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“A Client Is Only Going To Treat You As Well As You Treat Yourself” Words of Wisdom with Dana Rhoden, Founder of The Dana Agency

“Not every client is good for business especially is they are a bully who constantly brings you and your staff down with their negativism.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dana Rhoden, Founder of The Dana Agency Public Relations, a luxury lifestyle PR agency with offices in New York, Miami and Los Angeles. With zero seed money, Dana started her company with a laptop out of her living room and built a million dollar agency before the age of 40.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory?”

I call myself the accidental entrepreneur as I never set out to start my own company. I only majored in PR to hang out with my college roommate. However, after graduation I landed an amazing job in Los Angeles working in the youth marketing practice of Porter Novelli, one of the Top 5 PR firms at the time. I enjoyed a unique opportunity to work with brands targeting tweens and teens including Barbie®, the Power Rangers, MTV’s Rock The Vote campaign and The Jim Henson Company’s Muppets (which was my favorite!). I had the opportunity to help a team of super talented publicists organize the Muppet Show’s 25th Anniversary which included Kermit the Frog’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, MuppetFest and The Muppet Show Live which brought the cast back with guest stars including Jon Voight, Brooke Shields, Joe Pasquale and Paul Williams.

I then transferred with Porter Novelli to their South Florida office to work on the Florida “TRUTH” campaign, a counter-marketing, anti-tobacco media campaign targeted to teens.

I later worked at a small boutique PR agency where I headed up the prestige beauty practice as well as the luxury real estate division. This is where I got a taste for running my own shop. I loved everything about “boutique” agency life.

I took a few months off from PR to help a friend start her tea company when a former client of mine called. He had been unhappy since I left the PR firm and he wanted to bring his business to my new agency. I quickly explained that I wasn’t working at an agency anymore and he encouraged me to start my own by offering to be my first client. Of course I had no idea how to start or run a business but after a lot of thought, I chose to accept the challenge. Within the first week, I signed two more clients and I never looked back.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company

Well, being in PR one wears many hats, so I have a lot of stories of having to perform random and embarrassing tasks on behalf of clients. One of the most embarrassing (that happened prior to starting my company) was having to dress up as the Hamburglar character for a McDonalds launch with Serena and Venus Williams. I didn’t realize I was severely claustrophobic until they put the big Hamburglar head on me and I broke down in hysterical tears much to my boss’s dismay.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

While we work with many Fortune 500 companies, one of the biggest thrills I enjoy is helping other small business entrepreneurs (especially women) get in the national media spotlight through clever PR campaign strategies. We excel at the challenge of getting creative to achieve results when clients have small budgets and little to no resources. For companies like this, the right PR hit can make or break their company’s future.

For example, we successfully secured a local woman’s passion project in the national media spotlight by convincing Cyndi Lauper to wear her bedazzled Obama t-shirt while she performed at his Inauguration. In addition, we garnered millions of media impressions simply by sending the same shirts to a highly targeted list of on-air talent who wore the custom tees on air including Lara Spencer with The Insider.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I am super grateful to my first boss and mentor Wendy Watson who was the youngest Senior Vice President at Porter Novelli Public Relations when I started right out of college. I admired her creative talent, hyper focus and ambition. She was always the smartest suit in the boardroom as she continuously pushed the envelope to be the thought leader in each client’s industry. She was extremely well read and current on the latest research and relevant case studies. Every campaign or new business proposal we created under Wendy, was so intensely researched and strategized. I still use a lot of those same tools today when creating campaigns for our clients. I also still work with Wendy as she has since started her own agency in Los Angeles, and we frequently collaborate on client projects. It’s been such an amazing experience to partner up as sister agencies and provide that added value to our clients.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Our agency is BIG on giving back and we work pro-bono for a number of wonderful groups including After-School All-Stars (ASAS), a amazing nonprofit founded by

Arnold Schwarzenegger which provides comprehensive after-school programs that keep children safe and help them succeed in school, as well as Communities in Schools which works directly inside schools, building relationships that empower students to stay in class and graduate. We also manage the red carpet and press outreach for numerous charity events throughout the year. Most recently, our PR agency worked with Ricky Martin and Eva Longoria on a gala during Art Basel to raise money for The Global Gift Foundation. Projects like these are often the most fulfilling as you know your talent is helping to make a difference in the community.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my Start-Up” and why.

  1. Don’t be Afraid to Fire Bad Clients — not every client is good for business especially is they are a bully who constantly brings you and your staff down with their negativism. Whether they are verbally abusive, time suckers, passive aggressive or clients that make unreasonable demands and are never happy, don’t hesitate to let them go. The energy you free up from their departure is more conducive for landing new, happy clients who appreciate all your hard work. I fired three clients the first year I made a New Year’s resolution to not work with nasty or negative clients who dispected me or my staff. It was so empowering!
  2. Build & Preserve Boundaries — When I give in to client whims to perform uncompensated favors outside our scope of work, I usually end up getting burned in the long run as the favor is under appreciated and then routinely expected. There is a fine line between delivering “added value” to enhance client service and simply getting taken advantage of. A client is only going to treat you as well as you treat yourself. They will respect you for setting and maintaining professional boundaries.
  3. Work Smarter, Not Longer — I worked seven days a week for the first few years building my business and my health and relationships suffered. I was scared into thinking that if I didn’t work everyday, I would fall behind and lose everything I had built. However, when I cut back my long work days and started taking weekends off I didn’t lose any productivity and i didn’t sacrifice a single client which only proved all those weekends were wasted in vain.
  4. When you stop learning and growing, you are dead! The pace of business today demands constant education. The companies that stall are those that fail to surrender to change. We challenge ourselves to learn something new every day and we are constantly implementing new systems and processes that enhance how we perform our daily tasks. We practice Kaizen, which is the Japanese philosophy of constant and continual improvement.
  5. Fake It, Until You Make It — much like bulldozing down the bouncer with confidence as you flash your fake ID, speak and act with authority in business. You won’t always have every answer but you can surely buy yourself enough time to find out and teach yourself what you don’t know along the way.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I would love to have lunch with Sophia Amoruso because I am so inspired by her talent, honesty and perseverance. When I need a shot of inspiration, I tune into her podcasts where she interviews fellow GirlBosses about their professional and personal journeys. I can’t wait for the day she interviews me!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series in Huffpost, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.