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How I’m Crushing It

Deon Graham, Digital Architect

IG: @deon

Deon Graham was a tennis pro. Now he’s Diddy’s digital director.

He’s only thirty-one, but already he has one of the most coveted jobs in the marketing world.

That’s what personal branding can do for a person.

This story starts in 2008, in Miami. During the day, Deon was teaching tennis. At night, he was spending too much money at the clubs and “doing young people stuff.” He noticed there was a void in the marketplace. Clubs wanted to market only to a certain type—white, Hispanic, etc.—and while they liked having hip-hop parties because the revenue was good, they shied away from projecting the image of having a heavy hip-hop crowd. No marketing company was focusing on clubs that catered to an urban or hip-hop audience. So Deon decided he would.

He created the nightlife website City Never Sleeps. By offering to market the club brands on his site, he circumvented the owners’ reluctance to prominently market their hip-hop nights. Partygoers got access to their photos, and club owners got access to patrons. People loved the site, so he knew he was on to something, but there was no money in it.

But Deon says that was kind of his fault. “I was just trying to make deals and make moves for a profit. I wasn’t trying to build a brand. I wasn’t committed to the branding process; I was committed to try to make money.” It wasn’t until he started to dive into Crush It! principles and focus on building a brand for the long term that things started to turn around. He started being more selective about the caliber of clubs he worked with, turning down money if he didn’t think the club was on brand and would lead to bigger clients. “All my decision making changed. The reactions I was getting from people changed, and not coincidentally, the checks started to get bigger.” He’d been engaging people on Twitter and Facebook, but not as much as he should have been. He started watching Gary Vee. “This guy has all these followers, he looks like he has a more successful business than me, but every day he’s on social media talking to people, giving them advice, giving them free content. So why am I not doing that?” He doubled down on the engagement. “It was 24/7. Literally anybody mentioning anything, I would join conversations, reply to everybody. If it was two a.m. and there was a popping party going on, we were in those conversations, letting people know about other parties in the city. There was no room for anything else.” After landing a contract with a prominent nightlife group, he felt secure enough to quit his day job.

The site’s popularity rose quickly until his was the biggest platform catering to the urban and hip-hop market. He was approached by Cîroc vodka’s marketing team, Blue Flame Agency.

“They asked, ‘Did you make this site?’”

“Yeah.”

“We’ve paid people $75,000 to build a website.”

“I said, ‘I’ll do it for $10,000.’ I just wanted to get in the building.”

And he did. Blue Flame Agency hired him, and from then on he was busy with project after project. For two-and-a-half years, he brokered deals with Hennessy, LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy), any brand you could think of that would want to reach the urban nightlife consumer.

In 2015, Aubrey Flynn of Combs Enterprises offered Deon a position as his digital director, working with eight different brands, including a tequila, a TV network, and a music label.

It’s a busy life. Deon has a family, so a lot of the work is done after his three kids are asleep and before everyone wakes up. His in-box has been flooded with requests for speaking engagements since his mention in the May 2017 issue of Entrepreneur magazine.

He’s got massive ambition, and nothing is going to get in his way.

I’m definitely going to have a digital agency similar to what Gary’s running, doing what I do for Sean Combs with many different brands and celebrities.

Sometimes I go to these meetings, and you kind of get a different look, just based on being a young black male. That’s actually been the hardest part, getting taken seriously by the corporate world. That’s why it’s good to be aligned with someone like Sean Combs, who fights for that. But it’s definitely a different conversation when I go into these rooms, than for say, Gary. I walk in the door and they definitely get surprised. You can tell they were thinking or looking for someone else. It’s just something I gotta deal with; can’t use it as an excuse.

The most important thing is to be fully committed and to block out any noise, because nobody has done what you’re attempting to do. And the only way to get it is to put the blinders on and push forward.

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