For more than a decade, Cyrus Webb has been having deep and inspiring conversations with artists, authors and entertainment industry professionals. These conversations have built him a dedicated audience in print, digital and audio and have fuelled his desire to inspire many more into living their dreams and overcoming challenges.
Read on to understand how a child grew from humble beginnings in small-town Mississippi to talk to the movers and shakers of the entertainment industry and what drives him to keep on living to his best potential!
Tell me how you started doing what you do?
So, it all began with my fascination for learning. I have always been a person who has been curious about other people. I never thought I was that interesting and I still don’t but I have always found other people to be interesting. I love to learn and have always been a big reader.
Growing up, I was an introvert. Going outside was a punishment for me because I would rather stay in my room. But I loved to read and it’s so funny, my friends from school from 20-30 years ago remember that I always said I wanted to do two things—I want to write and draw. Now, even though I do other things, I am doing exactly what I wanted to do so that’s really how it all started, and it has been an interesting road to get to where I am now, but it has definitely been so in line with what I saw myself even as a child.
As a child, you identified the two things you wanted to do… that’s amazing because it takes a long time for many to understand what they want to do. I was a banker, it took me a long, long route to come to writing. So, you started by writing first and then you moved towards working with other authors, what was your journey like?
I started with the writing. It is really an interesting story; I mean because for me writing has always been an escape. I was a very insecure child and I was someone who, it must be hard to believe now, but I did not see myself really doing anything worthwhile. I thought I was an ordinary kid, (still feel it on some days) I never thought a whole lot about myself, even though I knew I had something to do. Unfortunately, that thought led me to some dangerous things. I tried to commit suicide three times before I was twenty years old and the last time it was a wake call for me. It was 1996 and I basically realized I am here for a reason and am supposed to be doing something. I became more intentional about figuring out what that something was. I was living in New York at that time, and I moved back home to Mississippi, which is where I am from. I live here even today and that’s when I started sharing my story and people started reaching out to me to do speaking engagements.
Then in 2003, a man came up to me at an event and said, “have you ever thought about doing radio?” I had been interviewed on radio stations and TV stations, but I said, “no I had never thought about doing radio.” That man was the brother of civil rights activist, Medgar Evers. His name was Charles Evers and he owned a radio station in Jackson, Mississippi. He died last year. He said, and I never will forget this, he said, “I think you will be good at it.” Now I am celebrating eighteen years doing radio. ‘Our Conversations Live’, is the name of my radio show, and it really started to pick up and it’s grown from just radio in the past eighteen years. A year after starting the radio show I developed a TV show on our ABC affiliate in Mississippi. That show carried the same message from radio to television, and then in 2006, people started asking me if I had some of the interviews, I had conducted written down somewhere. I didn’t so I decided to create some place for those interviews. So in 2006, I started my own magazine called Conversation and we just celebrated fifteen years. It really started from listening to people which is what I do on the radio but more than that it also gave people what connected with them— whether it is the written word, the spoken word or visuals— what I do, all kinds have stayed aligned all the way
Wow, how you were approached that’s a wonderful thing and you have constantly managed to go one step higher.
I also want to say that it has not been easy because unfortunately as you know, the entertainment industry, can be kind of gimmicky… and here I was this guy with no broadcasting experience. The people who were already there had worked I empathized with them… they went to college, I had no college education, so I was not received well in the beginning. Many said, “who is this guy coming on the radio?” and I really understood that sentiment because I was known as a poet and as an artist before I started doing speaking engagements to share my story and encourage people. I understood it but I didn’t let that deter me, so even though people at the beginning didn’t openly receive me in the industry, I still developed a massive audience in my first year. I came in 2003, in five years I was on five different radio stations in four states! That’s when the celebrities and publishers started reaching out to me and asking who is this guy in Mississippi! We celebrated the 10,000th guest of my career in February of 2020! So I have had 10,000 people now in the past fifteen years and it’s truly been a really humbling experience for me.
That’s amazing and I think the thing to understand here is that there are so many steps to growing. You have to build a platform, relate to your audience, find a way to reach out to them, speak in their language and also know how to market it all… what are the things that you did?
I am so glad you asked about the marketing because now it is so funny though, I won’t say this, I was fortunate in this regard, because if I am naturally excited about something like if I read a book and I really enjoyed that book, it’s hard for me not to tell you about that book whether you want to hear about that book or not. It’s the same if I watch a television show or a movie or I listen to a song.
I have a natural excitement for what I like and that is contagious!
