Q & A with Detavio Samuels (T’02) and Amanda Lewellyn (T’17)
Students sat down with alumni Detavio Samuels (T'02, Urban One Media) and Amanda Lewellyn (T'17, theSkimm) at a recent DEMAN & Donuts. "I would say continually challenge yourself and problem solve your way to making your dreams and ideas a reality," shared Lewellyn. Read on for more creative career insights.
Detavio Samuels is the president of iONE Digital at UrbanOne, the nation’s largest distributor of urban content in the country, and president of One Solution. At the age of 38, Samuels is one of corporate America’s youngest executives and has helped some of the world’s biggest companies, including Walmart, Chrysler LLC, NBA, and Johnson & Johnson build their brands and connect to consumers.
Amanda Lewellyn recently graduated from Duke in 2017 and is an associate producer of audio at theSkimm where she oversees the full production process for new episodes of Skimm’d from the Couch, from prep to upload. She started her career with theSkimm as a summer intern. While at Duke, she worked at the Duke Reporters Lab and the Kenan Institute for Ethics.
Both Samuels and Lewellyn recently chatted with Duke students on campus at DEMAN (Duke Entertainment, Media & Arts Network) event—read on for stories and advice from these creative professionals!
Q: Can you describe your current role and a recent project that you are working on?
Detavio Samuels: I’m at Urban One, which was founded by Cathy Hughes, the first black woman to chair a publicly held corporation. We have five divisions, including television, national radio, and local radio. I oversee digital media and social networking and publishing sites. My other role is with One Solution. If you want to buy from any of our divisions, say TV and radio, that purchase comes through my group. We also built a creative agency inside One Solution, so we have a bunch of content creators who only make content on behalf of brands. One recent project I am working on is with McDonalds. We are helping them with their branded content platforms.
Amanda Lewellyn: I am a podcast producer at a media company called theSkimm, which is geared towards millennial professional women. My work focuses on “Skimm’d from the Couch” – the podcast where our founders interview other female entrepreneurs about what it’s like to be a woman in the space. I oversee the production process from booking to post-production and upload. We just launched season four of the podcast, which is really exciting, including a recent episode with the celebrity fitness personality Jillian Michaels.
Q: How did your journey during and after Duke influence your career?
DS: During second semester of my senior year, I took a marketing course and fell in love with marketing. I decided I wanted to be a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and since a lot of CMOs had MBAs at the time, I decided to start pursuing my MBA at 21. After working at Fuqua and learning how to get into business school young, I went to Stanford at 23 and did both my MBA and Master’s in Education there. I then worked at Johnson & Johnson, thinking I was on the Chief Marketing Officer track, but decided I wanted to be on the agency side with the “makers” of content, which led me to work at Global Hue. After working with the CMO of Chrysler on branded content ads, I discovered I really liked branded entertainment and decided that is what I wanted to do.
AL: In sophomore year, I realized there was something about political entertainment that I really enjoyed, like seeing Tina Fey as Sarah Palin on SNL and how that changed hearts and minds. I eventually met Bill Adair in the Policy Journalism department at Duke and he encouraged me to pursue the PJMS certificate, which helped me get my start in journalism. Then, I became more involved in fact checking, news writing, beat reporting, and eventually secured an internship at theSkimm. I continued asking questions and people soon realized that I was seriously dedicated to this work, so by the time I left that internship position, I was doing video analytics, helping create social content, and had developed a deep interest in journalism.
Q: What advice do you have for students interested in getting started in creative fields?
DS: Networking is definitely important. During my time at Duke, I was in a fraternity. Being part of a group of people who are equally capable and learning how to delegate was a game changing experience for me. I also believe that everybody needs a “big machine” and a “small machine.” The “big machine” is what supports you financially and the “small machines” (like starting your own company or having a side hustle like writing a book) are your personal projects where you have complete control. The big machine often funds the “small machine.” Photography is currently my “small machine.” Whatever it is I am pursuing or working on, I am always looking for ways to do things that can be synergistic.
AL: At Duke, I had a professor who encouraged me to pick something that I like, figure out how it related to policy that interested me, and talk to an expert to write a paper on it. From start to finish, I had to figure out on my own how to get in touch with people and complete the project. I also wanted to make a magazine while at Duke, so I had to solve how to teach a team graphic design and create calls for submissions —when I had little experience in those things myself. So, I think creating structure out of nothing and having the freedom to do it are very meaningful, and mentorship is important, too. I would say continually challenge yourself and problem-solve your way to making your dreams and ideas a reality.