Steve Caulk: President of ProConnect Public Relations

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For close to 20 years, Steve Caulk's career as a journalist and editor at Colorado's Rocky Mountain News saw him covering just about everything in the state, from mundane topics such as real estate sales, board meetings, and athletes' training adjustments to hugely influential and heart-wrenching stories such as the Columbine High School massacre.

"Meanwhile, I was interviewing some interesting business people about ways in which they had taken risks and turned themselves into big successes, and I wondered why I couldn't do the same," Caulk said. "I left the News in 2003 to become Director of Media Relations at DISH Network."

As an undergraduate at Northwestern University, Caulk earned his bachelor of science in journalism. While working as a business reporter during the '90s, Caulk figured it would make his job easier if he knew something about business, so he went back to school to get his MBA from the University of Colorado-Denver.

"That program had a profound impact on my life. I enjoyed it so much, I decided I wanted to apply what I was learning, rather than just use it as a way to beef up my interview questions. At some point, I got the bug to start my own business. As a reporter, your choices are fairly limited in that regard. You can start your own publication, or you can establish an agency that specializes in helping others to communicate," said Caulk.

In 2005, Caulk founded ProConnect Public Relations, an agency that targets small- and mid-sized businesses and has found a considerable niche working with the legal industry. When opening the agency, Caulk brought his Rolodex, which had grown to significant size during his time as a business reporter.

"In that regard, my journalism background gave me even more of an advantage in PR than any writing skill I might have developed. ProConnect started strong out of the chute with some impressive billable hours. Business has waxed and waned along the way, but the agency depends upon contractors to pick up the slack," Caulk said.

Thanks to Caulk's connections, ProConnect now has an impressive list of clients ranging from law firms to software companies to water districts to financial planning companies to architecture firms.

"We see no point in 'specializing' and, in fact, we think specialization makes business tougher because it eliminates so many prospective clients from consideration," Caulk said. "We don't want to limit our growth, so we encourage a wide variety of clients to join us. It also makes life a lot more interesting."

According to Caulk, he is most proud of the times in his career he feels that people have benefited from his work. When he was working for the DISH Network, he helped create a campaign in which towns were encouraged to change their name to DISH in exchange for free TV service, which ultimately led to the company providing free service for citizens of a small Texas town.

He said the campaign he is probably proudest of is one ProConnect concocted for Sprint. Through the campaign, Denver-based teachers were provided with free cell phones and unlimited text messaging "under the theory that if you want to communicate with kids you need to communicate on their level." He said the teachers and students both responded enthusiastically, and grades, on average, improved noticeably, since the groups were more connected.

"The Sprint manager (my client) was so pleased, she said she would consider the campaign a success even if we didn't get a word of media coverage, but naturally, we got that, too," Caulk said.

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I play tennis. I try not to turn it into an exercise in business development, but it is not always easy to resist the temptation.
Q. What CD is in your CD player right now?
A. Gnarls Barkley. It is not really my kind of music, but I regularly try to expose myself to new things in an effort to keep myself from getting too old too fast.
Q. What is the last magazine you read?
A. U.S. News and World Report at the barbershop. I think magazines are going to last longer than newspapers, especially the niche-y ones, because their audiences are typically so rabid about the subjects. But I am always thankful for any free moment I get to read an in-depth publication like USNWR or Time or Newsweek.
Q. What's your favorite TV show?
A. I am still in mourning over the loss of Seinfeld, but I don't mind watching Grey's Anatomy when I am able to remember that it is on.
Q. Who is your role model?
A. I aspire to become a male version of my wife—someone who is patient and creative, who has an extraordinary gift for dealing with difficult people.

Like many others in the field, Caulk feels the future of the PR industry lies in the Internet, which has already made a significant impact. The Internet has made PR experts more accessible to their clients, allowing clients to reach them "immediately at any appropriate time," which allows for more productivity and efficiency on the part of the PR expert.

"I see PR heading away from an emphasis on newspaper pitching, with a greater focus on Internet hits," Caulk said. "I suspect newspapers probably have at least another 25 years of existence before they become obsolete, but they are having less and less impact as the gatekeepers of the message to the public. The same is true for TV, though probably less dramatically. So PR people are going to concentrate on exposure through RSS feeds, alerts, and just plain Internet surfing. PR professionals are going to have to keep up on the latest social networking trends, and I think clients are going to increasingly demand that their PR agencies create and manage a low-cost blog on their behalf."

In terms of advice, Caulk says that PR professionals should make an effort to keep up with trends in social networking, even if he is not sure of what the best way to do that is.

"By the time you have signed up for a class, the trend has changed, and there is something newer and better out there. I guess you just ask your 15-year-old brother or sister," Caulk said.
On the net:ProConnect Public Relations

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