PROFILE: Burning PR passion helps Blaze find glory on her own

Ample room for her dogs was Marci Blaze's main worry in starting The Blaze Company 12 years ago. Today, her vast knowledge, leadership, and risk-taking have begotten a $2-million-a-year success.

Ample room for her dogs was Marci Blaze's main worry in starting The Blaze Company 12 years ago. Today, her vast knowledge, leadership, and risk-taking have begotten a $2-million-a-year success.

When Marci Blaze founded The Blaze Company 12 years ago, there were two "must-haves" and one "never" on her list of requirements for creating the perfect agency. She wanted to make sure her offices provided plenty of room to bring her two dogs to work, and that it came equipped with a sake bar to weather those tough Friday afternoons in Venice, CA. The one item she didn't want was a celebrity clientele - an odd choice for the woman who spent eight years managing publicity for the Academy Awards. "I don't want to be awakened in the middle of the night because somebody has a zit and doesn't want to do an interview," explains Blaze of the no-star rule, which hasn't stopped her agency from growing to $2 million in annual billings and employing a dozen staffers. That aversion to Hollywood hype is a character trait that Blaze has held since the start of her career. Shortly after earning a degree from Sarah Lawrence College in New York, Blaze returned to her native West Coast, where she "couldn't get arrested, let alone employed," she recalls. A flurry of resumes was met with a flurry of rejections, until she finally landed an interview with long-time Ruder Finn executive Selma Halprin. Despite "a terrible interview at the end of which I realized my blouse was unbuttoned," she was offered an entry-level spot with the agency, and Halprin quickly grew from a boss to a mentor. "There were a couple things she taught me," says Blaze. "She was a voracious reader and a follower of the media. My challenge became to figure out the one thing she wasn't reading that I could." Blaze also credits Halprin with teaching her that "you go as far as you want to." "She never saw a glass ceiling for women," says Blaze. "So I never got the message either." Blaze spent the next 13 years working her way up through the ranks at Ruder Finn to become an SVP, and the executive in charge of the glamorous Academy Awards task. "I'm a corporate kind of gal. When I got handed the [Academy Awards] account, I said, 'What did I do wrong?'" she laughs. "But it was probably the single most important account in terms of launching my career, because of the visibility, the experience and the hard work." Despite her success at the agency, Blaze realized that she needed a greater challenge, something she didn't think Ruder Finn could offer her. "I'd come in so young," she says of the firm. "I don't necessarily think that being 13 years in that company hurt me. In fact, it gave me a lot of steam to move forward. But people get preconceived ideas of what you can do. People were coming in with less experience than me at higher levels and it sort of wasn't working." But if it hadn't been for the encouragement of her husband, Steve Levine, who runs his own advertising and design company, Blaze might never have taken the leap into self-employment. "He basically humiliated me into it by telling me I wasn't learning anything and that I looked bored," she recalls. After that bit of tough love, he wrote her a check for over $40,000 to get started. By the end of the first year, Blaze had founded her own shop and repaid the money with interest. She quickly found a variety of corporate niches that needed a smaller agency with the talent and experience to develop strategic plans. Among her first accounts were The Shrine Auditorium and The Beverly Hills Hotel. That list has grown to include other prestigious travel and hospitality clients such as L'Ermitage Beverly Hills, and corporate clients such as shopping complex The Beverly Center and Epson. "The most important thing for us is creativity to the point of risk taking," says Blaze when asked to describe her shop's philosophy. "We ask our clients to go all the way to the edge with us." While Blaze isn't shy about touting her agency's success, she does admit she would have taken on partners if she knew how difficult starting a business was going to be. "I run a company, and that's what I do first. Its product happens to be PR communications," explains Blaze. "But being chief cook and bottle washer really is challenging. I think I would have grown three times as fast with two other partners." But after 12 years in business, Blaze has a handle on being an entrepreneur, and now looks beyond clients and management duties to find satisfaction in the PR industry. These days she thrives off giving young people the same opportunity to enter the business that she received three decades ago at Ruder Finn. "As you move through your career, there are different things that give you yayas," she says. "I get my yayas out of seeing young talent fall in love with the business." Despite getting her thrills in new ways, Blaze never forgot her original goals. Walk into her offices just a few blocks off the beach and you're likely to find her bullmastiff and her Great Dane mix, Carmine and Ruby, keeping a close eye on the sake bar. ----------- Marci Blaze 1977-1990 Ruder Finn, entry level, rising to SVP 1990-present President, The Blaze Company

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