Close Up: Going Through A Metamorphosis
First In A Series:
Diversity In Promo
Latria Graham’s mother believed that one day all of her daughter’s gifts would emerge, hence her nickname, Butterfly. So it’s ironic that as president of Winter Park, Florida-based distributor Graham Leak Branding, Graham now helps her clients’ brands undergo a similar transformation of their own called “strategic metamorphosis,” a method to reclaim and re-envision a brand’s purpose.
“In our metamorphosis process, we go through something called the chrysalis phase; this is where the butterfly is forming in the cocoon—discovering itself, understanding its purpose and goals,” Graham says. “Clients can expect discovery, quality and authenticity.”
For 16 years, Graham worked in the sports and entertainment industry doing public relations and cause marketing, spending 10 of those years with the NBA team Orlando Magic. Graham found her niche in cause-related marketing and sought to grow brands beyond a logo while creating an impact in communities with strategic philanthropy, transformational diversity relations and meaningful public relations strategies. "I wanted to take things a little deeper," says Graham. “That’s what sparked the idea of starting my firm.”
Graham realized the power of promotional products before opening Graham Leak Branding. “We had to do community outreach events, and promotional giveaways always meant a lot to people. I mean, people will fight you over a t-shirt,” she says. “And I admire the creativity that went into creating a tangible product that you could put in someone’s hand and make them happy, and [make them] feel good about your brand.” Promotional products naturally became intertwined in Graham’s business. “I really thought that [promotional products] were closely related to what the overall firm was doing as far as brand awareness and building brand loyalty because that product is an experience.”
Graham Leak Branding’s typical customer is in the sports or education industry, with clients ranging from universities, associations and sport leagues to professional athletes, the clients who take up most of her time. “Being able to connect and create platforms for them—it’s been an amazing journey because sometimes, throughout their career, they don’t have the time to do much in creating different strategies. So, to be able to supplement and help their vision come to life and to think of different ideas for giveaways in the process, it has been very rewarding for me,” Graham says.
In her day-to-day business, Graham applies the many lessons she’s learned, like how to create sellable platforms for brands. “One of the biggest things I learned was how to create mutual benefits between corporate sponsors, brands and nonprofits,” she says. “I think being the connector, to make sure that everyone is mutually benefiting from those relationships, is the key skill that I’ve learned and was able to perfect at the time. It’s a challenge, but it’s fun to actually be like ‘Hey, let’s all do this nice. Let’s accomplish our goals together.’”
Collaboration is key, says Graham. “I want to help find solutions for partners, sponsors and nonprofits that are outside of the box, very authentic to the brands and innovative.”
Since opening her business in 2016, Graham is rejoicing in the small victories, admitting that it takes a lot of sacrifice and hard work to run a successful business. “But always prepare for the championship in the end,” she says. “We’re going to bring home the trophy.”
In 2019, Graham’s business won the Minority Business Enterprise Of The Year Award. PPB spoke with her to learn more about her work with the Florida State Minority Supplier Diversity Council and how she’s positioning her business for the future.
PPB Tell me about your work on the Florida State Minority Supplier Diversity Council, and the Minority Business Enterprise Award your business won in 2019.
Graham The council serves to create opportunities to connect minority-owned businesses to corporate buyers. You don’t have to be certified to be a member, but this council offers certifications for minority businesses that want to do business with corporate buyers. It is a very tough process to get the certification, but going through that process validates you as a vendor to do business with the corporations. It is very intensive, but it does prove that you’ve got your stuff together, you’re running a legitimate enterprise—and we get recertified every year.
This past year, we were nominated by Duke Energy, which is one of the largest energy companies [in Florida], because we delivered on a large promotional product order for them. It was a last-minute request, however, we were able to get the job done. They loved it and they nominated us to be considered. I went in not expecting to win because the company we were up against was a very large company. We were announced as the winner at the gala. It was a surprise. I was just blown away and thankful for it. One of the reasons that we won was our ability to show growth and innovation over the timespan that we’ve been in business. We think of creative ways to get in front and win some of the jobs on orders locally, and now we’ve expanded nationally. I am talking to vendors right now for orders for the U.S. Open, so I am very thankful and grateful to see us grow. The award was a motivator, [it helped me see] that I was headed in the right direction.
PPB As a Black woman business owner, what advice do you have for other minority entrepreneurs, especially young women?
Graham Discover what your true talent is, like what you’re really good at. I think a lot of the time young entrepreneurs focus on the financial benefit versus finding what you’re good at and building from there. Don’t chase the money, although the chase is important. Don’t leave it off the table; you’ve got to get your “money bags.” Money bags are important because that’s the reason a lot of female business owners aren’t successful—they don't value their work, so they’ll offer things for free. No, no, no. Collect the bags, and people will respect you for it. Be confident in the quality of what you have to offer.
The other piece of advice is find a mentor that you can learn from and not just in your particular industry. They can be a high-level business executive that, if you run into stumbling blocks, you can go to and ask questions. You can get advice and actually follow that advice. Be coachable. You can’t go into anything thinking you know everything. I feel like I learn something new every day. Be coachable and a lifelong learner.
PPB What does 2021 look like for your company and what are you doing now to plan for it?
Graham We’ll be the same company, but our focus is going to be very singular in markets for sports and education. With all that has transpired, one thing that I realized is that your most loyal clients are just going to stick with you and try to find ways to support your business, and you have to just go with what you know. We’ve created a plan to get focused and be consistent within those markets. This focused strategy will help us be more innovative in finding new solutions.
The other piece is layering more ecommerce into our business. Obviously, digital strategy is essential in the current environment and what buyers and consumers are getting used to, but I don't believe that anything will supersede the relationship. You will hear ROI a lot, but the ROR, the return on relationships, will continue to be at the forefront of our 2021 strategy.
in the timeframe now and what buyers and consumers are getting used to, but I don’t believe that anything will supersede the relationship. You hear ROI a lot, but the ROR, the return on relationships, will continue to be at the forefront of our 2021 strategy.
Kristina Valdez is associate editor of PPB.