BABE #157: STEVAN BROWN, Co-Owner @ Hotel Palms
Between event curation and management, PR services and raising a baby girl, today’s babe wears all of the hats (seemingly at all times.) Born and raised right here in Jacksonville, Stevan founded Urban Coastal Media and Co-Owns and runs Hotel Palms: a popular local boutique, revamped beach-side hotel. In today's interview, she shares everything from her love for all-things Jax and her passion for making visitors feel like locals, to the story of how Hotel Palms came to be. Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Stevan!
Hometown: Neptune Beach, Florida
Current city: Neptune Beach, Florida
Alma mater: Florida State University
Degree: B.A., Mass Media Communications
Very first job: Sales Associate at KYDS
Hustles: Founder, PR Professional + Event Curator @ Urban Coastal Media / Co-Owner, PR + Events Manager @ Hotel Palms
Babe you admire and why?
It’s so hard to narrow it down to one, but I’ll forever admire one of my old bosses, Jaime Cassavechia, the co-founder of EJ Media Group in New York. Jaime always had high expectations of me and pushed me beyond my comfort zone. She also taught me that “PR isn’t brain surgery—we’re not saving lives” I try to remind myself of that if I have a big event coming up or the pressure is on to get press for a client. I learned some hard lessons working for her, but she took me under her wing and taught me how to create connections with clients.
How do you spend your free time?
Going for bike rides and beach walks with my husband, baby girl and dog; yoga; fun lunches—I recently started taking classes at DEFINE and I love it! Their classes, playlists and instructors are amazing.
Go-to adult beverage?
Martini: well-shaken, slightly dirty, with green olives.
What is something you want to learn or master?
A different language.
What was your middle school AIM screen name?
Daisy75778 (I’m not sure what inspired that one…)
What’s something not many people know about you?
I don’t like cheese.
Three words to describe yourself?
Nostalgic, animated and hungry for opportunity.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Tell us about your hustle.
I split my time between managing events for Hotel Palms, as well as acting as the in-house PR person and providing PR services for local businesses. Currently, I’m working with Rethreaded to raise awareness for their mission, brand and recent partnership with Southwest Airlines. Hotel Palms’ events business continues to grow and this year; we’re doing a lot more weddings. So, I’ll meet or correspond with each bride or client individually and help guide them in terms of layout, rentals and other logistics. In addition to private events, we also collaborate on a number of community events throughout the year. My partners (my brother, Greg, and sister-in-law, Julie) and I all have an opportunity to curate individual events based on our interests. For the ones I lead, I’ll conceptualize the event, solidify co-branding partners, work with our graphic designer to create marketing collateral, go around town asking other businesses to hang posters for the event in their windows, publicize the event in local publications and then pray people actually come out for it! When I’m not organizing events, I’m pitching. And, honestly, I feel like my role is always evolving based on what we’ve learned. That’s something I love most about what I do for Hotel Palms.
What does your typical workday look like?
It all depends on the day. If my baby is home with me I pray she has good naps, but for the days she’s at my mother-in-law’s, I schedule meetings, work on upcoming event logistics and pitch—but I always attempt to work out first. Currently, I’m collaborating on a female entrepreneur event with Blue Jay Listening Room and Jax Is Rad called Jax Women Are Rad. Hotel Palms is partnering with DEFINE for an outdoor cycling class and fashion, art and film event with Penelope T. My work days for the next couple of months will consist of planning for these events as well as publicizing them. Every day around 5 p.m., my husband and I take our baby and dog for a walk (well, we attempt to every day). It’s a nice way to reflect on the day, share the highs and lows or just be silent and enjoy the outdoors. So, to answer your question: I wear the mom hat, business-owner hat, contracted-employee hat, and wife hat. Spending time with friends is also very important to me, so at least one night a week I’m wearing the friend hat on a wine date.
How long have you been under ownership of Hotel Palms?
