the Boss?’ Other clients include those across myriad spaces, including entertainment, music and touring, fashion & beauty, healthcare and medical doctors, health and wellness, hospitality and travel, food and beverage, retail and consumer products, professional services, non-profits and private organizations, architecture and design, and real estate. He has secured press placements for clients ranging from sit-down exclusives with Oprah to interviews with The View, The Talk, The Doctors, CNN Newsroom, Access Hollywood, E!, Entertainment Tonight, Rolling Stone, Billboard, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Deadline, Entertainment Weekly, Us Weekly, People, Men’s and Women’s Health, Men’s Journal and more. He is also a frequent media personality, panelist and speaker, and contributor for prominent consumer and trade business publications, including Forbes and Entrepreneur, where he offers expert insight on PR, entrepreneurship and entertainment. He has been named a ‘Rising Star’ by Global Business Magazine and has been honored with a ‘Power 30’ Award, in addition to receiving recognition for ‘Agency of the Year’ in the PR World Awards and Ragan’s PR Daily Media Relations Awards for the last four consecutive years. Le Vine is a world traveler, cultural enthusiast and loves exploring the worlds of food, coffee and craft cocktails.
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 career path?
I’ve always had a penchant for telling stories and promoting things and places to which I’ve been personally connected. In high school, I began naturally promoting musicians I enjoyed listening to by burning bootlegs of their concerts and albums and sharing them with classmates. My father took me to record shows, where I picked up all sorts of cool memorabilia, eventually decking out my entire bedroom.
One day he noted I should look into studying publicity, because I loved promoting music. I began studying PR in college, and doing music reviews and interviews for various publications. A week into my internship after college, I launched ‘grapeVine Promotions,’ a music publicity company, which quickly evolved into grapevine pr.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
There have been so many. I’ve gotten the chance to travel all over the world, including remote places in Asia, the Middle East and Africa with clients. I’ve met dignitaries and many celebrities. I’ve traveled on part of Madonna’s MDNA World Tour handling publicity for my client Monte Pittman — Madonna’s longtime guitarist and a virtuoso musician. I’ve helped roll out and manage a major press tour for a client that generated international news headlines. And I’ve gotten the unique opportunity to meet, work with and in some cases even become friends with the very same people who inspired me growing up.
Perhaps the most interesting story involved the actual founding of my company. I had been working for a PR firm in the New York area, a year out of college, and although I gained a wealth of experience and insight, corporate life and the predictable 9-to-5 grind wasn’t a fit for me. I was hungry for the chance to map out my own destiny and so I moonlighted putting everything I could into making grapevine pr a success, with the help of my business partner at the time, Stephen.
The company began rapidly taking on a significant roster of clients and with that came some positive media attention. Shortly thereafter, the president of the firm quickly found out and I was legitimately called into HR and given an ultimatum, which I had been expecting.
I chose to leave, not knowing if I would sink or swim but destined to at least make a go at it, as everything in my gut told me it was meant to be. I was 26. Many of those closest to me said I was making a dire mistake and throwing away my career. Lo and behold, it’s been 13 years and everything has worked out the way I had envisioned, and then some.
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?
With each mistake comes a massive chance to learn, so even though it’s not particularly enjoyable to make a mistake, there’s great value in each one and an opportunity to grow personally and professionally.
One of the most memorable mistakes early on in my career was pitching an exclusive scoop to a reporter at one of the two veteran entertainment trade outlets, and shortly after the story ran, I pitched the story to its direct competitor.
Let’s just say I was pretty much chewed out by the reporter who was quite incensed I had pitched him a story after giving his industry competitor dibs on the scoop, and stated I had gotten the relationship off on the wrong foot and that the competing magazine was a ‘fifth-rate piece of garbage.’
At the time, I was shaken up, indignant and embarrassed, and subsequently apologized and sent him a gift basket as an olive branch, and a decade later he remains one of my closest media contacts, covering many exclusives and stories for my clients. He’s been nothing but a gem to work with and our professional relationship has been quite fruitful.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
There are so many exciting projects we are working on at the moment or gearing up for in the new year, including a major new album release for Lisa Loeb, the launch of a new product at SXSW 2020, William Shatner’s 30th Annual Priceline Hollywood Charity Horse Show, the 50th anniversary of the academic and cultural institution The Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School in Los Angeles, and the roll out of the latest version of gay social network Hornet with 25 million users across the world.
Those are just a few campaigns we’re actively working on. We’re also consistently working with phenomenally talented acclaimed actor, host and filmmaker Yuval David, who is creating incredible award-winning content such as ‘One Actor Short,’ ‘Better World’ and ‘What Makes You Beautiful?’; noted college admissions expert and author Gabrielle Glancy, who just released her latest book UNSTUCK; young Latino filmmaker Tony Estrada, whose latest film ¡Viva La Revolución! is currently winning awards and critical praise on the festival circuit; EarPeace, the leading brand of high definition ear plugs for hearing protection; Keri Kelsey, host of the country’s longest running open mic night at the Gardenia; Dr. Frankie Bashan, renowned relationship and dating expert and matchmaker, and resident expert host on MTV’s ‘Are You The One?’, large-scale bubble and snow production companies Bubbleworks and MagicSnow, Hollywood talent agency Eris Talent, Emmy Award-winning production company MRB Productions, and so many more. We are also working with high-profile medical doctors, nightclubs, architectural and design firms, and a number of non-profits.
