If you’re wondering how a homeschooled kid with no SAT scores worked her way up to CEO of a well-known content marketing agency, Devin Bramhall is your case study.
She didn’t start with CEO aspirations. Originally, Devin wanted to be a journalist and, later, a fashion journalist. While in college, she wrote articles about shopping and fashion, which helped her land a gig producing fashion shows and marketing related events. “That was really my first experience with marketing,” she says.
After graduation, she was thrown into a world eerily similar to “The Devil Wears Prada,” which was decidedly not her scene. Devin left the industry and found work at a marketing consultancy, where she answered phones and assisted with accounts payable. “I didn’t do any marketing work at first, but it definitely entrenched me in the industry and made me more passionate about it,” she recalls.
From there, Devin began her marketing journey in earnest — dabbling in community management, customer support, product marketing, content and other roles. While working full time, she also embraced side hustles — producing TEDx talks, starting storytelling events, running community groups and teaching classes on pitching.
“My side hustles gave me more experience with leadership, business strategy, even marketing and sales — things I didn’t get as a marketer working at startups,” she says.
All of that experience would prove handy down the line, when Devin was promoted to CEO of Animalz.
‘I Want Your Job’
Devin’s route to CEO is a testament to the power of asking for what you want. She joined Animalz as vice president of marketing and helped the company scale content production and strategy. Then, during a leadership off-site, company founder and then-CEO Walter Chen asked everyone what they wanted from their careers.
Devin looked at him and said, “I want your job.” In the fall of 2019, her wish became a reality, and they began planning her transition into the role. The pandemic bumped the timeline up, with Devin becoming Animalz CEO in March 2020.
By late 2022, however, Devin felt that the pandemic had created an environment that restricted her ability to be creative, and she resigned. “It feels like everything is breaking these days,” she says. “Institutionally, and also in the things we’ve taken for granted around marketing best practices and playbooks.”
One consequence is that yesterday’s generic templates no longer apply. But there’s also opportunity in this uncertainty.
“Now that everything’s in total chaos, companies are open to breaking the traditional model — not just in team structure, but also in how they grow their business,” she continues. “From my standpoint, this is a really exciting time to be in marketing because we have the chance to experiment and hopefully change our way of thinking about how we grow companies profitably while still doing really cool stuff.”
These days, Devin runs her own consultancy helping companies and founders scale their businesses faster.
Why ‘Content’ Is a Meaningless Word
Even if you don’t listen to Devin’s podcast, Don’t Say Content, which she hosts with Margaret Kelsey, you can probably tell from the title that Devin isn’t a fan of a certain six-letter word.
“The word ‘content’ doesn’t mean anything, especially now,” she says. “Content used to be related to content marketing. Now, anything can be content, so the word has lost any value or meaning or use.
The podcast addresses two challenges in content marketing: Lack of specificity and a focus on tactics at the expense of strategy.
“We wanted to make a podcast that had impact, and you can’t make an impact through generalities. You have to be specific; you have to know what you’re saying,” Devin says. “We saw a big hole in marketing podcasts, where everybody was talking tactics and they all had guests. There was nothing for people like us: senior marketing executives who are working on the business strategy of marketing.”
How to Be a Better Storyteller
Devin’s storytelling abilities weren’t born in a content marketing session, but in a birthing room in Bali, Indonesia. The year was 2009, and she was volunteering at a birthing clinic that her mom supported, running the student and volunteer program while her mom was in Haiti doing disaster relief.
“I wasn’t supposed to help with any births, but my mom and the clinic founder decided I should attend one to better understand the clinic,” Devin says. “I wrote about my experience and, when I returned to the States, I performed it on stage in Boston for one of the local storytelling organizations.”
Since that experience, Devin’s learned a lot about storytelling. Her top piece of advice? Don’t make it about yourself.
“No one cares about you. They don’t care about your story, your product, or your face — unless you give them a reason,” she says. “So many people tell stories based on what they think is interesting or important, but a good storyteller is like a fisherman, casting the line out with a sweet, delicious, attractive piece of bait that will make those fish wanna come around.”
Why is the story interesting to your audience? Why does it need to be told? Does it need to be told?
“If you can clear your mind of yourself and fill it instead with the people in the audience,” she says, “you’ve got a shot at crafting something people can’t help but want to listen to.”