Deidre Malone describes the day she resigned from her 10-year tenure as a marketing executive with ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as the day she “walked out on faith.”
With a husband recovering from a major surgery in a household concerned about health care, it wasn’t exactly the perfect timing for Malone to become an entrepreneur. But after turning 40, she knew that if she ever wanted to realize her dream, she’d have to take the risk.
“I remember walking into the CEO’s office at ALSAC and he tried to talk me out of it,” Malone said. “He said, ‘Deidre, if you don’t want to run this division, come work for me.’ I said, ‘No, that’s not it. This was the best opportunity because it taught me how to really deal with some adversity in terms of what it would really be like in my own business.’”
The Carter Malone Group includes, from left, Dawn Carter, Kandace Tuggle, Regina Jones, Deidre Malone (front), Debra Davis, Anne Carter-Nelson, and Wiley Henry. (Photo: Lance Murphey)
That same day, Malone’s pastor invited her to lunch, unaware of her professional circumstances. He informed her that The National Baptist Convention was coming to town and its ministers wanted to hire Malone.
“He said, ‘I know you have a full-time job, but we really need your assistance with sponsorship and PR,’” Malone said. “He had no idea I had just resigned. That was kind of my sign that it was the right thing to do.”
Malone founded The Carter Malone Group LLC in 2003, a full-service public relations, marketing and advertising firm. It was a year after she was elected to the Shelby County Commission, where she served two four-year terms.
The National Baptist Convention still uses The Carter Malone Group when it stops in Memphis. Other longtime clients The Carter Malone Group has retained in its 10 years in business include Saint Francis Hospital and The Church of God in Christ (COGIC).
“From a business standpoint, I’m very proud of the clients that we’ve been able to keep,” Malone said. “I’m proud that we are sought out to partner with organizations that are outside of our industry for work and that we get a lot of referral business, which speaks to the quality of work that the associates here at the firm provide.”
Many of those clients have taught Malone valuable life lessons. Solidifying COGIC, for instance, taught her that as a small-business owner, she had to know the value that she brought to the table and ask for it.
Malone scored that account after starting The Carter Malone Group as a sole proprietor out of her Midtown home and then transitioning into EmergeMemphis, the city’s new business incubator. Working with Cynthia Norwood of alt.Consulting, Malone learned that reducing rates in order to get clients in the door was the wrong methodology for a fledgling agency.
“She said, ‘If you start out that way, then you’re not really getting the revenue that your firm should receive because they’re not paying for what you’re worth,’” Malone said. “(Meanwhile), the Church of God in Christ had asked for a proposal. I gave them a proposal and I thought, ‘they’re never going to agree to this.’ Bishop G.E. Patterson didn’t blink. He said, ‘Absolutely. Send me a contract.’ From that point on, I’ve never reduced my rates or my associate’s rates. We’re pretty competitive with the larger agencies and I think you should be.”
Malone said oftentimes women know that they’re capable of doing the job and offering a quality service, but seldom do they convey the self-confidence they should.
“Sometimes we’re just so grateful to get the opportunity, whereas our male counterparts are very confident when they’re obtaining that opportunity,” Malone said. “More women have to realize that you have the same education, the same experience, the same organizational and thought process as your male counterparts and you deserve to be there and to ask for what you’re worth.”
Malone also stresses to women, especially those looking to open their own business, to be prepared. That’s why earlier this year, The Carter Malone Group held a series of three free symposiums called, “Controlling How the Cookie Crumbles: Educating and Empowering Entrepreneurs.”
“I want people to have a clear understanding that starting your own business is not going to be the easiest thing at all in the world to do, but it can be the most rewarding thing that you could ever do,” Malone said.
The Carter Malone Group, which employs 10, recently moved from The Cotton Exchange Building Downtown to a 103-year-old house at 1509 Madison Ave. The firm occupies the first level and is looking to lease out the second floor to attorneys, architects or any other interested lessees.
Newer clients to The Carter Malone Group’s portfolio are Rural Metro/Corp., Chicago-based Harris & Harris, Los Angeles-based RTKL Associates Inc., Achievement School District and Aspire Public Schools.
And always looking for more opportunities, Malone may also run as the Democratic candidate for Shelby County mayor. She ran in the 2010 Democratic Primary and has been approached by several supporters since that time asking her to consider campaigning again.
“With my small-business background, my corporate background and with the level of public service that I’ve been able to offer the community for the last 25 years, I would be doing a disservice to myself if I didn’t even consider it,” Malone said. “But right now I’m really torn because I’ve been focusing on my business and I’m really loving that. So I’m just going to be prayerful and we’ll see what happens.”