Being a mother is a blessing but it definitely comes with its challenges when it comes to pursuing your passion, purpose, and working in the entertainment industry. This is why a heavy support group is needed, especially for Black and Brown mothers which is what Chanel Rae provides through her platforms.
Chanel Rae is the co-founder of The Legion Media Group which is an independent P.R., Marketing and Event Planning company. What they do varies on the client, but they set up strategic campaigns whether it be branding initiatives or public relation initiatives or event planning and although there is not much to do in person right now due to Covid-19, as far as events are concerned, brands and businesses are in much need of re-imagining what their brand looks like.
“We do not make the news, we publicize the news,” Chanel explains.
I recently interviewed Ms. Rae where she chatted more on staying true to your values, keeping a humble spirit, challenges women face in the industry, and managing being a mother and entrepreneur.
The Empress Dee: So what were some of your first opportunities really utlizing your public relations and branding skills?
Chanel: Our first event, we put together a fashion show for The NAACP Centennial event which was over 10 years ago, but it was the first time that we put together…not only produced the event but put together a P.R. strategy, finding out what talent would walk the carpet, putting out what designers would be involved, we also figured how to provide pre-awareness of the event and after the event. So that was our first time and then one client led to another and another and so here we are.
The Empress Dee: Was that an intimidating experience?
Chanel: Yes and no. We were not a formal P.R. company then. So, we did it for fun. We did it to test the waters and we had so much fun with it, but we were not sure that it was something that we were going to do but it would not hurt to try. So, this was the summer of 2008 and that Fall, we had the stock market crash. I got laid off and I said to my partner, shout out to Ian Freeman, I said to him that maybe we need to take this P.R. thing seriously. So what we did is…like anything I did not go to school for P.R. and neither did Ian. I had a media background and so we agreed that before we do anything, we need to know our craft, that was the rule. So, we brought in a third partner, shout to Sasha who was doing P.R. for The Brooklyn museum at the time and Sasha came in and legitimized what we were doing. We had begun to pick up clients and we said let us bring someone in that would give us some structure and organization; Sasha came in and “cleaned us up” and we took off from there.
The Empress Dee: Do you feel that at some point in your life that you were prepped for the industry prior to you coming into it?
Chanel: Yes and no. I made sure that while I was in school, I did internships wherever I could. I knew that I wanted to do something in the entertainment world, I thought that it was journalism but at the same time, I knew that I needed to fit somewhere. I took advantage of every opportunity. I interned at ABC for “One Life to Live,” to “Def Jam,” from the marketing department to radio with Wendy Williams and InStyle Magazine. I wanted a well-rounded experience and to figure out where I fit. I knew that I would be a part of that world somehow it was just figuring out in what capacity. I had people who supported me and that is what you need because we cannot do this alone. I tell all of my interns that even if I am not your mentor, it is important for them to find one. So find a mentor because we all need help, we are not able to do this alone.
The Empress Dee: I can appreciate all of that advice. So, what are some characteristics that you feel are absolutely necessary for someone who is interested in going into public relations or something similar?
Chanel: I am not saying that you have to be a people person, but you do need to know what your strengths are. At Legion, we have a team of people and I always say people know me but they do not know my team because they choose to work behind the scenes, not everyone has to be out in the public and you do not have to be poppin on The Gram (IG). That is the misconception these days that everyone has to be a “celebrity publicist,” and that is far from the truth. On our team we have a few people and one of them is not a people person, she is more reserved, more of an introvert but she is great at research, she is great at writing, she is amazing at whatever task you give her but she is not the typical outgoing type of personality but I believe that she is a great publicist. So, it is about taking whatever your personal strengths are and utilizing that; whether it is one person that creates the strategy or that there is one person who is out here doing these IG lives…like me (laughs), but not everyone wants to do that. I believe as a leader, it is my job to recognize everyone’s strength and place them where they will shine the most.
The Empress Dee: Delegation is very important. What would you say is the most enjoyable aspect of your job?
Chanel: When I get to see a campaign flushed out from start to finish; from ideas to fruition and seeing the results. People see the end product…right? But they are not a part of the process and they think that it is all flash and lights. You get to see all the flash and lights after all the work is done. But it took blood, sweat and tears to get there. So, when it is all said and done, and whatever the campaign media hits get and it finally gets published and it is kind of “showing off,” that is when I think okay, this was not for no reason.
The Empress Dee: I know that you recently did an interview where you said that you like sticking to your values even if it means that it takes longer to get to the top, have you ever considered compromising that mind set if things were to get harder than you anticipated?
Chanel: I do think that you get there, not that I will sell my soul to the devil in order to get a check, but I am a mother, so I have a mouth to feed, so there is always the thought, am I really saying no to this check right now? We are in the midst of dealing with this global pandemic and budgets are limited across the board, and I am over here turning down money…you know, so it is one of these things where at the core of me, I know what I want to stand next to and what I do not, so it is more about working with people that I believe in. I think that there are always times where you contemplate the fact that you may need the money or I might get a better look if I do this or that but you got to be able to sleep with yourself at night. Make sure that you are not doing something that you will regret tomorrow…do not jeopardize tomorrow’s check for today’s check.