I don’t do anything that I am not naturally excited about. I don’t do anything just for a paycheck. I turn down things all the time. I turn down interviews all the time. Interviews that people say might get me a lot of views, a lot of listeners but if it doesn’t feel in alignment with me then I don’t do it. This also separates me from some people because I say No.
I have turned down big celebrities because they didn’t align with my platform and to be able to do that you have to know yourself. You have to know what you will do and what you won’t do.
That’s why for me it doesn’t feel like a job, this is what I do all the time because I am able to say Yes or No to it. And when I say Yes I mean it!
That’s a deep knowing you have Cyrus because it’s not easy to know oneself and everybody gets swayed by thoughts like I will get so many guests or that person will make that talk more heard by others. There are so many things that can sway a person. The only way out of it is to know yourself and have a deep belief that the universe will guide you and you don’t need to go where the noise is, you can find your own path.
I think that’s why I sleep so well at night, I have such peace with what I do. I never feel like I am selling out because again if something doesn’t feel right to me, I back away from it and you are right, some people have a problem doing that.
Some people feel I don’t want to burn this bridge, but please believe me if someone is watching this and feels that way, people will respect you more and when they know you have values, when they know you have limitations because then they know you are not willing to do anything and everything just to get a story …because if people think you will do anything for a story…that’s desperation and people can feed onto that desperation. It can lead you on to a much dangerous path than when you are staying true to yourself.
That is so true. How did you come by this knowledge? What you are talking about takes people years to finally find the courage to think through…despite the fact that you had a troubled childhood when you were growing up, you have this deep belief and that to me is precious.
I lost my grandmother seven years ago and she was my first love. She taught me so much about appreciating life and she used to tell me a lot of times “Cyrus you would do great things.” Of course, she could not have imagined the kind of things I have done, because growing up the way she did with segregation, where she could not even go in front of a building while growing up. But she always told me you are going to do great things and she also told me don’t lose yourself along the way. As I was growing up she also told me, don’t do anything for a paycheck, don’t do something if something doesn’t feel right. Those were the lessons I grew up with and I applied her advice to my professional life too. If something felt like, ummm don’t know about that, I am not really that comfortable with that, or that’s not something that I really want to talk about, or I don’t really believe that and I don’t really know I want to share that…then I don’t…because I have learnt that responsibility comes with everything you and I do. Basically, you are giving a platform to whoever you are speaking with, just like this… I appreciate this platform that you are sharing with me. I feel the same way. You have to treat it like home, and you have to ask yourself, is this someone you really want in your home? Is this someone you want to introduce to your friends because that’s what we are doing with our audience, right?
So, I think when you are able to know that this is not something I feel comfortable sharing, or this isn’t something I feel comfortable doing and I think really know that then it becomes true to your question about knowing yourself. You have to know who you are, and it took me years to get here…getting to know who I am and accepting what I have.
You know you didn’t come from money, you didn’t come from the big city, then all of this because you have a gift… focus on the gift and that’s what I have done for the past twenty-five years of my life. I have focused on the gift that I have and that’s what has got me to where I am now.
How do you work as a publicist? This is something that interests me since I write for individuals. People are very excited about writing their book but after the launch, they often do not know what to do with the book. I feel the role of the publicist is to handhold them especially when people come from completely different backgrounds so who are not into the publishing world. Nowadays with digital publishing, there are so many more books published, I feel writers need a lot of guidance in marketing their books.
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, I really became a publicist by accident like everything else. None of this was planned by me… radio wasn’t planned, television wasn’t planned, the magazine wasn’t planned, the only thing I wanted to do was write a book. That was the only thing I knew I wanted to do but it’s funny because as I said, I came in as an outsider into this industry eighteen years ago and I had to learn how to promote myself… I had to learn how to do research and in 2003, we didn’t have social media, but we had Google. I started by looking up newspapers on Google. I literally wrote it all down in a notebook, this is no joke, I still have the notebook…I would write the names, go through and look for contact information and I would write down all details. Then I would go and email them and say, hey I have this project, I am doing this talk show. That’s how I started building up a rapport. People started watching me and asking how is he getting asked to go and speak in that place? I would then say that I can either show you or I can do it for you and that’s how it started.
People noticed what I did, and I offered the PR services. PR can be costly…I have arranged for packages that are very cost-effective that you can break down based on what you want. If you just want to focus on social media, I have a package for that, if you want to focus on radio or television or blog… I have a package for that.
If you want to focus locally in your niche I have a package for that, it just goes local but I do tell people that these days, you want something that reaches the world because what you have, I know the world needs it, you may not think it, I didn’t think it in the beginning but I have now learnt that the world needs what we have to offer.
