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Thank you for visiting the website of For The People Productions. We are the newest marketing and public relations firm in the state of Mississippi, but we are making sure our presence is known. For more information, contact Stanley Clark at sclarkpickens@gmail.com 850.246.1423.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The King of Conversations Celebrates Six Years of Success

The King of Conversations Celebrates Six Years of Success, Part One
By Stanley Clark with Herschel Dixon

(NOTE: This is Part One in a three-part series of our interview with For The People Productions' Chief of Staff and Conversations founder Cyrus A. Webb about the creation of his omnimedia organization and his reflection from the past six years. In what is by far his most revealing interview to date, he addresses his beginnings in the spotlight, some of the challenges and controversies he has overcome and what is next in his growing organization.)
On Monday, June 1, 2009 Mississippi native Cyrus A. Webb aka C. A. Webb marked six years since he had packaged his love of thoughtful discussions into what would become known as The Conversations Brand. What began in 2003 as a radio show called Conversations with C. A. Webb talking with the movers and shakers in his home state has expanded into a national platform where people in the all areas of the arts and entertainment world can be united with their fans and supporters through a radio and television show, magazine, forums and book clubs—lots of book clubs. Under Webb, Conversations has been talked and written about in regional newspapers and magazines such as The Clarion Ledger, The Record, Mckinney Courier, Hype Magazine, and Times Picayune and in national outlets such as The Chicago Tribune, Associated Press, MTV, VH1, USA Today and more.

Since its inception, literally hundreds of guests have talked with the host and his audience and tens of thousands have tuned in to the conversations. By 2008, Webb’s Conversations Book Club was considered one of the leading literary reading groups, boasting 10 chapters in five states covering all genres, cultural backgrounds and interests. To date the book club has arguably hosted more authors than any other in the country. In 2008, Webb was honored to have his radio show, Conversations LIVE! Radio (formerly "Conversations with C. A. Webb), be considered the “It” place for some of the biggest names on television, getting exclusive interviews that were not found anywhere else!

“I knew that God had blessed me with gifts,” says Webb,33. “I just wasn’t sure to what extent those gifts would be utilized.” Before 2003 Webb was mainly known as a spoken word and visual artist as well as someone who shared his talent with the youth, but from an early age those around him knew there was more to come. “I go back and read some of the articles where those I’ve worked with talk about me and it seems almost surreal,” he says. “Who would have known that my mission to be heard would lead to this?”


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Considering his beginnings, Webb’s success would automatically seem unlikely. His father died when he was young, and his relationship with his step-father was not one that has always been smooth. “I was only 6 when he came into our lives,” Webb recounts, “and I didn’t like him. I’m not sure exactly why. I mean, he wasn’t perfect, but neither were my younger brother and I. I think a lot of it was that I felt he was trying to fill a place that wasn’t his.” Today Webb and his step-father are closer. “He has been great to my mother, and even for me. When I host events that are local, I can look for him to either try to attend or make sure to ask how they went.”

Another aspect that makes Webb’s journey seem impossible is that he made the decision in high school not to go to college. “That was hard for my family to understand and took some time for them to accept,” he says. “I am not going to sit here and say that I always made the right decisions, but I wanted to follow my heart.” There would be some things that would test Webb during that time, however, in the end he stayed true to what he thought was right. Incidentally, for the past 7 years he has spoken at colleges about the importance of following one’s dreams.

”I don’t tell them to follow my path or that my path is right for them,” Webb insists, “but I do tell them how important it is to make each day count.” It is that lesson that would become the underlying message of Conversations.


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By 2003 Webb had been written about in various publications and covered on television in Mississippi for the past 4 years, talking about his personal story of dealing with his own demons and using that to help others through his poetry and artwork as well as his visits to schools and with community groups. He was told of an opportunity to have his own 1/2 hour show on WMPR 90.1 FM in Jackson, MS for a reasonable price. It was an interesting opportunity, he thought. “You could pay the fee for the time slot and basically run it the way you wanted to.” Webb also saw it as a way to branch out to a larger audience because the station reached 4 states on the radio dial and was heard live online. “It was a big opportunity, and I saw it as a way to branch out and see what happened.” He was 27 years old.