The Empress Dee: I can appreciate that because things seem to be a little different now, the standards in this culture are different. I know that you are also a co-host of a podcast and it is called, AMommyCast, can you tell us a little bit about it?
Chanel: AMommyCast is about my personal journey with my best friend, shout out to Toya. Toya and I…I know that right now we are all talking about privilege and I think that there are levels to that. Toya and I both recognize that we do have a form of privilege. We are educated women that come from 2 parent homes, we both grew up on Long Island, NY, in upper middle-class families, that is a privilege and we do recognize that and becoming mothers and in trying to become moms, we realized that if we had so much support and so much access and we still had struggles and adversity with trying to becoming moms, that we both experienced issues with conceiving, and then even after we had our children, I had trouble breast-feeding, it was so many struggles along the way that we had a hard time with and we went through things that society says that we cannot talk about.
So, we created this podcast to not only say that we are going to talk about these issues, but we wanted to make sure that other people, parents knew that they are not dealing with these issues alone. If we had so much struggle with our privilege…we always talk about the people that do not have the support that we have. That was the reason to start the podcast. Right now, we are on a hiatus, we are taking a break because Toya just recently had a second baby my little godson, shout to him (smiles), right now she is figuring things out and that is when we do catch up, we have done a bunch of IG live catch ups and again, the struggle is real. Figuring out how to be alone with a toddler, a newborn and work at the same time…shout out to her. My son is about to be 5 years old and he is pretty self-sufficient. I do his school routine in the mornings and then he is kind of like, leave me alone for the rest of the day. But that is not the case when you have a newborn and trying to work as well.
The Empress Dee: I am sure that it can difficult, especially when you have a demanding career. Were you all friends previously?
Chanel: Yes, Toya and I have been friends for almost 20 years, and I am dating ourselves right now. I always like to say that she “bagged” me from across the room (laughter), we were at college orientation and I saw her from across the room and she was like, “come sit here,” and I was like, yeah I know, I know (laughs), and we have been friends ever since. We have another friend, shout out to her, they literally facetimed me as I was peeing on the stick (laughter). Two months later, she got pregnant and our due dates were exactly 2 months a part.
The Empress Dee: It is beautiful when you have a group of friends to support you through that journey, when it involves having difficulties, especially for Black women.
Chanel: We are hard on ourselves and we do not vocalize it, there is a sense of shame in it and I am always an open book but I do realize that it is a part of my purpose, sharing my experience lets others know that they are not alone. So, I had a talk with God, and I was like, I need to stop being people’s guinea pig though (laughs)because I am tired of going through things. But what I have learned is that we all go through it, I am more of a sharer and I am happy to do so. If my stories and struggles can help others than I am all about that. I guess that is why I am here (smiles).
The Empress Dee: You are talented, young, and beautiful, what would you say were some of the challenges that you had to overcome as opposed to being a male in the same industry?
Chanel: That is a good one. As far as the struggles that you face as a female, first of all this is a male dominated industry. For some reason in the P.R. world it is kind of more woman but even when there is a man in the room, he is the one that is more respected off the bat and we have to…as I was saying before with the “celebrity” publicists, it is a fine line. I am judged the minute…if I am doing P.R. for a concert, I am judged the minute that I walk in the door. If I am not dressed sexy enough, if I am dressed too sexy, there are levels. Based on the way a woman dresses determines the amount of respect that she is going to get when she walks into a room or is it too much attention; do people think that I am too dressed and misinterpret my intentions, is she a groupie, no I am the one in charge. I literally watched at another concert a venue manager…legit, ask my assistant next to me questions when I am talking to him directly and I had to make it known that I am the one in charge here, but because my assistant was a man, he was directing his questions towards him and I am the boss here. So, it is one of those things where we have to fight for everything twice as hard for everything that we get, because there will always be this assumption that we are less than.
The Empress Dee: I appreciate your honesty.
Chanel: That is the only way that I know how to be and those are just the PG stories that I am talking about. There have been plenty of times along the way where I have wondered does this person really want to give me a chance or are, they just trying to sleep with me. There is a way to even play that game, you have to be careful. You have to demand respect and even that comes with limitations. Then as you are demanding that respect but now you are the bitch that no one wants to work with. The one thing that I can say is, once you do find your voice, stick with it, and always stand your ground.
The Empress Dee: I appreciate all of these gems that you are dropping right now. Are you ever surprised with how successful you have become?
