Debbie Blevins’ career is rooted in making connections.
She’s worked in industries from telecommunications to tech to financial services and retail. She’s built brands, managed high-performance teams, and has deep experience in marketing, advertising, and leadership at companies like McCann and Razorfish. She’s worked on both the client side, and the agency side. The constant in these roles: forming relationships centered on value.
“Clients are trying to leverage technological advances to connect with their customers in a meaningful and valuable way,” she says. “Consumers are not shy in indicating to companies how and when they want to hear from them—and ultimately reward the smart companies who are listening with their loyalty. I love bringing to life these intimate or personalized experiences.”
It’s no wonder, then, that she found herself drawn to the world of influencer marketing — a space that requires connections between brands, creators, and audiences based in authenticity and innovation. Debbie joined BEN at the end of 2021 to take the growing influencer marketing team into its next stage. We caught up with her to learn more about what she finds most exciting about influencer marketing, her plans for the team at BEN, and the kind of creator content she can’t stop following (hint: puppies are involved).
Tell us about your perspective on influencer marketing—what got you excited to dive into this work?
We are seeing the emergence of a new and more powerful way for a brand to connect to their target audience in a mutually meaningful and valuable way that impacts business results.
The early days of influencer marketing was defined by high-profile celebrity posts and fun-filled TikTok segments. It was not seen as a serious space to do business. But I saw the space maturing, and watched creators gain much larger, engaged and loyal followings (or audience) than what the traditional media channels can offer.
Today, the smart brands that are embracing influencer marketing are starting to move larger portions of their budgets away from what they have done in the past to this new space and they’re seeing results when they connect their brands to the right audiences. We’re in a moment where CMOs are quoting their brand’s performance on TikTok. And that’s where I got excited and started to feel invested in this space.
What drew you to BEN? What differentiates this team that made you want to join?
I fall in love with people who see the power or value in doing something that no one else sees or is ready to pursue. Ricky Ray saw, early on, that creators could drive demand for brands on YouTube even when the content was pretty raw and unsophisticated. He has stayed committed to this space where the brand and the creator collaboratively work together to connect with their audience with meaningful and valuable content — and he’s a super passionate leader. When I started to watch some of the moves BEN was making during the height of the pandemic: tremendous investment in technology, tremendous investment in people…Ricky and his team hired when everyone else was laying people off and doing furloughs. I thought, ‘Here’s a group that’s super brave and making smart moves.’
Now that you’ve joined BEN as General Manager in Influencer Marketing, what is your focus?
My focus is to work with the amazing folks at BEN to build on all the great moves they have made to date and figure out how we expand what we are doing and where we are doing it. There has been tremendous growth and technological advancements within the company and the team has been so busy that they have not had a moment to tell the world what BEN can do with them.
How do you stabilize in a space that’s changing so rapidly? Every day, platforms change their rules and features—it’s something brands, agencies, and creators alike grapple with. How do you help the BEN team chart a course forward?
Again, it comes down to the people. We have subject matter experts whose job is to be top of the game. It allows us to have conversations that are beyond generic. Even as things change and as normal challenges (budgets, time, etc.) arise, being able to be confident in the quality of work being done by BEN’s team is paramount — knowing that they are doing the best for the client, the creator, and the community at large.
We also have a pretty powerful and robust AI that sets us apart from our competition. We now need to show how our AI drives the kind of results and connections that the more mature brands are looking for in a partner.
And last but absolutely not least, we have a community of content creators out there who we never stop thinking about. We think, ‘How can we help them? How can we be a better partner and what do they need from us to be their best? I’m looking to increase the depths of our connectivity, loyalty, and relationships because these creators are the creative class of our future.
Is there a particular social media channel you’re on all the time, or a favorite content type?
Instagram. And anything with Great Pyrenees dogs. I have one, and I got hooked on videos of them and I just can’t stop. That’s my sweet spot right now. I’m also fascinated by beautiful places in the world—amazing buildings and structures beautifully photographed. I’m hooked.
What new creator economy, industry startups, or trends have caught your eye recently?
One area I find interesting and am seeing more of are platforms that are offering good news. These sites, like “Positive News” or “Good News Network” or “The Optimist Daily” tend to focus on goodness and steer away from negative stories and do not contain negative comments or language on their sites. There’s clearly a demand or interest for these destinations, and I am curious to better understand why. Why are so many people turning to these places for ‘feel good stories’? I really like the intent behind these sites and look forward to seeing what they do with their audience and content.