Can these packages be applied by anybody anywhere in the world, or they are specific to people in America?
Great question, no they are not specific to any region and can be used by anyone. I have clients all over the place, I mean literally all over the place, in South Africa, in Canada, in New Zealand, in Spain! I build on shared experience, especially on social media.
Social media is so powerful and in fact, I am doing a social media class tonight, and I am really surprised people don’t realize the value of social media for their business. Instead of just saying buy my book…build an audience, build your own book club on Facebook, have your own book discussion on Instagram and invite readers in! You can invite 3 people on with you.
I think there is so much opportunity and that’s what I have been trying to teach people, in a way yes you can pay someone like me to do this for you, but the audience wants you, they want to hear from you. That’s what I try to train people on how to show up on social media…I train them in what are the different tools they can use and make the most of so that they can build that audience and build their business.
I remember that when I started writing books for my authors, I had no idea about the publishing industry but I learnt from some of my authors (who were very good marketing). Then I started thinking about how can I help those authors who are not that good at marketing their books and I would start telling clients during the early discussion phase that if they wanted the book to fulfil their vision they needed to work on building their audience. I lost a lot of work because of that😃! But some took that advice and started showing up on social media, started building a following and when that happened, I felt so good.
Yeah, you really do and I get so much joy, I am honestly a person who my friends would tell you, I have never been money motivated. I believe I am motivational motivated. I like the idea of people being able to help themselves. I like the opportunity to be able to share ideas that can help people help themselves, whether they be my guests on the radio, on television or in the work I am doing as a publicist because I want them to know that I am just this boy from Mississippi and if I can do this, you can do this from where you are too! That’s my big mantra in life… I am no one special. I try to get people to know that because that also makes my story unique. It is the same for the clients I work with…I say you know you have a unique story, don’t run from your story because it’s your story that’s going to connect with people and then they will listen to you to buy your book, then they will listen to buy your music, but they want to know if I have a connection with this person.
So true, because the more authentic you are the more you share and share with a passion… people connect to it. You cannot fake passion, I believe that everybody can see through it, instinctively they know when you are putting it on and you are not being genuine. People will walk away and they would disconnect at some level if you are not genuine.
People can tell. If you are able to get some of their trust that’s a huge thing because there are so many things that they see and hear that make people leary and suspicious but if you are able to earn their trust and you have to earn it, you can’t just think they are just supposed to have blind faith…if they believe in what you say, buy your book because you think it is the greatest thing ever…you have to convince them that this is worth their money, this time and you are someone they want to build a connection with.
Social media is vast…everybody has a different media that works best for them and their audience. How do you guide your clients in what media works for them, because being on every platform is not advisable and every platform is not for you and/or your audience?
I agree with you, in fact, one of the things that I teach my clients is don’t feel like you have to be everywhere. Don’t let people tell you, you need to be here, you need to be there. I am on 4 sites- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram… that’s all the four I do. I am not on Clubhouse, I am not on Tiktok, I am not on Snapchat, I don’t do everything, because that’s too much, but the four that I am on… I show up every day, seven days a week, I show up. That’s why I have been able to build the audience that I have built on Twitter, on Instagram, on LinkedIn, on Facebook because I show up and I engage. I don’t just say, “hey buy my book,” “listen to my show.” I engage with them, I give them motivational messages, every day, seven days a week and those are done live every day. I am not packing them and pulling them out. I literally do those live every day because I want to have that real engagement with people. That engagement is what separates me from other people.
One of the things I have heard and I am sure you’ve heard this too people say this platform is too saturated, there are too many people on Instagram, it’s not going to work or Twitter doesn’t work for me and I say to them it’s not Twitter, it’s the way you are using Twitter that it doesn’t work because Twitter has got me connections with ABC, with the Oprah Winfrey network, I have got work and have travelled around the country to cover events, so it’s the way you use the format.
The mistake people make the most is they think what works on Facebook works on Twitter or works on Instagram. You have to know every site and how best to communicate in that language, right? It’s like if I am travelling to a different place, you must know the customs of that particular place for you to fit in there. If you are going to use all your hashtags on Facebook, they would be like what are you doing. Knowing this and changing your messaging in every platform takes time but it also shows your consideration for the audience.
