I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Turner, a Principal and award winning publicist with Solomon Turner PR in St. Louis. Steve has some 30 years of experience in public relations and has worked on many national, regional and local publicity campaigns with many clients such as Anthony Robbins Seminars, Coldwell Banker, and Northwestern Mutual. Steve is the creator of ThePRChannel.com an educational video series on PR tactics. His firm Solomon Turner has been named One of the Top PR Firms in St. Louis for the past 10 years in a row by Small Business Monthly.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Upon graduating from the University of Missouri and its School of Journalism I became a news and sports announcer. I worked for many radio stations both on-air and in ad sales, and eventually went to work for an advertising agency. I learned the value of the big idea and how various forms of communication can benefit a client business. I eventually moved home to St. Louis to be near family and friends and launched my own firm, The Turner Group. I made connections with a number of seminar promoters and end up traveling the country as a publicist for Anthony Robbins Seminars, Brian Tracy Seminars and many more. I also developed our business in the B2B space. Later I merged my firm with those of an ad agency to offer full marketing services. We have operated Solomon Turner ever since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I actually met my wife through business. She operated S. Solomon and Associates an advertising agency and as previously mentioned I ran The Turner Group. We began funneling projects back and forth as she needed public relations consulting for her clients, and I needed logos and printed materials for mine. Eventually we began dating and got married. Then we merged our firms to become Solomon Turner.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I am sure I made several mistakes. One, which seems sort of amusing now, revolves around some work I did with a restaurant/night club. Rather than just sending out a check to pay for his services the owner always wanted me to come to the club and wait for him to give me his payment. Sometimes he would ignore me or just disappear for an hour even two. He had some Tom Jones music piped into the restaurant and I had to listen to this over and over again. I could practically recite the lyrics. When you first start out and you need the money, you will do just about anything to get paid. I learned how to set parameters and work a lot more efficiently with clients after that experience.
How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.
It took a little while to truly get profitable. A lot of it was obviously securing enough clients to cover overhead and salaries. We changed our offices once or twice as we grew but never went overboard with luxurious office suites or top of the line furniture. We also learned how to manage staff and hire for just what you need rather than what you hope you might need. Today the Internet makes it easy to develop relationships with freelancers and 1099 types who can work with you on a project-by-project basis and still give you top quality work. I would advise starting small with just what you need and add staff and extra office space as your business grows.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
One fascinating client is in the B2B space, Cohen Architectural Woodworking. They supply custom cabinetry and millwork for companies nationwide from their manufacturing plant in St. James, MO. The founder, Phillip Cohen, has a great back story rising from drug addiction and other personal issues to running a large multi-million dollar business. Of special note is that he hires a number of workers who were previously incarcerated and had drug problems and other issues. Cohen has a number of programs to help these and all staffers improve their lives. Many have become great employees. Some have grown into management positions. It’s a great story any publicist would love.
Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?
Write, write and write some more. As a PR professional you are in the communications business. That means you need to become a proficient writer and storyteller. Whether you will do media relations, corporate communications or employee relations you will be charged with creating well written documents that help your client or employer achieve a specific objective. Learning how to properly use words with impact is a great skill that will serve you well throughout your career.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
I believe a great networker gets the best results by being a go-giver. That is asking those you meet how you can help them, rather than stockpiling business cards and hoping you can find someone who can use your services. This is a good approach for those who truly wish to help others. Someone you meet may not need your services at the time but perhaps they need someone to help them with accounting, HR, or even some home improvements. Using your connections to help them find someone to fit their needs will help separate you from the pack. Down the road they will see the value in maintaining a relationship with you. Many will eventually become clients or refer you to some. Others will become good friends.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
One great book is Public Relations Cases by Jerry Hendrix. I ran across the book years ago at a university book store. It is filled with case studies of well-run PR campaigns for almost any client need. It has strategic breakdowns beyond the campaign action plan. The book has been updated several times. I have referred to it often over the years.
Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would like to do something with the environment or more specifically the oceans. I enjoy swimming and snorkeling and each time we visit our favorite spot there seems to be fewer and fewer fish. The world revolves around the food cycle produced within those waters. I worry that climate change and other factors are creating issues that need to be solved sooner than later.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
1. Ramp up the aggressiveness. Most of our business has come not from RFPs but from networking and doing great work for our clients. You need to be aggressive to keep a high presence with your targeted groups of prospects. Attending breakfasts, luncheons, and doing some volunteer work will help keep you “top of mind” when someone needs your services. Early on I didn’t realize how much of a time investment you need to make to be successful.
2. Be the best writer you can be. As mentioned earlier PR professionals are in the communications business. The ability to consistently write great articles, pitch letters and marketing materials is a great skill to be learned and cherished. I have worked hard to improve those skills over the years.
3. Become a great salesperson. Whether you are pitching new business, or trying to get a reporter to write a story about your client requires some selling skills. I had a selling background to begin with but have needed to hone those skills to compete against other firms.
4. Read a lot and then some. You shouldn’t take for granted you know everything or even a lot just because you have a degree. Once you graduate your education is just starting. You need to keep up with latest industry trends as well as read appropriate books to eventually become an industry authority or leader, and to keep your career on an upward trajectory.
5. Never take a “day off”. By this I mean we are all prone to take a few days when we are working but we are not at the top of our game. Earlier on I had days when I could have been improving the business or my career but wound up doing things of less importance. You need stay focused. When you are not focused you are losing ground to your competitors.