I am blessed with a large family, with dozens of cousins all over Atlanta. One I try to keep in regular contact with is my cousin Bo Spalding, who is just two years older. We had breakfast this morning to catch up on our respective families and firms.
Bo is a prince of man, with a dry wit and keen insight into media and PR. He comes by his intellect and charm naturally, being the fourth in a line of three gentlemen before him, each of whom was a managing partner of the law firm, King & Spalding. (We share the same great-grandfather, who co-founded the law firm in 1885.) We went to Georgetown Prep together for a year or two together.
Six years ago, when I left the newspaper business, Bo asked me to lunch at Colony Square in Atlanta, where his and Glen Jackson’s firm, Jackson Spalding, was then located. I had just sold my newspaper business to my business partner, Tom Cousins, and I was trying to figure out what to do “when I grew up.” Bo asked what plans I had.
“I’m not quite sure,” I told Bo over lunch at Houlihans. “I may start another publication, I may start an ad agency or maybe I’ll move to the coast and write a book.”
Bo thought for a second about those choices and said, definitively, “I have two words for you, son … Public Relations.”
“Public Relations,” I said. “I never thought about that.” My only contact with PR firms had been on the receiving end of numerous phone calls to my newspapers from young members at larger firms, asking me if we “had received the press release” they had faxed us recently. That’s one of those calls that editors do not enjoy (more about that some other time).
“It’s a great business,” Bo said. “And you’d be a natural. Of course, I can’t hire you, you’re a cousin, but I’d be happy to refer you to other PR executives in town who could give you a feel for the business and maybe they’ll hire you.”
And thus began my transition to PR. I spent a year working freelance for other firms and, after a four-month stint as general manager for one small firm, I thought I had gathered enough experience to start taking on my own clients. So next month marks the fifth anniversary of my firm, Schroder Public Relations, and I suppose I owe it all to Bo. While I had worked for newspapers in a number of jobs, from reporter to editor to marketing and in-house PR, I had never worked inside a firm.
Bo was right, it is a great business. I enjoy the creativity, the writing, but mostly I enjoy being a business partner to our clients and a counselor on a whole range of issues, from media relations to communication to an Internet strategy. And the business model is a lot more successful these days than newspapers, I’m sad to say. I love newspapers, read numerous ones each day and I sometimes miss being on the planning end of a great issue, so it’s hard to watch the shrinking of that industry. But I can work in PR for years to come, even past the normal retirement age, should I – and my clients – so choose.
And, I hope, to continue to enjoy occasional breakfasts and lunches from my cousin and mentor, Bo.
Photo: PR Executive, and cousin, Bo Spalding