The first show was called “Let’s Talk”, and Webb admitted he was a nervous wreck. “I had this whole script written out,” he says with a laugh. “I took it as a way to tell the listeners about me, what I did and what I hoped the show was able to accomplish. Remember, this was a 30 minute show, and because I was reading so fast because of nervousness, I was done in about 15 minutes.” Webb knew he had to do something, so he asked those listening to call in and tell him what they wanted to talk about. At first there was nothing, and then a call came in from his friend Angela “Urban Rose” Sarton, an artist who lived in Biloxi, Mississippi. She had been listening and called in to tell Cyrus congratulations on the show.

What happened next, would set the stage for what would become Conversations.

“After thanking her for calling in,” Webb recounts, “I then told her to tell the listeners about herself and about the art she created.” The back and forth went on, and that completed his first show. “I knew from then on that it was important to have guests that others could relate to and feel as though they not only knew but wanted to know more about.”

“Let’s Talk” became “Conversations with C. A. Webb” and with the name change also went the script. “I could tell that as long as I knew about the person I was talking to, I didn’t need to try and read a script. A conversation is real. I wanted my show to be real.”

The show quickly grew a following. “Over the next two years I was able to introduce not only Mississippi but listeners all over the world to guests that were making a difference,” says Webb. “We had all ages, races and backgrounds on: visual artists, poets and spoken word artists on the program as well as ministers and those who were working with non-profits. As the show went on, recording artists got involved, even breaking their music first on my show.” Such artists include Duane Scott, Martha Simpson, The Patrick Smith Band and Tim Collins. “Conversations was for everyone,” he said, but it was obvious that it was his style that kept guests coming and his listeners tuning in.

The fee Webb paid for the time on the radio station was simply an investment, because before long he was having advertisers come to him, paying to have their businesses, services and events mentioned on the show. The opportunity then became a means of revenue as well. “I wish I could take credit for the show’s success,” Webb says. “The gratitude definitely goes to God. I am just using the gift he has given me.”

Webb was asked about expanding that gift on television in 2004. “I found out that you could basically get a paid programming block of airtime on television as well,” he says, “and so I went to the ABC affiliate in Jackson and pitched my idea. The price for a Sunday morning show was reasonable, so I went to my advertisers and before I knew it ‘Conversations with C. A. Webb’ was then on television.”

Before long it became clear that people outside the state of Mississippi were seeing Webb as a viable force. “I began getting letters and emails from publicists wanting to have their clients on my program when they had events going on or were going to be in the Mississippi area,” Webb says. The first author to be on both Webb’s radio and television show was bestselling author Brandon Massey in 2004. “He was so down to earth and approachable. It was after his visit that I began to really see how what I was being allowed to do was making a difference.”

The author and Webb have kept in touch and are friends to this day.

Among other things, “Conversations with C. A. Webb” also became a forum to discuss topics that were in the news. Webb hosted discussions on everything from how to build your Brand, the effect of sex, drugs and violence in entertainment as well as addressing issues of faith.

In 2005, however, the television version of Conversations took Webb into the political arena. Something that he has tried hard to remain neutral in. “I believe that what Conversations represented was not my personal feelings, but the thoughts and ideals of my guests. Whether I agreed with them or not, it was my responsibility to let my guests express themselves.”

That year was an election year for Jackson, Mississippi’s mayor, and Webb decided that he was going to invite the Mayoral candidates on his show and film the interviews in front of an audience. He reached out to the camps of the three (3) major candidates. Mayor Harvey Johnson(D) and Rick Whitlow(R) agreed to come on and talk about their ideals. Democratic candidate Frank Melton(D) declined the offer.

“I was nervous,” Webb relates, “but I was nervous with every interview. In fact, I still am, but I had done my homework on them, and was fair to them both. The interviews were done separately, and I believe in the end, the audience got to see another side of them.” That year Mayor Johnson would lose to Frank Melton. (Note: Mayor Frank Melton passed away in April 2009 while still in office.)

That same year, Webb began writing columns for The Mississippi Link under Conversations as well, focusing on his guests and some of the topics the shows would focus on. Now on radio, television and in print, Webb wanted to his influence to help others in more public ways such as contests and awards shows. And it was with that decision that he was taught the hard way that all that glitters is not gold.


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Though Webb had been riding a way of positive energy and press for almost six years, 2005 and 2006 would prove to hold the first public dents in his armor.

