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A Q&A with Image Consultant and Entrepreneur Davina Douthard

A Q&A with Image Consultant and Entrepreneur Davina Douthard


Davina Douthard has over 30 years of experience in image management, working in the entertainment and corporate industries. At a very young age, she was fascinated by how people carefully managed their image and the ability to control others’ perceptions of themselves or businesses. She intently watched the Golden Era of Hollywood movies and documentaries about famous people for countless hours. Enamored by how well they carried themselves, a stark difference from today’s standards, she realized there was a need she could fill. She later began a career in image management at the age of 16. Later, Davina obtained degrees in public relations with an emphasis on entertainment PR and organizational leadership from UCLA and Champman University, respectively.

Can you start by introducing yourself and telling us your inspiring story in your own words?

My journey truly began at the age of 8 years when my mother enrolled me and my siblings in a local modeling and professional development program called Itty Bitty City. There, I learned the rudiments of personal and professional development and developed skills that would later help me and many others.

My entrepreneurial spirit has been a driving force in my three-decade-long career. It led me to explore various roles, from image consulting to creative management, writing, and executive producing. I focused on mentoring and helping others succeed in each of these positions.

In 1991, I founded Mass Appeal Magazine, a publication dedicated to image consulting and personal branding. The same year, I launched The Image Cartel, my image consulting service, and Polishing the Professional. This comprehensive career center provides training and employment opportunities for non-disabled individuals and those with disabilities.

Raised in Inglewood and immersed in the vibrant entertainment world from a young age. My uncle, the iconic Nathaniel Taylor, known to many as Rollo from Sanford and Son, ignited my passion for this industry. My first taste of the film business came when, during my first audition, I booked a featured role as a cheerleader for Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Although I didn’t complete the movie, the experience was thrilling. Since then, I focused my work behind the scenes and launched The Image Cartel. I have worked with numerous celebrities and industry giants, including RCA, Arista, Capitol Records, Silverbird, Dream Magic Studios, and many talented artists and actors, managing their image.

My desire to help people polish their image to climb the corporate ladder prompted me to create Polishing The Professional in 1991. The career center helps individuals position themselves for success. We provide services from drafting effective resumes, developing career strategies based on skills and positions, and recommending resources and strategies to improve employment outcomes. In 1998, we began serving individuals with developmental disabilities with several state contracts. In 2010, we began serving the federal government’s Ticket To Work Beneficiaries who have disabilities and are interested in revamping their careers and returning to work.

My unwavering commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry has been a constant thread in my career. This commitment led me to launch my most recent endeavor, The Able Show, at the beginning of this year. This groundbreaking show, a collaboration between Polishing the Professional and Dream Magic Studios, is a testament to our belief in providing equal opportunities. It offers individuals with developmental disabilities the chance to work in various production roles, marking a significant step towards a more inclusive entertainment industry. The show’s rapid growth in the past four months and profound impact on diversifying the industry fill my team with immense pride. We look forward to continuing to break down barriers and ignite change.

What made you decide to go into business for yourself?

I went into business for myself simply because no company was doing what I wanted to do. People were doing small parts of it, but certainly not in the capacity that I was providing services. I recall being in business in Hollywood, and people would ask me what I did for a living. I hated it. When they did, I’d sigh and say, “Image Consultant.” It almost always followed with a question, “What is that?” or “Tell me about that.” It was exhausting and frustrating that, at one point, I was beginning to grow weary about continuing down this path as an image consultant. However, that changed one evening when I was hanging out and ran into Arsenio Hall. This was the 90s Arsenio, who was huge at that time. In the past, I had hung out with Mr. Hall,  Prince, Eddie Murphy, Billy Idol, and many others. I think most people were curious because I was hanging around a lot of celebrities at the time, and I was not the child of some rich celebrity, but I was always around. Arsenio asked me what I did for a living. I don’t know what he asked, but I again sighed and said, “I am an Image Consultant,” he replied, “Oh, I know what that is; everyone in Hollywood has one; they just call it something different. Alas, for the first time in maybe two to three years in the entertainment industry, I didn’t have to explain myself. At that moment, that was my confirmation that I was on the right path.

How did you market your business when it was brand new?

