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Doll Puts Talent and Style to Work

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Tallahassee Democrat March 29, 2007 by Steve Liner, Business Editor

Marsha Doll is no stranger to the high fashion runways of New York, London, Paris and Milan. Several of her models grace the pages of GQ, Marie Claire and other slick fashion trade magazines. She's known - and spends much of her time - in New York. But that's not all you need to know to understand her business, Marsha Doll Models and Promotions.

In fact, the glamorous may be the most intriguing part, but most of the money and all but a few of the more than 40,000 people her firm represents work on the promotions side.

Doll hails from Perry where her father still runs The Fair Store, the family's retail clothing store that has graced downtown Perry for 83 years. It was as a teenager on buying trips with her mother at Atlanta's apparel markets that Doll got her first taste of fashion modeling.

"I was walking through the market and this guy said to me, 'Are you a model?' I said, 'I know how to do that.' He said, 'Here put this on.' Then he hired me for the day to show his clothes."

Later, as a student at Florida State University, she became a protege of Eileen Mitchell, owner of the Eileen Mitchell Modeling Agency. And, after graduating with a degree in communications, trekked to Miami and then Tampa Bay for jobs that didn't pan out.

"Finally, I called Eileen and asked if I could open a kind of franchise agency for her in Perry," Doll said. She went on to buy the Tallahassee franchise, but quickly tired of "working under someone else's rules." A two-year stint with Eastern Airlines ended when the company went bankrupt in the 1980s, so she decided to go out on her own with Marsha Doll models in 1990.

Not long after, she received a call from a public-relations firm in North Carolina, asking if she could line up 20 FSU students to represent a bank's credit-card division at football games in Tallahassee.

Zing! was born, and Doll was on the ground floor of a business and promotions wave she has made her own. Success in the parking lot of Doak Campbell Stadium lead to promotional opportunities with the credit-card companies first through the Southeast, then nationally. The credit-card promotions have spawned literally hundreds, if not thousands, of other opportunities, ranging from cosmetics to NASCAR. It has become a $105 billion-a-year industry, Doll said.

"I guess we've done just about everything out there," she said. "I've even had actors in costume answering the door at (television producer) Aaron Spellings' house. You name it."

"Thank God for computers," she said.

It was the advent of computers that gives Marshal Doll Models and Promotions its single most important tool to operate the huge nationwide promotions network that has become the center of its business model.

"I can sit at my office here in Tallahassee, get an order for 40 people for a promotional event in Chicago, fire off an e-mail and, boom, 40 people at a certain place in Chicago at the right time," Doll said.

Doll's heart remains to an extent with modeling, though. She continues to run a series of personal appearance seminars where, at $95 per ticket, she works with groups of model-wannabees, attorneys, actors and others on personal presentation, poise and creating a positive impression.

And there is modeling boot camp. Selected proteges are groomed, trained and taken to New York for tours of agencies, casting directors (and of course Tavern on the Green, limousines and Broadway shows).

Despite its success - including the potential of appearing in a television reality show about "mother agents" like herself - the offices of Marsha Doll Models and Promotions remains today as they were at the beginning in Doll's home. Of course, it's a bigger house. Total employees are now five.

"You should see my basement," she said. "There are desks everywhere. But I have my office at home, so I can work all the time."

After all, working across the world's time zones means "it's always 9 to 5 somewhere."

There is no mistaking Doll for a New Yorker, either. Her belle-on-caffeine twang is as remarkable as it is signatory of her style. And, hey, she so hates what they do to her hair in New York that her stylist is in Tallahassee (even if she has to fly in to make it to her regular appointment).

Contact Business Editor Steve Liner at (850) 599-2238 or