Someone – it was either Carl Jung or Kung Fu Panda – once said that there are no accidents in life. So you might say that meeting Bret Starr and landing at Starr Tincup was no accident.
Bret needed a guy who could write and understood technology and HR. I came out of the newspaper world as a sports editor – which trains you to write about everything – then flamed out with a couple of Internet startups before settling into a career as an HR communications consultant working with Fortune 500 companies. It was a pretty good fit.
But it was how we came to meet each other that’s kind of a funny story. And like most funny stories, it starts out with something quite unfunny. On New Year’s Day 2004, my dad died. And in the tumble of emotions that I experienced over the months that followed, I fell into blogging as a way to write my way out of that grief.
What I liked about blogging was that you could experience an authentic human moment with another person (or a bunch of people) out of these bits and bytes. The more raw emotion I put into it – the more I was myself – the more people would respond. I liked that. A lot.
Now, kids, here’s the part you shouldn’t try at home. The better I got at blogging, the more time I put into it. And, ahem, that included lots of time between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. I mean, what would you rather do, edit a summary plan description document to turn lawyerspeak into active voice or blog about shit you actually care about? And I know what you are probably thinking. Yeah, I would have fired me, too.
But I managed not to get fired and became one of the best-known bloggers in Fort Worth – which is sort of like being one of the most famous ice hockey players in Ecuador. It sounds impressive, but it's slightly less competitive than San Francisco or New York City. I wrote about a lot of local issues, mainly relating to urban natural gas drilling in Fort Worth and the resulting problems. That’s how Bret and I met, working on the City Council campaign of our good friend Bernie Scheffler. We did some great shit, but Bernie still lost. And we all went our separate ways.
But as it became harder to balance my career and blogging lives, I decided to drop Bret a line for some advice. That advice turned into a lot of drinks and eventually a new career. I’m Steve. I’m the Content Guy.
But here’s the great part: I still get to spend my days writing about shit that I actually care about. I believe that talent is the No. 1 business problem of the 21st century. I get paid to write about this? And to help companies solve this problem? And I get to own a company with four of the most awesome dudes I’ve ever known? EFF YEAH! And thank you, Mr. Bret Starr.
For me, it all comes back to that quest for an authentic human moment. That’s what I believe marketing and advertising should be. I help organizations find a voice, explain who they are and establish a connection with customers. I think that is important. I like what I do. I like the people I do it with. And I don’t think that’s an accident.
Q: What is your favorite band?
That’s a tricky question, because the answer is always changing. If pressed, I would probably have to say Tom Waits. He’s equal parts Charles Bukowski and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Basically, the world’s most literate musical hobo.
Right now, my runner-up would have to be this band out of Portland called Typhoon. I met them in Austin, at this year’s South by Southwest. They are kind of like a bunch of kids who put together a band for the school talent show and it really, really worked out.
Q: What is the best concert you’ve ever attended?
Also a tricky question. I saw Siouxsie and the Banshees at the Arcadia Theater in Dallas in 1986. That was good. Then there was Robert Earl Keen Jr. at the Cactus Cafe in Austin in 1989. And Dave Alvin and the late great Chris Gaffney at Austin’s Continental Club in 2006 was also pretty good. But the current frontrunner is Thao and the Get Down Stay Down at SXSW this year. They are my 14-year-old daughter’s favorite band, and she got to meet Thao before the show. Not only was Thao the coolest freaking rock star you could ever imagine, she invited my little girl onstage for a song (as you can see below). That’s class.
Q: How do you define creativity?
There’s a great scene in the first season of Mad Men where Roger Sterling walks into Don Draper’s office and Don is staring out the window. "I'll never get used to the fact that most of the time it looks like you're doing nothing," Roger says. That’s true. Creativity happens in quiet moments of solitude. However, in an agency environment, creativity is usually a collective effort that occurs in a semi-chaotic, caffeine-infused, profanity-laced swirl. It’s anything but quiet, and solitude is a rare commodity. However, if art is defined by its limitations, the best creatives I know are able to spark a flash of brilliance in what seems like a Road to Damascus type moment. Sometimes, they are a little lucky. Some of them are just quick thinkers. But sometimes it’s because someone had the forethought to have an ace up the sleeve or a pistol in the boot – an idea saved for those moments around the conference room table. And I am fortunate to work with people who are able to make creativity happen like that.
Q: What is your secret passion?
I’m a collector of many things. Midcentury Modern furniture. Texas Centennial memorabilia. Texana books. And records. Lots of records. I’ve got everything from 19th century Edison disks to brand-new 7-inch releases from the latest indie bands. I had a great conversation with Sarah White of Bersin & Associates at the IMPACT Conference this year (holla!) about the thin line between collecting and hoarding. Some days, I’m not sure which side of the line I’m on. But it’s all OK. A “word guy” needs to be a little OCD.
Q: What are your favorite kind of clients?
I work harder for nice people. Clients who believe that writing you a check gives them carte blanche to be an asshole … that never ends well.
Q: What makes you happy on Tuesdays?
Chicken and waffles at Buttons Restaurant in Fort Worth.
Q: What is the single biggest achievement of your life?
I left newspapers to work for an Internet startup back during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. The day my startup shut its doors, I got a call from my old boss, offering me my old job back. And I said no. That decision changed my entire life for the better.
Q: Tacos vs. enchiladas?
Tacos. I have a weakness for gas-station taquerias. For five bucks you can get three tacos al pastor heaped with onions and cilantro and a refresco on the side.