Word of mouth and the value of relationships is the most important marketing tool you’ll ever have in business. I am constantly aware of how many people think you must have a lot of money to start a business; you don’t. Having a lot of money can often lead you down a path of extraordinary debt and destroy a great business idea. If you are starting a franchise, money may be more important, but I think it is most valuable to focus on growing and using your personal resources when starting a small business.

Relationships are the best, and using my connections is precisely how I started my business in the entertainment and corporate world. For example, I wanted to break into the Hollywood crowd, and I called a friend, Ray Grady, a bodyguard for many celebrities, and told him what I wanted to do and asked if he had any connections that might need my services. He said he did and would call someone and get back to me. Within a few hours, he called me and told me to contact Charles Freeman. Mr. Freeman was the General Manager of MC Hammer’s company Bust It/ Capitol Records. They had a new leading lady whose album had just dropped and was rapidly climbing the charts, and they needed my services. I met with Mr. Freeman the next day and was working with the talent the day after. From that, I obtained more clients simply because of my solid reputation. I have never advertised my services.

What is a typical day like for you?

There is no typical day. One day, I can be in the office doing business work, responding to RFPs, and drafting proposals; another day, I am filming a show or dashing off to Africa to work on a project there with my business partners. I love variety and ever-changing landscapes, and they fit my personality. 

What are the three most important habits for being a successful entrepreneur?

Most people look at entrepreneurship as a sexy gig. It’s empowering to feel like you are creating and owning something. But entrepreneurship is not sexy. It is a lonely endeavor, and it’s hard. Most people don’t see the sacrifices you have to make to be successful. Unlike a job, there is often no one to lean on when you need help, whether it is information or financial. It doesn’t matter how many people you have around you; if they aren’t equal partners in your business, they have no idea what you are going through, and you are literally on an island by yourself.

So, for me, the three most important habits to become a successful entrepreneur are:

  1. Start with a Master Plan—This is important because you have to know where you are going. Moreover, when you get overwhelmed or off-track, and you will, you can use it as a tool to center yourself around your intentions.
  2. Aloneness—Understand that entrepreneurship is a lonely journey. There are times when you are alone in everything: every decision, every financial move, everything. 
  3. Plan the work and work the plan – Your master plan is nothing if you aren’t doing anything with it. If you write the plan and don’t work it, it becomes a pretty document sitting on your shelf. You have to get up, do the work, and know that you will likely work more than that 9-5 job most people complain about. One thing I can say and am truly proud of is knowing that no one will ever outwork me.  But remember to work smart.

If you had one piece of advice for someone just starting, what would it be?

One piece of advice I would give others starting a business is to be authentic. I can’t tell you how many people tried to start businesses like mine after meeting me. Mostly, it was to compete with me or because they only saw the finished product and really didn’t understand the work that went into it behind the scenes. Most of those businesses or endeavors were done in two months or two years or never made a dime. 

I say to be authentic about what you want because everyone is given a purpose. Your purpose is not to copy what someone else is doing; it is to follow what your intuition has been telling you to do since childhood. You can be inspired by someone else’s success, but be you; everyone else is taken. I firmly know that we all come here knowing what we should do, but we are told we have to follow a specific career path, such as doctor, lawyer, or teacher. In the end, that may be your calling, but you have to follow what was put inside of you, and only you know what that is.

Yes, we have multiple services under our company. Our full-service career center helps both non-disabled and disabled individuals increase their career success. Established in 1991, Polishing The Professional is a full-service career center. Offering person-centered planning, we help job seekers identify careers that complement their strengths, skills, and interests. Polishing The Professional offers our program services, such as 1:1 support training and job placement, for clients to achieve competitive employer-paid employment and internships. Our goals are to equip each client with the employability skills to obtain and maintain employment successfully.

In 2007, PTP garnered two exclusive contracts with Westside Regional Center and South Central Los Angeles Regional Center to increase employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities. Through a special partnership with the Department of Rehabilitation, we provided direct placements and outsourced coaching to various supported employment vendors. During that time, I lead my team to make nearly 300 direct competitive job placements in competitive work for regional center clients in less than two years. A feat no one has matched to this day.

