As a child, Steven Le Vine always had a solid work ethic. Maybe he learned it from his family of hard workers. His grandparents, Sally and Ed, had started their own well known rug business in the 1950s and worked tirelessly to keep it going for forty years. And his father Marc, a councilman and Human Resources specialist for many years, also started his own business in his mid-40s. Or, maybe it was the fact that he grew up in Freehold, N. J., the blue collar town that birthed Americana rocker Bruce Springsteen.
Throughout his adolescence, Steven worked odd jobs, whether it was for his grandparents’ rug stand, his parents’ weekend cigar stand, or a friend’s pet store, all located inside the Englishtown Auction, a well known New Jersey flea market. And during his high school and college years, Steven juggled many retail jobs. But he always had a gut feeling he would somehow end up in the entertainment industry, even though he didn’t believe he had any recognizable artistic talents.
Nearing the end of high school, shortly before the digital music boom, Steven would spend countless hours recording copies of bootlegged concerts of artists he enjoyed, and trading them via the postal service with other fans throughout North America. He would also record copies of albums he liked, usually from Tori Amos and Madonna, and share them with friends in his high school classes. It was one afternoon when a seed was planted that would change the rest of his life. His father recommended he think about becoming a publicist, because he recognized that Steven liked to promote the things he enjoyed.
Steven began studying Public Relations, and throughout his college years at William Paterson University, in Wayne, N. J., he devoted his free time to writing about musical artists for the college newspaper, reviewing albums for a national indie music publication, and lending his PR skills to various organizations on campus. And in May of 2006, he graduated with his Communications degree.
It wasn’t even a month later when Steven accepted his first internship with a local, internationally recognized pr/marketing agency, Allen Consulting, founded by sales guru Sylvia Allen. Sylvia, herself, had gone off on her own at a young age at a time when women were relegated to taking menial positions. Sylvia’s fearlessness and indomitable spirit would soon prove to make quite an impact on Le Vine — and she would soon become one of Steven’s most profound mentors and friends. It was only two weeks later when Steven scored his first client, a sultry jazz singer named Sylvia Pilar, and formed GrapeVine Promotions, a music PR agency.
After six months, Steven accepted a position with one of the largest PR firms in the area, that had a specialty in real estate. There he was scoring clients brass ring media placements in publications like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, the latter being a success that until then had only been attained by VPs, not assistant account executives. However, his team would continue to only assign him busy tasks, such as clipping and other intern-level work. This was when Steven began to feel unappreciated and realized the stuffy corporate environment didn’t suit his personality.
He soon fired up the engines, and began sending out email inquiries to popular personalities he admired, in hopes one would need his PR services. In April 2007, he received a response back from a TV/film actor Michael Carbonaro requesting a meeting. Soon after, Carbonaro decided to enlist the services of Le Vine’s agency, which was then renamed grapevine pr.
Over the next six months, grapevine began signing an influx of new clients, and Le Vine was soon working his job during the day, and dealing with a two-hour commute each way, and managing his own clients at night. But there was one problem: they were all pro-bono, meaning no income was being generated for grapevine. And even though he felt it in his bones that he was destined to be an entrepreneur, many of his family members and friends were telling him he wasn’t ready, that he lacked experience, that he wasn’t making any money and that he would fail if he went out on his own. They told him to give it at least 10 years before going off on his own. But Steven rejected these claims and this negativity continued to fuel him even more.
Shortly after, Le Vine started to procure quite a bit of press for himself, and was soon faced with a major dilemma. He had done an interview with the Asbury Park Press, the second largest newspaper in New Jersey, and realized it was only a matter of time before his face was planted on the front page of the Business section. He knew that once his bosses witnessed it, he would be at a critical juncture. And in September 2007, just as he had expected, he was called into the office.
But what he saw surprised him. His boss and his HR director didn’t quite know what to make of the situation. There was a sense of confusion, yet admiration presented in their body language, as they began to ask Le Vine about this company. Normally in situations like this, Steven would have been shaken up and anxious, but instead, he sat across from them with his back up straight, a confident smile and the impending sense of relief that either way, he would now be forced to sink or swim. That is when he was given possibly the biggest ultimatum of his life. They gave him the choice of ditching grapevine and staying with their company, or keeping it and leaving. Le Vine stated, “I’ve worked too hard for this over the past few months and have come too far. I would hate myself forever if I gave it up, so do what you have to do.” They wished him well and he was soon on his way.
Since then, grapevine has definitely had its share of struggles. For one, its formative years have been under the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. However, grapevine has profited every year over the prior year and has acquired close to 100 clients in its five years since 2006. The firm has represented a diverse range of clients from notable TV stars, like Danny Pintauro (“Who’s the Boss”) and Project Runway’s Jack Mackenroth, to filmmakers, musicians, swimwear brands, gyms, spas, charities and a slew of other entertainment artists and international consumer brands.
Le Vine maintains his company’s philosophy is simple: That any good PR firm can get you press, but grapevine strives to go beyond that — to offer clients personalized and personable service, flexible terms, reasonable rates and always delivers, and never over promises.
“I’ve met with so many clients who have told me that they weren’t sure what their former PR firm even did for them month after month, and because of that they were hesitant to sign with another,” says Le Vine. “Many of them didn’t even know what a ‘clip’ was, but were shelling out thousands of dollars a month for PR services.”
And at 29, Le Vine continues to follow his company’s mission, whether it’s by going after edgy, innovative brands or launching specialty niche PR departments, such as for the $835-billion per-year LGBT market, which has helped earn the firm recognition as one of the first to do so.
“I’ve always looked up to entrepreneurs like Sir Richard Branson, who always goes above and beyond with whatever new brand he’s launching — and I felt that if we were to remain in a highly competitive market, we not only had to deliver on our expected deliverables, such as standard press services, but become the PR firm that does provide added value, does provide exceptional service, and doesn’t scare others away with inflated fees, stuffy personas and intimidating, nickel-and-diming contracts. We want to be the first ‘way of life’ PR firm.”
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