Inside Atlanta PR – Profiling the Profiler
Profiling the profiler:
Inside Atlanta PR columnist Chris Schroder is quizzed by last week’s interview subject, Betsey Weltner
Betsey: Chris, thank you for letting me turn the tables on you. Like all of the public relations practitioners featured in your column in the SaportaReport, you have an interesting career story as well as many interests outside of work. I have been wondering which photo you will select to accompany this column.
Chris: Hmmm. Either riding my bike or maybe a photo I just posted on Facebook at the Bonnaroo Music Festival.
Betsey: Well rock on!
Betsey: I have noticed that not many of our colleagues featured in your column set out at an early age to become PR mavens. Most landed in this profession through serendipity. You got here by way of print journalism, paying your ink-stained dues As a fifth-generation scion from an old Atlanta family of lawyers, what sent you in this direction?
Chris: When I was growing up as, yes, a native Atlantan, we had two newspapers delivered to our house every day. I would get up early in the morning and read the Atlanta Constitution with my dad. In the afternoon I would read the Atlanta Journal with my mom. Most of my family worked in law. I was more interested in story telling.
Betsey: Did the great Jack Spalding, former editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal and long-performing tenor in the Georgia Press Association’s “Cracker Crumble,” influence you during your formative years?
Chris: My cousin Jack Spalding was my role model. I was 13 when I visited him in the old newsroom downtown and decided then I wanted to work in journalism. So I did. In my senior year of high school I was editor of the Westminster Bi-line.
Betsey: Did you break any big stories?
Chris: Sadly not. But we did start a tradition of an April Fools Day Lampoon edition that continues to this day, I believe. There were some big stories going on in the world and here in the South with the Civil Rights movement coming to the forefront, then the governor’s race between Lester Maddox and George Busbee. I was inspired by some great political writers during those days: Howell Raines at the Constitution and David Norden at the Journal. They wrote about that race in a way that was gripping. I went to college at the University of Virginia. There was no journalism program so I majored in English, but was executive editor of the weekly university newspaper for four years. After graduation I worked for another journalism legend, Hodding Carter, at the Delta Democrat-Times in Greenville, Miss. At the time, he was in Washington, working as a spokesperson for the State Department during the Iran hostage crisis, so my bosses were his brother Philip and his mom, Betty.
Betsey: Another one of the greats, as was his father, wasn’t he?
Chris: Hodding Carter, Sr. received the Pulitzer Prize in 1946 in recognition of his editorials calling for equality for African-Americans. He had served in World War II alongside black servicemen, and made an eloquent appeal for equal treatment at home as well as in the battlefield. Pretty courageous stand in the mid-1940s in Mississippi.
Betsey: So you learned the business by toiling as a working journalist as well as working in production, design and advertising at some pretty good Deep South newspapers: Delta Democrat-Times, Augusta Chronicle, Greenville News, Charlotte Observer, then the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as creative director. Then while working at the Fulton County Daily Report, you decided to launch your own publication. The timing was, shall we say, interesting since it was just before the emergence of the Internet. The rest is history.
Chris: Yes my timing was perfect (said ironically). In 1992 I decided to start my own newspaper called “Atlanta 30306.” The concept was to produce a highly localized publication that would cover businesses and people in the Virginia-Highlands area, focusing on positive news—no sex, no crime, no politics. No scandals. In later years I had a business partner, Tom Cousins, and at our peak we were printing three newspapers with a combined circulation of 100,000; 16 employees; and $1.6 million in revenues. But then 9/11 happened. Advertising tanked. And you are right, the Internet changed everything forever. Mr. Cousins bought me out. The three publications were combined into one, Atlanta INtown.
Betsey: I am guessing what happened next. You went to Nepal to meditate and had a vision: “Go into PR.”
Chris: Actually I went to lunch with my cousin, Bo Spalding, a partner in Jackson Spalding. He urged me to consider public relations. “You’re a natural,” Bo said. Then I spent some time working with you on some of your public affairs issues. You helped me understand the business end.
Betsey: Ah yes, always bring in more money than you spend.
Chris: Something like that. Actually, you taught me to under-charge and over-deliver. Then I started my own firm, Schroder Public Relations, and this December will celebrate 10 years in business.
Betsey: Someone said that we have seen more radical changes in the newspaper business during the last 20 years than in the previous 200 years. You started your PR firm about the same time technology shook not just the newspaper business but also the practice of public relations. How have you managed to survive?
Chris: We provide communications services to business-to-business clients and have had to evolve along with our clients. There is a big difference between the way newspapers and the PR industry dealt with the technology revolution. PR businesses embraced the use of the Internet and social media. Newspapers were slow to adapt. The Internet wiped out the major revenue stream: classified ads.
Betsey: And now you are once again working in journalism, writing for SaportaReport. But no more paper and ink.
Chris: SaportaReport is a great example of new journalism providing a place for veteran writers. And we are doing it within a new journalism and revenue model that works. Yes, I am back to my first love!
– Betsey Weltner, Weltner Communications