Our government, federal, and state contracts pay for the services. Our goal is to eventually branch out and serve foster youth and welfare-to-work beneficiaries and offer more specific veteran programming.

How do you prioritize self-care and well-being while managing the demands of your business?

It’s hard sometimes because you wear many hats most of the time. It is challenging to hire the wrong staff; many people want a check and not work. So, hiring the right people makes it easier to prioritize self-care. I’m pretty easy going to a couple of hours at the day spa to get a massage, and body scrub is great for me. I also love reading, so that is my self-care, keeping my brain crisp is critical. I also love working out, however, my fitness has been terrible since the pandemic, but I recently got back on track with exercising. Getting your endorphins active improves your mood and helps you to feel good. Lastly, travel is at an all-time high. I am a loner and love to travel alone, even to get away to sleep for two days.

What would you consider your biggest accomplishment and why?

One of my most significant accomplishments is being able to employ others and help them reach their individual goals. Specifically people with disabilities. We often take for granted the things we have and can do independently. Let me explain; I had twin brother clients at one point. They were both diagnosed with autism and needed help getting a job. The older brother was more independent, and it took us about a week to find him a job. He was good to go. In contrast, his younger brother needed more support. It took us about two months to create a position that was perfect for him. The day he was hired, he told my staff, “ I thank you so much for helping me find a job. Now I feel like a man because I don’t have to ask my mother for money to buy my girlfriend ice cream.”

I love our work with entertainment and celebrities; it’s exciting and fulfilling. However, my greatest and most fulfilling moments are when I am making a difference in someone’s life by literally transforming their economic situation and helping them believe in themselves and develop confidence.

What challenges have you faced in the workplace, especially your experience in male-dominated environments?

The challenge I faced in male-dominated environments is always being considered the weaker of the two sexes. I look forward to those moments because they allow me to straighten them out. Most people might not say anything, but I always find a way to make a point. I am skilled at insulting someone with a smile and crafty language, though not my most kind moments, but sometimes it’s required. 

Being so young in the business, people think you don’t know much. It didn’t help that I always looked younger than my actual age. People also think you got to where you are based on your beauty. I remember once when I served as board president, most people thought I was 20 or 21, but I was about 32 or so. I had so many people after me, including women. One guy told me after a meeting, and I quote, “I listened to you at the meeting, and my first thought was what this pretty young girl is going to talk about? I thought she probably didn’t have much to say, but when you opened your mouth, I was surprised that you were  not only young and beautiful, you were intelligent.” 

I looked at him, wanting to smack him, but I just stared because he thought he was complimenting me. That was one of those rare moments when I didn’t say anything but gave him that look of death. I felt he needed some time to contemplate his comments.

Can you share some of the most important lessons you’ve learned from your successes and failures in business?

I am happy about the success because it means what I knew would work, worked. But I am also open to failures. Failures help me grow and reevaluate my plan, change what I did before, and work on improving things. Many people get down on themselves when things don’t go the way they expected. For me, I get down to figuring out what I need to do next or differently. 

What initiatives or actions do you believe are crucial for fostering a more supportive and inclusive business environment for women?

I’m not big on joining a lot of groups, I don’t have the time. So what I do in my environment is to nurture women and help them feel like they can do whatever they want to do in life. Some people simply need someone to tell them that they can, because perhaps they didn’t receive that kind of support. That’s how I do my part. 

But in all spaces, there needs to be checks and balances to ensure that women truly have equal representation and opportunities to lead in places where we are traditionally excluded. If you are a women in those spaces, we need to reach out and pull one, or as many as you can, up with you.  However, corporations and boards need to do their part in ensuring equal opportunity. 

What social media platform is the best for business growth and why?

None of what I have done on social media has driven our business success; for us, it is simply a platform to stay visible and relevant. I think we all put a great deal of focus on social media marketing; not all businesses require that. I’m not saying it is not important, I agree that it truly depends on what you sell and who your audience demographics are.

Final thoughts

Image is critical in any business or personal endeavor. How the world perceives you determines how they work and if they work with you. It’s not just about putting out a press release to share what you are doing, but how you respond to people and how you present yourself to your audience. That is key to success in any business or personal endeavor whether you are engaged in the entertainment industry, or breaking glass ceilings in the corporate world.

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