I absolutely get you because I was never on Instagram. I started coming on social media last year and started on LinkedIn and then Facebook, but I still feel more comfortable on LinkedIn…
I agree with you and that’s why I tell people don’t feel like you have to do it all. Find what works for you, like you said LinkedIn works really well for you. I feel it is incredible look what you have built there, look at what you are adding value, you are building an audience but you are adding value and those people are going to tell other people which will then like me, I will tell people about you and then invite people to follow you and that’s how you can build and grow the business, and that’s the thing I try to get people to see, it’s not about a number.
I think so many people get hung up on like how will I get ten thousand followers, but if you have ten thousand people and they don’t engage with you, don’t will buy from you, I mean what’s the point of having those ten thousand people.
On Instagram I think I have almost five thousand followers, but those five thousand followers, have given me so many clients. Many people have engaged with my content, they’ve shared my content with people who I have been able to interview and collaborate with. I am very happy with my five thousand people on Instagram. I’m not worried about trying to reach this big number of people because I know the people that I have, these are my core people who are actually going to be there for me in what I am doing.
I think that’s it and I think engagement’s the big key because if they don’t engage with you, it’s almost like they are not even there and that can be frustrating. I mean that can be frustrating if you took all this time to post something and you put something out and you know it’s good and people don’t engage with it that can be, I have had people tell me how discouraging that can be ….
One more thing I’ve noticed is that when you start posting a lot, in the beginning, your friends and family will like it and then your friends and family just stop mentioning you. That’s an important point to remember that people like scrolling through…
You know it’s like it’s so interesting, I mean it’s so funny you said that because it’s almost like pricing a product. I will talk to a client and recommend a price for their book. Sometimes they say, “oh no, I can charge more than this price and my family will buy it…” but the question is once your five family members buy it who will else is going to spend that amount of money?
They don’t know.
That’s the same thinking because when we write we normally think only of the people we know but unfortunately, they are the least supportive online, because they are looking for dance videos or cat videos😄 not the serious stuff! But again, that’s how we know okay that’s just going to be part of the audience.
And I am glad you spoke about many not liking your post but scrolling through because it also tells you that you never know who’s looking, and that’s again why we have to show up because people can see how consistent we are, what type of content we are posting, and might know someone would really benefit from it. They can get that person to connect to me but ONLY if I do my part and keep posting.
Absolutely if you are consistent in doing whatever you do, not only in posting but in doing your work after some time people would say that you must be doing something worthwhile because you are consistent…
Exactly and it is going to be hard to be that consistent again going back to what I said…if you are not passionate about it. If you just look at the numbers, if you look at the engagement, it is so easy to say I am not doing this. But if it is something you are truly passionate about, you’ll do it. Even if just one person likes it and I know we always say this, oh it’s just one person… but it is so true— if just one person saw your post and maybe they didn’t comment on it but maybe they referred someone else and who knows what can happen with that opportunity, you know, so that’s the thing …to show up.
That’s the creative spirit, a lot of creatives start feeling underappreciated or feel it’s just not worth it, just because people are not commenting, or people are not liking what they do but the creative spirit is to just keep on creating.
Yes, I think that’s why consistency is so important because again if we don’t do that then two things can happen – not only we could be missing out but we could be keeping someone from getting something from us that they need.
That’s the other thing that I had people say to me, I don’t know why I had to post it yesterday I posted it last week, and I would say, ok, but how many people do you think actually saw it because that’s the other thing… people don’t think about the algorithm and how the more people engage the more people get to see what you put out and that’s gonna only help you. Even if it is something that was posted a week ago, it can be brought back up in the algorithm and can bring in likes.
This conversation always fascinates me when I hear it, but it is part of the thought process of some people where they say that I posted last week, I shouldn’t have to post anything, till you know until next month!
This is something I see so often in my corporate clients because they have had this professional life where you post very specific things, you don’t go overboard, you don’t have too much individuality, but when they want to write a book and I tell them to post every day at least 2-3 times a day, they say it is too much… then I say start with once a day…and often even that sounds too much. … It requires a whole lot of mindset shift.
I agree with that and mindset is everything. I think too you are right, I mean to remember that social media is not about that. We are on social media to be social. It’s like going to a networking event and just standing in the corner… you know I mean we are supposed to engage with people. We are supposed to take the initiative and engage which is why I tell people, go on someone else’s post and comment on it or share it… because that makes them think, who is this? They will look at you and maybe say oh wow, this person is doing all these things, I can share their posts and maybe we can collaborate on something… you never know the opportunity that you are missing out on by not showing up.
Tell me five things, five main learnings that you have had over the years for writing, for being visible and being seen.
Oh yeah, five of them… I like that, thank you for giving me a number because that makes me think of the main one.