I’m also currently serving on the board of an organization called Brave Trails, which is a summer camp for LGBTQ+ youth; and working to expand our new offices in Austin and Nashville (grapevine pr Austin & grapevine pr Nashville).
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
1.) A healthy relationship means setting boundaries: For many years, I allowed some of those with whom we worked to take advantage of myself and our services in different ways. I was taught growing up that it was more important to keep quiet, not rock the boat and let others make the rules even if it meant being taken advantage of or disrespected. But what I have since learned is that a professional (and personal) relationship should be a two-way street and that it is only healthy when both parties are getting their needs met. When you set boundaries, you create a level of respect that allows a relationship to be healthy and flourish for both parties.
2.) ‘Success’ is relative and isn’t always related to revenue. Similarly, financial success isn’t always linear. I’ve experienced busier years and leaner years, and years that have started out quiet, and become the busiest. I’ve learned to no longer measure mine or my company’s success purely on income or revenue, but rather simply if I’m enjoying what I do, working with clients with whom I can be proud to represent, and equally if my clients are benefiting from the relationship.
3.) Don’t be desperate, but be enthusiastic, genuinely supportive and passionate. Desperation comes from fear and a scarcity-based mindset, and prospective clients and others can pick up on it intuitively. You can’t hide it, trust me. On the flipside, they can equally pick up on genuine enthusiasm and passion. Flip that switch.
4.) You can work hard and play hard. Up until my early 30s, I felt guilty doing anything for myself that would be perceived as pleasure. I avoided going for massages or facials, because I felt it was selfish, gluttonous and that I didn’t deserve it. I felt that I shouldn’t travel because it meant I wasn’t working, which has never been the case. And I felt that doing things for me meant that they were taking away from work. But as I’ve learned, you can work hard and play hard. You shouldn’t ever feel guilty for treating yourself. You can do both and you deserve it. In fact, it’s the best way to recharge and balance yourself energetically.
5.) There’s no rush in building a business or brand. It is about the long-game and the journey. Early on I would constantly compare grapevine to where I saw other PR firms, or compare myself to other publicists. What I learned is that you never truly know where another company or entrepreneur is, and truthfully it doesn’t much matter. Perceptions can be tricky. Your journey and path are always going to be different from that of another. Your brand will equally be different from that of another. Some of those very same firms and publicists I envied or measured my own company against have since moved on to do other things, and some of their clients have since even come to us for services. Looking back, I’ve continued to build the brand and roster that I want to create, rather than using another as a template. The journey is what counts and the longer you stick in the game the more rewarding it will be.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
Networking, by definition, means ‘linking’ or connecting. I’ve always loved talking with people, making friends, connecting with others, and exploring what makes someone else special and unique. The three things that make for great networking are the following: Sincerity, Reciprocity, and Listening.
Don’t be afraid to meet people — even if they are doing exactly what you are doing professionally. So many of us have been told that competitors cannot collaborate. No one can ever be like you or do things in the same way you do. The only competition is that of yourself 24 hours ago.
Build alliances, connect, ask what you can do for others, look people in the eye, really and truly listen to what they’re saying and show them you care about them, regardless of what they can potentially do for you. It’s not rocket science, but often we can get so tied up with what is in our own heads that we sometimes shut out others. Everybody on this planet wants to be seen and validated — it’s simple. Network regardless of a possible favorable outcome on your own end — but just because. And the rest will follow.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
About 90% of our clients come through referrals from clients, 5% come from cold pitches, and the remaining 5% come through our website, our UpCity profile and our social media content.
Primarily it’s word-of-mouth from current and past clients, and that means a great deal to us. We’ve also built a number of partnerships with marketing and branding firms that refer us to their own clients or bring us on board as part of their overall strategic plans.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
There are two that I read several years ago that really impacted me, validated my own thought processes or otherwise shaped my perspective in a fresh way.
The first — Simon Sinek’s ‘Start With Why,’ which explains that the most important determining factor for success of a brand or in life itself is not how you do something or even what you do, but why you do it. Purpose and true intention really do inform the way others choose to align with your brand.
The other is ‘Anything You Want’ from Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby. Essentially Sivers authored a very straightforward book that shares lessons he’s learned from creating a notable brand and the biggest takeaway from it that resonated with me personally is that being an entrepreneur requires passion and if you aren’t being fulfilled by what you’re doing, it’s time to change course and try something new. It’s supposed to be fun and although there is a tremendous amount of serious work involved, it shouldn’t ever feel like work.
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. 🙂
I’m a big proponent of trying new things and living life to its absolute fullest. I have two tattoos on my arm — one that says ‘Live!’ in Hebrew, and the other — a quote from Alfred, Lord Tennyson — that states: “To Strive, To Seek, To Find, And Not To Yield.”
I’ve always marched to the beat of my own drum. There is a quote from John Mayer that has always resonated deeply with me: “I am an architect of days that haven’t happened yet.” I’ve always loved epic, larger-than-life people who have created unconventional and big lives for themselves — like Anthony Bourdain or Richard Branson or Madonna. I’ve never understood the appeal or societal pressure placed on meeting the usual marks like getting married, buying a house, having kids and then retiring. There is so much more to life! So here is my movement: Go, Do, Experiment, Create, Travel — and don’t base your life on the expectations that others put on you. Leave this world with the most interesting story you can tell.
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.