My partners and I purchased it in March 2015 when it was the Palms Retro. When we came on as owners, we were fortunate the clientele was established and occupancy was good. However, we bought it with the intent to renovate it and bring the first local boutique hotel concept to market. But, of course, we knew nothing about hospitality! So, we operated the property as it was for nine months and then started a full-on renovation. My brother and I always had an affinity for hotels and knew with our combined skill sets (his in construction and operations, his wife’s in interior design and mine in PR and events), we potentially had what it took to operate a boutique hotel. My brother started poking around the beach for the right property and came upon what is now the Hotel Palms. Looking back, the journey has been extremely rewarding and humbling. The community has seemed to really embrace what it is we’re trying to do and because I was born and raised here, it has made the experience even more meaningful.
How would you describe Hotel Palms?
Greg, Julie and I wanted to simply create a space we would want to go. While we are near the beach, I wouldn’t describe our aesthetic as “beachy.” It’s coastal-inspired, but has a modern edge. Julie is always looking for new ways to keep the property and rooms fresh so that when a guest comes back, they feel like the hotel has been updated. We also really want to make our guests feel like locals. It’s a hotel, but it was created to feel like a home. We only suggest our guests do things we would do in our free time, like go for a bike ride, eat at Mezza, grab a drink at the corner or take a day trip to Fernandina. Our goal is to give our guests a localized experience, which is something we’re continuing to develop.
How have your past professional and academic experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
I took a lot of acting classes and did community theater when I was a kid. This was really what catapulted me into PR. Even though I didn’t pursue a career in theater, I use those same techniques every day, whether I’m cold-calling an editor, checking people into an event or accompanying a client to a media interview. I have to dress the part and pretend I know exactly what I’m doing, even if I don’t. I've learned that through experience.
What would you say is your biggest career milestone and why?
Even though I’ve been doing PR for the past 10 years, it’s hard to pinpoint one milestone. I feel like my career has been filled with different seasons and each season has had its own milestone. For example: A milestone at my first PR job in New York City was taking Sean Paul (yes, the Jamaican superstar) down the Grammy Red Carpet. Other milestones have included getting really big hits in dream publications, like the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Coastal Living. Having the local community embrace Hotel Palms and establishing it as a gathering place for locals has been one of the biggest milestones in my career as a business owner, but I also feel as if I’m just scratching the surface and there’s so much more to learn.
What would you say is the skill you most need to improve?
Oh jeez—there are too many to count! But, if I had to choose one at this moment it would be setting revenue goals at the start of a project and then working within a budget to meet those goals.
Who are some women in your field that you look to for inspiration?
In putting together the panel for Jax Women Are Rad, I’ve made connections with some amazing local entrepreneurs, like Cara Burky and Ansley Randall. Both of these women really inspire me. Emilie Christenson is on the panel for this event and is a customer service genius. She was my first boss when I worked at KYDS and is now like a surrogate mother to me. I always look to her for inspiration and guidance. I also love Sara Blakely and think her story is incredible. When I need an inspiration jolt, I’ll listen to her interview on “How I Built This.”
Are you involved with any other community organizations or side projects?
I serve on the board of the Beaches Town Center Agency and head up their fall fundraiser and kickoff party for the Web.com Tour Championship. This will be my third year organizing the event. It’s a street party in Neptune and Atlantic Beach on the Monday night prior to the tournament. Since taking it on, I’ve learned so much about city politics, public safety, street closures and barricades. There are a lot of non-glamourous things that go into event planning, but, without them, the event wouldn’t exist. I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn more each year.
What advice would you give to a babe trying to break into your industry?
Read the New York Times. There’s something to be said for a PR person who knows how to pitch traditional media. While so much of placing clients in top print publications has been replaced with partnering with really amazing influencers, I believe knowing trends and who’s covering what are skills that will continue to be sought after by employers. Also, if you like people and enjoy being a sleuth, you’ll love PR.
What motivates and inspires you?
What does success look like to you?
Joy and balance.
What helps you wind down and manage stress?
Walks on the beach, wine and reality TV.
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