- I think one of the biggest ones is the ‘be you’, that is the biggest thing. I think part of my problem earlier was that I thought I had to be like someone else, look like someone else, dress like someone else, sound like someone else and I realized sorry, I am me and that is my power because no one else can be me, so being myself is one thing.
- The second is to have faith and be me because I could be here for a reason, to share something and so every day I wake up with that as my intent. What can I share today? Why am I still here? What am I supposed to give? For today, this could be here.
- The third is definitely consistency. I think I do myself a disservice but I know I do the world a disservice by not showing up every day and when I say show up I don’t mean just physical, I mean like actually being like right now, I don’t have any phones in here with me, you have my full attention and that to me is showing up, because you want the person you are talking to, to feel like they matter. After all that’s the whole thing about us having these connections.
- The fourth is to learn to be present with everything. It kind of goes to how I am able to do nine different divisions of my work at this moment. When I am reading, I am not trying to check my phone or do anything else. If I am on the radio, I am in tune with that guest, if I am doing an interview or something I am completely present there. I think the key is to be truly present in the moment so when we wrap up this conversation, I will think I really liked the fact that you asked me about this, I really appreciate it and you are gonna savor that I was present and enjoyed our conversation.
- And I think the last thing that I would say for myself is that failure is not a failure, it is not a bad thing. The times that looked like failure to people in my career have been the best times of my life because they showed me what works, what doesn’t work, who I can’t work with, who I can work with. I look at every setback as how I choose to look at it, as a learning curve for myself. Ok, so you thought you are going to be there but maybe it’s not the time for you to do that or maybe you are not doing that enough anyway, maybe you have to sit back for a year.
I think those are the five things from myself that have really helped me in all that I do and I think also what I try to translate in a real authentic way to other people.
I look at myself coming into this industry eighteen years ago, being a new kid on the block with the least amount of experience and connections and I think it just made me a good student.
I realized I had to take the time to learn and that’s why I tell people yes, it’s great to have connections, it’s great to be with the known people and to be in the inner circle but you also need to know for yourself the basic things, you need to know these things because if you don’t everyone is not going to tell you… the thing is everybody does not want you to succeed. I have learnt that the hard way.
It is sad to say that there are people who are rooting for me not to make it but it is part of life and I am sure some of your viewers feel the same way, they don’t feel people are rooting for them to win and tell them all the reason they are going to fail and so for me, I just decided to choose okay what can I do to help myself win?
That’s why I say when I went through a challenge, I went through a setback, maybe I started to do something and it wasn’t quite working right, I could say wait a minute, maybe I should do it in a different way or maybe I should wait on this and try it at a different time and I think those are the things that have definitely helped me to serve my audience better.
That’s brilliant advice and I felt each and every one of them because these are such firm learnings and they matter so much especially for people on a creative journey and those who are looking for an audience or want to create an audience. It is not easy trying to say things in your voice and expecting to create a crowd. Your learnings will definitely help some people find their way…I am sure of that.
Could you also tell me something about the books you have written?
Well I will just mention I have two books out, ‘Words I choose to live by’ is my latest book. I am encouraging you in this book where you live by the daily motivation, and power your life with the positive. In Power Your Life With the Positive: Life Lessons and Secrets for Success From Luminaries and Everyday Heroes I interviewed many celebrities and I spoke to them about how they are able to stay motivated in their different careers. Those are the stories I am sharing in this book. These are the stories that just keep you going and the things that you need to read once in a while because life gets you down many times.
True…life does that…either you get defeated by what you are going through or you can say you can still learn from that. The things that you are sharing hit deep. There’s a deep learning a deep passion in the work that you do
Thank you for the work you are doing and for sharing the stories. I love the work I do but I also love to encourage other people just to keep biting. It is sometimes challenging, we have had a very challenging year…there is a lot going on, people are impacted in different ways… but definitely don’t give up, just show up every day, do all you can and don’t look at other people, that’s what I had to learn, don’t think you have to do what Cyrus’ doing.
You can’t live your life and expect to be happy by doing that. Just wake up and say what can I do today and for you maybe it’s just one post, for you it must be writing just one paragraph, but whatever that one thing is, do that and then try to build on that and that’s what is going to help you for your own success…day by day!
Liked the interview? I believe every author’s path is unique and there isn’t any ONE cookie-cutter way to write your book…your book, your journey.
My name is Nishka and I call myself an Ideology Empath because I use my empath skills to understand my author’s ideas from their perspective and then weave those complex life-long learnings into an easily understood ideology for their expert book…
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