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Why It’s Often Important to Say No to Great Opportunities: With Allison Azoff and Sherry Jhawar

Allison Azoff and Sherry Jhawar are the CEOs of BSG, or Blended Strategy Group. Allison, often known as the daughter of music mogul Irving Azoff, and Kim Kardashian’s BFF, has made a new name for herself by starting a company with Sherry, who had previously headed marketing for EOS. Together, they have launched Blended Strategy Group, a marketing and branding agency that focuses on connecting influencers and celebrities with brands for partnerships, endorsements, and brand building. They have worked with a range of brands and celebrities such as Revlon, OUAI Haircare founder Jen Atkin, Chelsea Handler, Jennifer Hudson, Christina Aguilera, among others.
Allison and Sherry started Blended Strategy Group in July of 2015 and have grown from a three-person team to a 12-person team of all women. They have approximately 20 brand clients and about 15 celebrity, musician, and influencer talent clients under our representation. Some of our favorite marketing strategies include partnering Kylie Jenner with SinfulColors nail polish (before the launch of Kylie Cosmetics) and partnering celebrity hair stylist Jen Atkin with Dyson for the launch of their epic hair dryer.
“It is critical that we not only take opportunities that fit our capabilities, but also that we grow at the right speed that our staff can handle.”

What is your backstory?

Allison: Back in late 2012/early 2013, I was a talent manager and the head of commercial endorsements at Azoff Music Management, and Sherry was head of global marketing at EOS Products. Sherry was being told by all the big
talent agencies that “buying Instagram posts from celebrities is not a form of marketing” — amazing that just a few years ago nobody believed that could be a marketing strategy. One day, I emailed Sherry for a potential project, and a new professional relationship was born. This then sparked a new friendship and eventual business partnership. We did a bunch of deals together with EOS and the celebrity talent I was working with, and eventually, I worked with Sherry on the EOS celebrity strategy in Asia. After having my third child, I really wanted to do something entrepreneurial and Sherry was drawn to my vision.

Sherry: We complement each other perfectly. We are the ultimate Yin-Yang. As a mom of three young boys, Allison is extremely focused on both her work and family. I’m single, on-the-go, and a pop-culture sponge who loves to watch all the latest TV shows, original Netflix, and other OTT content and get lost in YouTube videos. I go to brunch and talk to friends about what I’m reading about on social media and in the weeklies, while Allison is actually at brunch with those people that I’m reading about! I was educated in the more traditional sense with a Harvard Business School MBA and Allison, who left college after two years to work, has the street smarts and 17-year on-the-job
training in the depths of the entertainment business. Ultimately, our yin-yang personalities and approach to business are what drives our success. We constantly learn from each and balance each other! We are able to build off the other’s knowledge so that 1 + 1 = 3…or in many cases 300.

Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

We have a mix of clients from Fortune 500 brands to rising growth brands to high profile celebrity and influencer clients. As a whole, we are seeing a big shift in brands’ marketing spend where they are moving traditional media and marketing budgets to influencer marketing. A lot of our brands across all categories and sizes are relying heavily on us to come up with creative strategies for them to engage with influencers in ways that will help them stand out in a crowded space. Overall, we find it interesting and exciting that brands are leaning in heavily to this new form of marketing. We have
successfully activated a strategy for Olly Vitamins pairing them with Olivia Culpo and her celebrity hair stylist Justine Marjan. This activation was successful because they were both contracted by the brand so they had no problem leveraging each other’s social media when they were together to post and talk about their love for Olly.

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

We are both very close to our families and would each definitely credit them for their support!
 
Sherry: My parents and my older brother are huge supports for me, as well as sounding boards and role models. My older brother truly has been an inspiration — he is extremely smart and hard-working and would do anything for family. It is my desire to make them all proud that motivates me.

Allison: My parents have been my biggest supporters. They have helped me navigate my career without giving me too much direction. I worked for my dad for over 16 years which was an incredible learning experience. Leaving was not easy, but the support he and my mom gave us was so empowering that I never doubted it.

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

Allison: Both of us answer every email we get. It sounds so simple, but honestly so many people do not do this! We both feel that if someone took the time to write to us, they deserve a response. We would expect the same in return when we send an email to someone, yet so many times we just never hear back from some people. If Sherry hadn’t responded to my first “cold” email to her, then Blended Strategy Group wouldn’t exist! So we believe taking the time to hear everyone out and to help others when we can is critically important.

My dad taught me early on to return every call and every email. I find it particularly important to return the inquiries we get for our clients to support philanthropic efforts. The people that work for charities work harder than all of us and are doing something great. Even if its something our clients can’t participate in, I always think it is so important to get back to them in a timely manner and let them know what the status is. I also really love when we get to help charities, especially Make A Wish. If we can use our access and relationships to help a sick child, we do it no questions ask.

SHERRY: I do get about a dozen emails a month on LinkedIn or through my business school alumni database from people asking for career advice. I answer every one of those emails and try and do calls with everyone who reaches out to help answer their questions. I have been fortunate in others who have done this for me, and the least I can do is the same for someone else.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started,” and why?

  1. Being an entrepreneur and CEO means you have two jobs. One job is to run the company and keep the operations in order (staff, P&L, cash flow, etc.) and the other job is to do the actual work associated with your business!
  2. The saying “it is lonely at the top” is a reality! We remember when we were in the trenches and invited out to happy hours, but now that we’re at the top, our girls go out and don’t invite us. No matter how cool we try to be, we are still the “bosses,” so we don’t get invited out. Thank goodness we have each other!
  3. Being comfortable with the unknown is the most important thing. As an entrepreneur, you do not know what is going to happen next and you have to be prepared to pivot in a new direction or lean into a new great opportunity. In either case, being comfortable with the unknown is critical.
  4. Stay focused on your own company goals. It is easy to start to fixate and focus on what “competition” is doing but it is important to remember that looking to your side or behind you at the competition prevents you from staying focused. At about six months, we decided to grow one of the divisions of our company and our clients all told us to hire from a competitive firm. At Blended Strategy Group were leading the way with new approaches because none of us were trained at a competitive agency, and we are making up our own rules as we go. We stopped looking at other agencies to hire from and looked within to see what made us so differentiated and then grew our team.
  5. You sometimes have to say no to great opportunities. We get a lot of great opportunities presented to us but have to pass on them because pursuing them may stretch our team so much that we will tip the company over. It is critical that we not only take opportunities that fit our capabilities, but also that we grow at the right speed that our staff can handle.

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?

Any of the royals! We love them — their dedication to philanthropy is so inspiring and they are just all-around super cool.

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


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