REVOLT CEO: “All Great Brands Have to Have Something to Stand On”

Detavio Samuels talks about brand purpose and career progression

March 25, 2024

Detavio Samuels is no stranger to Duke University’s Fuqua’s School of Business.

After earning his undergraduate degree from Duke, Samuels worked at Fuqua briefly, before heading off to business school. Dean Bill Boulding told Samuels he was the first guest in the history of Fuqua’s Distinguished Speakers Series to have ever worked at the school.

“I love a first,” Samuels replied. “I’ll take it.”

Now Samuels is CEO of REVOLT, a Black-owned media company distributing hip-hop and Black-culture content. Samuels started in the role shortly after the murder of George Floyd in 2020—and says REVOLT has evolved the brand’s focus to leading on social justice issues.

“Coming into REVOLT, the question was never, ‘Will we lead a revolution?’ The brand was called REVOLT. We didn’t have any choice but to lead a revolution,” Samuels said. “So, the only question was, ‘What revolution will we lead?’”

Leading with purpose

Samuels said for him it became clear after Floyd’s death that hip-hop had ties to social justice, and that was the area in which his company should lead.

“All great brands have to have something to stand on,” Samuels said. “I think the job of a CEO these days is almost the same as the job of a politician—where you have to have an agenda for your company which very much has to align with the agenda for your audience…Every time you are in front of the microphone, you beat the drum of that agenda.”

Samuels said that means also holding the advertising industry to account, citing a recent study that found a little more than 1% of advertising dollars were spent on Black-owned media. Samuels called this type of spending by advertisers “the illusion of inclusion.”

Samuels’s background is in marketing, and he applies those concepts to his role as CEO.

“People don’t buy products, they buy stories,” Samuels said. “And so, I’m telling stories that people can hear, relate to and get.”

Reflecting authenticity in media

Samuels views media as “the industry of ideas” that establishes connections and personal beliefs. He believes those ideas come in two forms: “mirrors” and “windows.” In mirrors, people see themselves in the content.

“It is a reflection of who you are. It tells you who you are, what you are capable of, where you come from and what’s possible,” Samuels said.

Samuels said windows are the opposite—for people who don’t see themselves in the story, but instead want to understand the experiences of others by consuming content.

Samuels said the concept of mirrors and windows has drastically altered his own career ambitions. He said he never aspired to be in the public eye, but he was challenged by a mentor to provide a mirror or window into his own story. Now, Samuels hosts an interview show titled The Blackprint, where he sits down with innovators, disruptors, and changemakers who are laying the groundwork for the next generation of cultural leaders. Samuels said he knew he’d made an impact when he saw on social media that a young Black boy he didn’t know had dressed up as him for a future career day at school.   

“If that’s the impact I can have in the world, then I’m willing to deal with the cost that comes along with that,” Samuels said. “It means having a show I don’t want, being in front of the camera in ways I don’t want, because it’s bigger than me.”

Career progression

Samuels said he believes in looking at a career as “jumping” ladders versus climbing them. He explained how his career trajectory wasn’t linear—instead jumping from several industries, while explaining to each new company how he brought something they didn’t currently have in their talent.

“I wasn’t focused on trying to convince the same people to see me differently. I was selling myself differently to new people,” Samuels said.  

Samuels said understanding his unique capabilities is what enabled him to confidently explain his talent—a process he said took him years to discover. However, once he discovered his natural gifts, he did all he could to nurture them.  

“The world will try to convince you that in order to be great, you must be something else, and it is a lie,” Samuels said. “The only way to be great is to figure out who you are, what’s unique about you—and to lean into all of that.”

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