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The Long Road To Building A Business – Chad Shearer, Caren West PR

ASBN is joined by Chad Shearer, the co-founder, and COO of Caren West PR. Chad has developed his PR company into a major player in the lifestyle and entertainment market in Atlanta. He shares his experiences and what it takes to build a successful business in Atlanta.


JIM: Hi everyone and welcome to another edition of “The Atlanta Small Business Show.” I’m Jim Fitzpatrick. Thanks for joining us today. One today’s show, we welcome back Chad Shearer, the co-founder and COO of Caren West PR, an in-demand public relations agency based right here in Atlanta. Over the course of the last 12 years, Chad has developed Caren West PR into a major player in the lifestyle and entertainment market. Chad, welcome back to “The Atlanta Small Business Show.” So glad that you can take the time out of your day here to spend with us.

CHAD: Thank you.

JIM: Great, let’s talk about how you guys got started. You’ve built one heck of a PR agency. So share with us some of your successes and failures that got you to this point.

CHAD: It’s been a little bit of a long road, although the 12 years have flown by. Looking back at some of the chapters that we’ve had, have really kind of been remarkable. One of our first clients we ever had was the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, who reached out to us and because our company domain was so new, dumped them into junk mail so we almost never saw it. But they were the very client that we had.

[crosstalk 00:01:05].

CHAD: So I guess that was a failure that became a success.

JIM: Sure, sure. Gotta check those junk mail boxes. There’s a lesson right there for our viewers.

CHAD: Yes, absolutely. Until you refine it.

JIM: Yeah, sure.

CHAD: So since then, we’ve kinda been cultivating how we are perceived as an agency, what we specialize in.

JIM: Sure.

CHAD: In the Atlanta market, we are definitely the premier event PR agency. I don’t know, there’s not many of our peers that actually will put a lot of focus on that, so we built a lot out of that. Having launched the very first PR app nationally, which focused on events. Also, we’ve been tapped as one of the go-tos for national or global agency, or fashion houses, looking to make an impact in the Atlanta market.

JIM: Oh wow. What does it really take to build a company in the PR market, or in the PR field in Atlanta? I know it’s very, very competitive.

CHAD: It’s super competitive. In addition to having some of the biggest PR companies nationally and globally, with offices and presence here-

JIM: Yeah, that’s true.

CHAD: … in Atlanta,-

JIM: I didn’t think about that, yeah.

CHAD: … the boutique level agency, which is where I would say we’re one of the bigger boutique agencies in the southeast, is extremely competitive. A lot of agencies that we consider our peers and our friends have decided that they have to carve out their own niche as well.

JIM: Right.

CHAD: So we have people that just do fashion, or just do restaurants.

JIM: Right.

CHAD: With us, we decided that it would be very difficult to just do one thing or the other because then you start having to pick favorites within your own roster.

JIM: Right.

CHAD: You got a [inaudible 00:02:51] for TV and you have three or four barbecue restaurants, you gotta pick one of them to go do that. We also know that in the boutique agency, the faster way to success is working and collaborating with other agencies, so we’re very open door to talking to most of the boutique agencies here, because sometimes it might not be a fit or we’re too busy. That’s kind of what I feel’s the culture in Atlanta business-wise anyway, is working together to make a greater success and make a greater city.

JIM: Yeah, for sure. How do you go about recruiting people? What skillset do you look for or where do you go to them? It’s such a tight job market right now in Atlanta, and nationally with a 3.5% unemployment rate.

CHAD: Right.

JIM: You guys are probably looking for very talented young people that either come out of colleges or otherwise and represents maybe the big giants out there that maybe a lot of the students or graduates want to work for. So how do you go about acquiring good people?

CHAD: One of our approaches since day one is we’ve developed a very aggressive, we call it our PA Program. It’s Publicity Assistant, but they are more of an internship program that we have.

JIM: Okay.

CHAD: I go around and speak at a lot of the local colleges, from Georgia Southern to UGA,-

JIM: Okay.

CHAD: … Kennesaw, even Georgia State, which has exploded over the last five, ten years. I hand out business cards and talk to these people. My thought is while I would love, as a boutique agency I don’t necessarily have the budget to go after some of the really big names that may come with a massive relationship list and ten years experience.

JIM: Right.

CHAD: We look to build them and 90% of our hiring has been done through that internship program.

JIM: Okay.

CHAD: They know the culture-

JIM: So you’re just growing your own?

CHAD: Yeah. We’re very specific about who we are. Also, at 13 years old, Caren and I might know a lot about PR, we might be experts, but there’s so much new, especially through social media-

JIM: Right.

CHAD: … that these students are being taught, that ideally they would be teaching us something too. They’d be teaching us some new practices,-

JIM: Right.

CHAD: … stuff that we normally, we have our rhythm, we’re going, we know we can get proven results. But there might be some different ways to look at it and that’s part of the collaborative nature of our company.

JIM: Yeah, sure. Sure. So as the COO and co-founder of a fast moving, fast paced PR agency headquartered in a metropolis like Atlanta, what are some of the things that keep you up at night, looking down the road? We’re in such a fast paced world that we live in right now, especially in the digital age, and social media and all of those wonderful things, what are the things that you’re concerned with five years, ten years down the road, within your industry?

CHAD: I would say mostly how to maintain the value of what you’re bringing to the table. A lot of people will do it themselves. They will tap in, be like, “Wow, I can put up a post on Facebook and that’s my PR.”

JIM: Right.

CHAD: Or Twitter and whatnot. And trying to define how that is relevant and what we’re bringing to it is relevant. I’m not probably alone in the PR field by saying your relationships are the most valuable asset that you have. That’s something that cannot be replaced. But it also does worry me that there may be a different way to do that. There used to be web designers all over the place and then a company like Square Space comes out and it looks like you can design a website in under 30 minutes or whatever. So while there’s still a need for web designers, to an extent a product like that could devalue. So, is there something that’s going to devalue our industry or make it so that people feel that they can do this more on their own and they can divert their budget and funds to something that they deem-

JIM: Yeah, for sure.

CHAD: … more important?

JIM: Sure. Well, Chad Shearer, thank you so much for joining us-

CHAD: Thank you .

JIM: … here on “The Atlanta Small Business Show.” Hopefully we can have you back. I know that feedback that we got from our last discussion was great. You’re just a wealth of knowledge for us, so thank you very much for joining us. I appreciate it. Thank you.

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