Oral Histories

Cordelia Donovan

Interview Segments on Topic: Mentors

Cordelia Donovan Biography

Cordelia Donovan, CEO of Cordelia Donovan, Inc., a public relations and marketing firm located in Manhatten, specializes in the beauty, finance and fashion industries.


INTERVIEWER: Well, why don’t you describe the path in life that brought you to the point of having enough courage to open your own agency?

DONOVAN: Wow. I don’t have a typical PR background. My background actually comes from the finance world. At first I started out pitching and selling after I graduated from Cornell University. I got my Series 7 and started selling stocks and bonds and mutual funds. I have a great mentor in my life and I must say that, in your path, a mentor is absolutely necessary. He told me, the one thing you want to learn how to do is sell, because no matter what you do, selling includes all aspects of business; customer service, pitching, and relationship management. You will learn that you can do anything. And I didn’t really necessarily want to do it but I trusted him and trusted his guidance and I took that sales position. From that, I learned the importance of writing a good pitch, writing the script, how to craft it so that people can understand it. Also, I was told that if you can sell an intangible asset and get people to invest in an intangible asset because they don’t see the investment in the mutual fund—you can pretty much sell everything. So, I became very good at selling intangible assets. From that, I was in an American Express marketing department; a director of their New York office and then they sold off the financial division. So after I went into management, they sold off the financial division and I decided that, I wanted something new. But when you’re really good at something, you kind of need a little push in life to give you that, so I decided that I like the entrepreneurial world that sales provides you. I like pitching and I did a lot of soul searching. And I always liked media. So a friend of mine at the time who was also another mentor of mine, and I think that that has a lot to do with it, is Robin Beaman; she’s Oprah’s publicist. She’s in Chicago and I contacted her, went back and forth to Chicago and basically started moonlighting with her. I would say, on a contractor basis. And she said wow, you’re really good at this, I said oh, it’s the same thing. You’re just selling the media, you have to find the people who want your product or service, just like you have to find the people who are interested in your story. You have to find these people. You have to think about what’s going to make them move to write about you, and then you have to get the clients and develop the relationships. Ok, fine. So I guess I kind of picked up very quickly from that, coming from the finance world. And one of the things that I use when I hire people and I train them is, I say, you have to get sales experience. That’s an absolute must, even for my writers that are in my firm. I give them a Zig Ziglar book. I give them a Tom Hopkins book. Now that’s very unusual for a PR person but it’s really important when it comes to pitching and distinguishing yourself, so even if you’re a writer you have to know how to write where it’s enticing enough to have someone want to buy your story just like they want to buy your product or service. The writing side is more important now because people are—I believe—people are reading more. Maybe not more books, but they’re reading more with online content. So how do I make that salacious enough—and journalists get inundated with a million emails. So I have to make it salacious but not really too ‘salesy.’ And that’s really where I believe, my success motto is—and my firm—with just my path and my background and taking the good and the bad and the ugly and kind of mixing it together and coming up with your own formula.