This blog I created about seven years ago is now a business – introducing Sword and the Script Media, LLC. This PR agency will focus on the business-to-business (B2B) marketplace and provide professional services in public relations, content marketing and social media.
While this site is currently undergoing a technology and copy overhaul that is far from complete – rest assured the blog and its useful content will continue to be front and center. We are practicing what we preach because this content marketing trend is not a fad.
As Ian Lurie of Portent aptly said, “If you want people to talk to you, you have to talk to them. Content is talking.”
With a natural bias towards my profession, I happen to believe digitally savvy PR professionals are well-positioned to influence the intersection of PR, content marketing and social media. In fact, I think PR is the best kept secret in content marketing.
The question I’ve received the most the last few days – is what led you to this point?
A Stage Set Early in Career
More than 15 years ago, I left a year-long active duty tour as a junior military officer stationed near Washington, DC and returned to graduate school. The American University had a rigorous 10-month master’s degree program in public communications that I thought might set me up for a career in public relations.
It was good bet. Indeed, I landed a paid graduate internship (in business development) with a growing high-tech PR firm right around the height of the dot-com hype. The internship turned into a job, and I transformed into a sponge – absorbing not just the role of PR, but process and procedures for running a firm.
The culture was entrepreneurial and I quickly learned, that even as a young account executive, a continued effort at business development would separate me from the pack.
We were surrounded by, perhaps arguably even built on, venture capital money, startups and risk takers out to change the world. Sure, the tech market crashed – I watched in horror as one company with $147 million in VC funding imploded – but I knew in the long term the market would recover.
I had caught the bug, but would have to wait years for the cure.
While that smaller firm sold to Hill & Knowlton a short while after I was employed, the experience had a profound influence on my thinking and career. I still remember the office, the layout, the spreadsheets and especially the people like it was yesterday.
An Early Role Model
There was one senior account executive at the firm named Laura. When I first met her, I instantly realized how smart she was, saw how she carried herself, and how she got work done…I thought I need to be just like her. She had it together. I did my best to emulate her.
The emulation ostensibly worked. A few years later she would refer me freelance work – from an association where her husband was employed. I was in between jobs and considering starting a firm of my own. I tipped toed to the edge of business, then I got scared and wound up going to work for another firm.
It was an awesome project and for a good cause that taught me what the term “unfunded mandate” meant. And I found myself walking the tunnel under the Rayburn Office Building on Capitol Hill next to actors Richard Dreyfuss and Polly Draper. Mr. Dreyfuss played former Secretary of State and retired General Alexander Haig in the movie “The Day Reagan was Shot.” Almost every politician in the hallway knew him instantly by sight.
In the world that is connected by social media, I was saddened to learn Laura passed away last year after having lost her battle with breast cancer.
Business Recollections and Triggers
A few months ago I walked into Mo Bunnell’s downtown Atlanta office at the Big Idea Group, LLC to interview him for my employer and the LexisNexis Business of Law Blog (See: 3 Law Firm Business Development Imperatives for 2016).
Make no mistake, Mr. Bunnell is an entrepreneur with an effective training program to teach lawyers in large law firms how to survive in an incredibly competitive market. Most people I know develop a glaze in their eyes when the conversation turns to law firms or legal. However, depending on whose market research you trust, anywhere between $100B and $300B trade hands annually in the U.S. legal market alone.
Billion. With a “B.” Legal is an enormous market. But it’s highly competitive and it’s gotten tighter every year since the financial crisis of 2008.
There was something about Mr. Bunnell’s office that conjured up powerful memories of my first gig in PR. The staff, the office decoration, our conversation, heck, even the smell of the office, all sparked memories of that passionate entrepreneurial spirit.
The bug was back…and I had it bad.
Hanging Up a Military Uniform
There’s a second critical piece that allows me to start a business. In February of this year, I retired from the Army National Guard after 20+ years in uniform.
Those that have worn the uniform know the relationship with the military is best described as love/hate – I’ve dubbed that phenomenon “The Soldier’s Paradox.”
Uncle Sam has taken me around the world, dropped me off in a foreign sandbox twice – each time for a year – and given me experiences that are unmatched anywhere.