“I don’t consider myself a celebrity,” Webb says. “Yes, I am in the public eye, people know me and I do a lot of things that get attention, but I interview celebrities. That’s not me.”

The view that Cyrus A. Webb has of himself is not the view that others sometimes have of him. There have been accusations that he is on a mission to control the world as he knows it, making the decision of what makes it and what doesn’t. Others have said that Conversations is just another way of making him rich and famous, not to help others. In 2005 and again in 2006, Webb was involved in two events that were meant to recognize talent in the state of Mississippi, however, the end result was a financial loss and accusations that Webb was completely responsible and a fraud.

“That was a hard time for me,” Webb reflects. “I don’t talk a lot about that time, because what hurt me more than what some saw as a failure was how quickly those around me scurried to cover themselves and add insult to injury.” He then pauses and adds: “You know, one thing I haven’t talked a lot about in this interview is my group of friends. The reason is that I have learned that your friends are not always who you think they are. Yes, I was at the head of projects that didn’t go exactly according to plan, but I was hurt, really hurt at how even those around me—who I thought knew me—weren’t there for me. But I was true to myself in the situation. I didn’t go pointing fingers at others. I took responsibility. I stepped up as the leader, and that is what I will always do.”

What did those setbacks teach Webb? “I learned that at the end of the day, you can’t rely on others to step up and do all they can to make things work. You have to be able to shoulder the weight of the burden, not just relish the success. That was a big lesson for me. Look at what celebrities go through everyday. Every move they make is critiqued and analyzed. Some of them are ripped to shreds every week. Surely I could handle a two newspaper articles. And that was all it was: two newspaper articles. I learned something about myself during that time. I could handle not only the praise, but the criticism as well.”

This attitude would prove Webb well as he entered another ambitious endeavor in 2008.


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At the end of 2006, Webb was ready to move on to the next phase of his brand. It involved a love of his that had existed since he was a child: His love of books.

“I had experienced success talking with authors on the radio and television shows, and I knew that a book club would be ideal,” Webb says. Finding one he could fit into his program, though, proved to be easier said than done. “It was the funniest thing to me. I did research on book clubs all across the state of Mississippi and there were none that were set up to include men.” What made this extremely odd to him was that the state had the highest illiteracy and high school drop out rate in the country at the time. “I knew that in order for this to work, I had to create my own book club, but it couldn’t just be about a book that was discussed once a month.”

Webb then had an idea. “I reached out to the publicists and authors I had met and asked them how would they feel about being guests during an interactive discussion of their books with readers.” The name of the book club? Conversations. The response was overwhelming. He then reached out to the Medgar Evers Library in Jackson, MS about staying open an hour later twice a week for the discussions to take place. The librarian, Ms. Laura Turner, agreed and the book club began with 3 members, a speaker phone and the author discussing the book with the group. Just one month later, thanks to Tricom Publicity, Webb was hosting New York Times Bestselling author Carl Weber in his first visit to Mississippi for literary events.

“Since that first meeting in November 2006, Conversations Book Club has hosted more authors than 100 authors in actual events, and I’ve held phone discussions through our book club with over 200 since then,” Webb says. “We have something for everyone: groups that read teen books, non-fiction, inspirational... anything you could want. I think that is the draw of the club.” That and all of the events being free to the public and open to other book clubs has truly helped Conversations’ popularity. “We don’t exclude anyone. All are welcome.”


Because of the work put into the book club, Webb took a break from his radio and television shows in 2007 to devote his time primarily to promoting literacy. That year allowed him to bring attention to books that he wanted others to know about, and introduce popular and new authors to audiences they hadn’t been with before. It was also in 2007 when he formed "Conversations with C. A. Webb Magazine", a 32 page bi-monthly opportunity where some of Webb's favorite interviews with movers and shakers could be shared along with columns from guest writers with affordable advertisers. (Today the magazine has about 300 subscribers and in 2008 was renamed "Conversations".)

One of the most talked about and controversial events of 2007 with Webb and his book club was his hosting of platinum-selling recording artist/bestselling author Corey “C-Murder” Miller. Incidentally, this would also open up a new audience for the brand: the hip hop community.


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NOTE: Part Two of this exclusive interview will be posted on Tuesday, June 9, 2009.

3 comments:

T.C. Alexander said...

That was a very inspirational interview and good luck in all future endeavors.

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