Chanel: Yes and no. I always knew that I was going to do something but to say that I am surprised, I cannot say that, but it helps to know that I kind of did it by myself. I do not mean by myself as in I did not have people or mentors helping me along the way; I will always acknowledge those who gave me opportunities, like clients who have recommended me for other positions or friends and we always say at Legion that most of our clients come from referrals. So, I would never say that my journey has been self-made but what I can say is that I never had to depend on another logo. That is important to me.
Now we have major clients, now we stand by major logos but at the end of the day it is still ours, no matter what it is still our company and that is what I am proud of. We have watched people leave major companies and then they get a full awareness of why people were respecting them, and it is not because of who they were, it was because of the logo that they were representing. So, for us I am always going to represent my logo first, harder than anyone else’s…no offense to my clients, I am going to wear your flag too but guess what no one can take mine away from me.
The Empress Dee: What words of advice would you be able to offer to younger people who want to pursue a career like yours in terms of being diligent about their passion?
Chanel: I think that are levels to understanding. I always say that I feel J. Cole on that middle child syndrome, because that is where I feel that I am. I do not look at myself like an “OG”, but I am definitely not a “newbie”, so I am in the middle just like he is. I realize that because of that, it allows me to see and understand both sides. I think that even coming up, a lot of the “OG’s” in the game did not understand our work ethic or methodology because they did things differently, they did not have the technology that we have…everything is a fight. I can remember being at Def Jam telling people that we do not need to spend a million dollars in order to mail CD’s out, we can email MP3’s now…you know that was literally a conversation, compared to the fact that the kids probably do not even use email…right? (laughter). So, what I am saying is that I understand that technology will forever change us. Every four years the music industry changes, and we have to adapt. There were times where the blogs were the gatekeepers now it is the DSP’s, we have to adjust with all of that. so, I think that once you come into this game and you realize that it is not going to be an overnight success, and if that does happen, then kudos to you. But that is not the average story we all carve out our own paths if you want to be in this game.
Be careful to not let success get to your head because you have to realize that as quick as you got there, the quicker that you can fall too. So, again I want to say…not to check your ego because people tend to misconstrue that, it is not about checking your ego, it is more about knowing the difference between your ego and self-love and self-awareness. You should have pride in your work, you should love yourself and do not allow anyone to tell you any different.
The difference comes when you think that you are better than others, that is where you have to draw the line. I model that in my personal life and in my career. I will always treat everyone the same. I always tell people that Diddy was somebody’s intern. My coach in high school used to tell us,” be careful of the toes that you step on today as they may be connected to the ass that you have to kiss tomorrow.” That is my way of life. I will never shit on someone because they are currently an intern or in this case, that I have never heard of Purposely Awakened, I have never met you, but I am sitting here talking to you, especially if you want to be a publicist, I need to know everybody. I am going to show up for everyone, regardless of who you are.
The Empress Dee: That is awesome. I think that it is dope that you can express that, a lot of people do understand that you have to serve first. I think that there are people out there that have the idea that you can start in the middle.
Chanel: You have to crawl before you can walk, and I think that people think…especially…there was a period of time, not just because I had just become a mom but I had to stop doing internship programs for a long time when we first started out we would have anywhere from 10-12 interns a semester. I stopped because the energy that I was getting was so demanding and I was like where is this coming from and it was putting me in a bad mood. So, I paused it for a while and I cannot lie, the new generation that has come up recently in expressing wanting to intern, they get it, they are back to the essence of realizing that they have to learn. I think that the attitude shift makes a difference, understanding that you have to learn and that you do not know it all and that you need some sort of mentor, just being open to that conversation will help your journey so much.
The Empress Dee: Thank you for that advice. During this time we are experiencing civil unrest within the Black community, what are some of words of wisdom that you can offer?
Chanel: I think that it is important to be conscious of your surroundings always, know that right now any little thing can set someone off. For those of us who are venturing outside again or who are protesting, be aware of your surroundings…extra cautious AND be careful of your words. Even the things that we are encouraged to chant, the things that we are encouraged to write, remember to use your own voice first. I am not going to get too spiritual and start preaching but be conscious of the words that you are saying out of your own mouth even if you are being encouraged to chant them.
The Empress Dee: Thank you so much and we really appreciate you for doing this interview with us today. The things that you shared with us were so enlightening and I appreciate the sound advice that you gave and everyone in the comments loved it, I can tell.
Chanel: Thank you again for having me…thank you for thinking of me. I am always humbled when someone asks me to do these things, I am like…really me, why, why do you want to talk to me (laughs) but I appreciate it.
The Empress Dee: You have so much knowledge and I do appreciate it. You know that when we are young, a lot of times we can end up questioning ourselves, you have so much to offer, so many wise words that we can use and even those who are older than us…so thank you.
Chanel: I tell people all the time, I do write back, I am not that light-skinned (laughs) it might not be right away, but I will get back to you. I have over 300 hundred un-read texts, so it is not intentional, and I will get back to you.
The Empress Dee: Thank you so much!