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PR Pros: Devon Blaine On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro

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PR Pros: Devon Blaine On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro

PRIORITIES: Know them, plan them, work them. Target coverage you can garner immediately at the same time that you pitch longer term outlets. Include some in the middle, too. It will keep both you and your client enthusiastic about working together.

Have you seen the show Flack? Ever think of pursuing a real-life career in PR? What does it take to succeed in PR? What are the different forms of Public Relations? Do you have to have a college degree in PR? How can you create a highly lucrative career in PR? In this interview series, called “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro” we are talking to successful publicists and Public Relations pros, who can share stories and insights from their experiences.

As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Devon Blaine.

Devon Blaine is the founder, president and CEO of The Blaine Group, Inc., and was named by the Los Angeles Business Journal recently as “one of the most influential marketers in Southern California.”. Formerly an actress and model, Blaine, established The Blaine Group, Inc., a Beverly Hills based full service communications agency specializing in public relations, crisis management, marketing and advertising. One of Blaine’s highlights was being elected as a delegate to the first White House Conference on Small Business, then appointed to the second Conference by then U.S. Senator Pete Wilson. Then Devon 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 career 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 a local gossip column year-round. Why not me?

And with my first client, I had the one ingredient necessary to have 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 include 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 contact 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, D.C, serving as 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 press 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 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 degrees 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.

Consider that:

  • 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 or 7-Up cases so it would be received at the Capital building.
  • A local caterer was providing the appetizers. I had worked with them to select the menu.
  • The capital 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 the corkscrew! Or whatever is called for 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 by having an abundance of these clients currently as we are representing:

  • Marty Cooper, the “father of the cell phone” who 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.
  • Dogs Trust USA, a 501(c)(3),has already given over $500,000 in grants to 26 like-minded organizations across the US. Dogs Trust USA is affiliated with Dogs Trust, a 30-year old UK-headquartered nonprofit that works with organizations internationally and is one of the oldest and largest dog nonprofits in the world. The work that they do, from dog training to rehoming, is both heartwarming and remarkable. We’ve been enjoying our initial work developing the US messaging and working with their spokespeople. We cannot wait to launch nationwide.
  • SJ Manning is truly a professional provocateur having sold $47 billion of consumer products via direct marketing. He did so by getting people’s attention, using every advertising, marketing, media discipline, and vertical known. And some he invented. His new book is no exception. Pimps, Whores And Patrons of Virtue: A kaleidoscope of poignant and entertaining satires, anecdotes, essays and ideologies about the human condition and spirit is the title of his book. It’s neither off color not sexy. Steve is just doing what he’s always done, getting people’s attention. He is an internationally-known business leader, author, public speaker and advisor, with the origination of prominent creative and empirical concepts, targeting data base concepts, media strategies, promotional concepts, incentive devices and channels, and decision making predictive techniques, all widely used in the marketing world. His expertise encompasses a number of disciplines including marketing, advertising, corporate governance, relationship development and management, and conflict resolution. He is acknowledged to be among the most influential database developers, owners and marketers in the history of direct response. Steve is one of the pioneers of advertising on the internet where he has been active since the introduction of commercial applications in the medium.
  • Polk Institute is a nonprofit, created to serve 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, 2021, 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 were 17 women-led companies, nine with men at the 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 Rogers, 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. She’s invested in an over-the-counter product, a topical cream, PreVPRO. It is used prior to engaging in sports or, for those prone to falls, daily. All football families, soccer Moms, rest homes, and seniors should have it on hand. A prescription-only version is currently in clinical trials. When approved, it can be made available on the playing field, battle field and also in hospitals and ambulances. Brett Favre has signed on as the product spokesperson and is an investor. I suspect he knows a thing or two about concussions.

Clients like these make it a joy to go to work every day! In fact, it’s a pleasure, not work!

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Perseverance, Knowing My Priorities, and Doing Whatever It Takes To Get The Job Done.

Perseverance: For eight years, I prospected two Orange County companies. Whenever I was in their neighborhood, I’d meet with them. At that time, I was in Orange County at least once a month. Then both companies decided to move forward in the same week!

Priorities: When you have a plan and you plan your work accordingly, you get the important things done in a timely manner. I have never savored dealing with a difficult issue with a client or an employee… or collections. But once I do so, these issues do not cloud my thinking as I develop a strategic plan for each client, write press materials, and pitch members of the press.

Doing Whatever It Takes To Get The Job Done: There are so many examples here! Crisis PR assignments are typically time intensive. Some years ago, when we were retained to implement crisis PR for the company that was the source of all of the tainted wheat gluten used in the recalled pet food products that were killing dogs, the news spread internationally. This became nearly a 24/7 job for about two weeks. We stayed the course with my team taking concerned consumer calls while I took media inquiries. The ones from Asia came in after 10 PM, East coast started by 5 AM. Exhausting but our client was treated fairly by the press.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you help articulate what the different forms of PR are?

There are numerous forms of traditional public relations: print media including online outlets, magazines and newspapers, and electronic outlets encompassing podcast, and radio and TV news programs and talk shows.

Speaking engagements, both unpaid and paid, community relations and trade show support are also part of the mix for some assignments.

I will leave it to a digital agency to address the various forms of social media as that is their expertise. We work hand-in-glove with them but do not replicate their efforts. And they can amplify ours.

Where should a young person considering a career in PR start their education? Should they get a degree in communications? A degree in journalism? Can you explain what you mean?

For years, a degree in communications or journalism has been recommended, Or international marketing.

I studied Psychology and History at UCLA with the rationale that understanding people and what had previously occurred would stand me in good stead. In never planned to get into public relations. I thought I’d write for a newspaper, then perhaps a women’s magazine.

The pandemic has changed many things including what is required for various careers.

Certainly, knowing how to speak, write, communicate effectively are important in public relations. Understanding what is newsworthy and how what’s newsworthy changes with each news cycle is also important. Being a news junkie helps.

Someone who has interned is preferable to someone who has not. And a meaningful internship please. And several is even better than one.

I will consider hiring a savvy person who does not have a degree. Other firms may not. I’d urge students to do their research and make their decisions accordingly. And apply for an internship early.

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 of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

Generating 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.
  • Communicate.
  • Help others.
  • Give back.
  • Being in the public relations business, we send recurring press releases to my personal data base of contacts. It reinforces and illustrates our stock in trade. Reminds people of what we do every day.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

While there are more than five things needed to be a successful public relations pro, five top ones are:

PERSEVERANCE: In public relations ,”No isn’t never”. It is “not now” or “not that angle.” Know both your client the media outlet well enough to re-pitch until you get a “yes.”

CARE: Really care about and believe in your clients. If you don’t, why should the press? And why should the client stay with you?

PRIORITIES: Know them, plan them, work them. Target coverage you can garner immediately at the same time that you pitch longer term outlets. Include some in the middle, too. It will keep both you and your client enthusiastic about working together.

DO WHATEVER IT TAKES: Need to work a little longer, create a new pitch, modify an angle, do it all over? If it gets the job done, to borrow a phrase, “Just do it.”

DO THE RIGHT THING: Did you muck up an assignment? Forget to do something? Own up to it. You are human. Just don’t do it again. Most people will not fire you for admitting you made a mistake. But trying to cover it up? That’s something else.

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!

This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.