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All in Circle of One: The Suzan McDowell Effect

Published:Monday | March 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Suzan McDowell

Krysta Anderson, Lifestyle reporter

Marketing extraordinaire and entrepreneur Suzan McDowell has been making remarkable strides, going all out to raise the bar in the world of marketing.

Born in Jamaica, McDowell left for America to live with her mother when she was 11 years old. Beaming with pride of her close relationship with 'jam rock', she told Flair, "I went to Mona Prep and then St Andrew Girls', before leaving Jamaica to live in Texas with my mother, who is an American. I say to my brothers and sister: "Being a Jamaican and a McDowell is practically a pedigree."

Her passion for marketing was a far cry from her lifelong dream. In fact, she confessed that growing up, she actually wanted to become a veterinarian because she loved animals. The zeal for marketing was something that developed over time. "I realised that with effort and creativity, I could make people 'move'. I have a bachelor of science in advertising from the University of Texas in Austin, so I followed that path, which eventually led to me owning my own agency."

That degree led her to pursue a career in print and radio, before entering the exciting world of marketing, and this is what the multitalented expert had to say about her experience, "Print is a tactile medium. I was very certain I was selling a full-page four-colour ad because I saw when it came out in the paper or the magazine. I could touch it." Radio, she said, threw her left field, but she pressed on in the airwaves mastering it, and over a 12-year period, she moved mountains to become one of the top sales persons at HOT 105 Miami.

After years in radio, she was tired of being pigeonholed - only able to sell media and only one medium at that, so she left, taking her show with her. "I use my experience in newspaper and radio all the time. Radio really taught me how to have many balls up in the air at one time. It's a unique medium in that it is very promotional driven, so a salesperson has to sell and promote. It's exhausting, but ultimately rewarding because it teaches you to be a gladiator."

It was the decision to venture off into the real world on her own which led to the birth of Circle of One Marketing. Circle of One, McDowell explained, is a full-service boutique marketing agency specialising in public relations, brand development, media buying, strategic alliances, creative design and superior event management, with special emphasis on providing access to Caribbean and African-American consumers.

The brains behind the annual Jazz in the Gardens, held in Miami, Florida, Circle of One Marketing has made its mark, changing the equation for African Americans in South Florida. "I remember when the City of Miami Gardens called me, they had eight tickets sold and the festival was a month away. We gave away tickets and spent a gazillion dollars on advertising. We had 1,800 people there, but 1,800 thrilled people. Then the word spread, and by the second year, we quadrupled to 8,000 persons. I've been responsible for marketing the festival from the very beginning, so it's gratifying to know I'm doing something right, because ticket sales is my domain. Looking out from the stage at thousands and thousands brings a prayer of gratitude to my lips. I know it's only God and favour," noted McDowell.

Appreciating all the pioneers in multicultural marketing, like Burrell, Fuse, Carol H. Williams, Uniworld, Global Hue, among others, McDowell attributes the legacy that she built from the ground up to her Jamaican ties as well as her connection with the African-American community. "Being a Jamaican never loses its luster. I am pushed by that passion, that intelligence, that resilience running through our blood as Jamaicans. I think being a Jamerican has helped me to understand the African-American and Caribbean experience and idiosyncrasies. It helps with understanding the nuances, messaging and media of each and the complicated dynamics between the cultures."


As an entrepreneur, she looks up to her father, the late Dr Gladstone McDowell, who continues to motivate her with his successful running of his dental practise in Cross Roads for over 50 years. "When he was alive and even in death, he's a superstar in my eyes and a national treasure to Jamaica. He was proud of me and all that I accomplished, accepting me as his 'mad daughter'. He was my hero and the love of my life, a consummate gentleman, a genius and a wonderful human being. I only hope to have that kind of stamina as a businesswoman." But she told Flair that she is particularly motivated by other members of her family, specifically her mother, June Bryant McDowell, as well as her daughter, Sydney, who understands and accepts that she is indeed a workaholic.

Likes acting

The outgoing McDowell hopes to one day work as a stand-up comedian and likes meeting all kinds of different people, especially children, because she likes acting like one. Her other interests include staring at the mountains in Jamaica and hula hooping like a champion. She has also rapelled 19 floors down the Miami Marriot Marquis for charity. Her significant other, who she describes as sweet, interesting and brilliant, also shares in her love for adventure and new experiences, so they engage in fun-filled activities together and he ultimately forces her to relax.

With the Circle LA already in the works to join its big sister Circle of One Marketing/Miami, she hopes to start The Circle Kingston in the future. Her advice to aspiring marketing enthusiasts: "Keep your expenses low, establish your value from the beginning, know that people are always watching so be mindful of your reputation and establish great relationships - they'll keep you in good stead for decades. For women, being feminine is the best weapon you have; it took me a long time to realise the power it imbues."

Being a Jamaican never loses its luster. I am pushed by that passion, that intelligence, that resilience running through our blood as Jamaicans.