While I’m grateful for those aspects, a career in the military is not without sacrifice, especially with regard to family and a business career. I have a young daughter and I couldn’t bear to be separated again. In addition, I couldn’t risk building a client base only to be deployed for another year.
Whatever illusions you might have about the Guard and Reserves, let me dispel those. Even when you are state-side, it’s not a part-time job. Members of the reserve components make incredible daily sacrifices. While those sacrifices are different, they are in many ways as equally demanding as those sacrifices facing active duty brothers and sisters.
Quoting a common refrain, a four-star general officer addressing my last unit of assignment, noted of the reserve component commitment, “Thirty-nine days a year – my ass!”
There’s going to be more.
Opportunity Cost, Risk and Reward
I was fortunate enough to go back to graduate school a second time for an MBA. This time, I did it at nights and on weekends while also holding down a full-time gig with good PR firm.
The program taught me the important concept of TVM or the time value of money (and that I should always hire a good accountant). This was very useful since one of my clients at the time was a $180 million venture capital fund. Another client was a portfolio company of that VC firm; I literally got to see two sides of the same coin.
However, I also realize an MBA program wouldn’t teach me everything I need to know about business. In fact, the single most important lesson I learned in the MBA program is I don’t know, what I don’t know about business. That’s a powerful source of motivation: I logged 40-hours this week by yesterday – Wednesday. And I loved every minute of it.
I fully recognize the risk of starting a business. Indeed, I probably have a “healthy mix” of enthusiasm and trepidation as one colleague, who has owned his own PR firm for two decades, recently remarked.
To that end, I’ve continued to be a sponge for knowledge. Whoever it was that approved my membership to the Counselor’s Academy group on Facebook – probably when I was the director of PR for Vocus – thank you! I’ve been quietly soaking up that goodness for a long time.
As for the many solos, duos and small PR firm owners – I’ve read many of your posts and commentaries over the course of the years. Most recently I read Ray Hiltz’s remarks on returning to employment – and Kate Finely’s “Cheers to 3 Years” celebration. With insight like that, I’m walking into this eyes wide open.
A new Altanta-based PR Firm
Despite the very natural fear, I couldn’t be more excited about what I am doing. I don’t remember being this “happy” in a long time. I’m confident in my ability and think I have a well-considered plan against which I’ve been executing in my spare time for several months.
- To my clients and future clients. In my firm, you not only gain smart marketing and PR professionals, but savvy and passionate business people. Good marketing and sales people usually talk about the alignment of those respective functions. What’s overlook is the fact that both marketing and sales need to be aligned with the business strategy. That’s part of what makes this firm different. To borrow a line from that first agency I worked for, what separates us from the competition, will separate you from yours.
- Here are the professional services we provide.
- To my future employees. I’m not ready to hire you yet, but when I do you’ll find, I may not be the best boss you ever had, but I’ll always strive to be that best boss. You’ll truly be on a *team* and I’ll give you a stake in the outcome.
- To existing PR agency owners. I’m all ears. I’ll trade you the opportunity to kick around an idea you have for one of your clients for a little bit of your advice on managing a firm.
- To my past mentors, bosses and colleagues. There are so many of you, I would not dare attempt to list you all for fear of accidentally forgetting someone. If in the magic of the internet, you read this and we haven’t talked in years, I’d love to reconnect. Since you know the sort of work I’m capable of doing, I’d appreciate any referrals.
And with that, here’s my elevator pitch – I welcome your feedback in the comments:
Based just outside Atlanta, Georgia, Sword and the Script Media, LLC is veteran-owned public relations agency immersed in the business-to-business (B2B) marketplace. We focus on building consistent, sustainable and process-driven programs for PR, content marketing and social media. A defining difference comes down to our approach – that marketing ought to have utility. This is because marketing that helps, sells better than marketing that hypes.
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Seven years I’ve put into this blog. There are more than 500 posts brimming with ideas I’ve examined – some of which I probably ought to delete – and thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands of words.
Today, with all the necessary paperwork and permits in hand, I’m declaring this a business. And though I didn’t plan it this way – it is just in time for national small business week!
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