Spotlight on a Solo PR Pro: Meet Bob Spoerl

Living the Life

Spotlight on a Solo PR Pro: Meet Bob Spoerl

Dec 14, 2021 | Living the Life

Spotlight on a Solo PR Pro: Meet Bob Spoerl

Dec 14, 2021 | Living the Life

Bob Spoerl has been ingrained in the media industry for about a decade, starting first as a journalist before transitioning to “the dark side” as a PR professional a few months into his professional career. 

While studying journalism at UW Madison, Bob started out working as a student state reporter and had the opportunity to interview and write about several big-time politicians. 

“I remember I was this close to interviewing Barack Obama when he was a state senator,” Bob recalls. “I did end up writing an article about him speaking in Milwaukee. My last sentence of the piece picked up on the fact that ‘Born to Run’ was playing in the background, and I’m wondering if he’s going to run for president. Three months later, he did.”

But midway through college, Bob opted for a major change, transitioning to the seminary program at Loyola University in Chicago for a few years. He ended up completing his undergrad in English Philosophy at Loyola, ultimately deciding to leave the seminary after meeting his now wife, joking “you know, I couldn’t become a Catholic priest after that.”

He earned a master’s degree from Northwestern in journalism and moved on to do some investigative projects for the Washington Post and a fellowship with the Chicago Tribune before moving into trade journalism to help pay the bills and save up for his upcoming wedding.

“This is probably a little unethical, but I was also side hustling for a PR agency, writing press releases and stuff like that, while I was a trade journalist,” Bob says. “I know you're not supposed to do that. But when you've got a wedding to pay for you do what you have to do.”

It was during that experience that he truly found his love for PR, enjoying the way it combined his passion for meeting new people and interviewing clients with the creative freedom he’d been yearning for while working as a journalist.

After making the leap to PR , Bob spent about five years learning the ins and outs of the industry at several agencies before he felt ready to take things to the next level and start his own firm. 

What started as a small co-op of sorts with two of his friends from grad school quickly turned into a full-time gig and soon Bear Icebox Communications was born.

The small but mighty agency has grown to include four full-time employees and a few independent contractors, all operating with the same client-first philosophy Bob started his PR career with nearly a decade ago.

Lessons learned in the seminary

While going from a journalism major to studying in the seminary may not seem like a traditional trajectory for a veteran PR pro, the experience did instill many values in Bob that he brought into his career.

During his studying at Loyola, he had the opportunity to take a lot of classes on philosophy. And while he doesn’t claim to be walking around orating like Aristotle, he has seen a connection between philosophical teachings and the PR industry. 

“As PR pros, we deal with ethics on a daily basis, we’re thinking about what we should and shouldn’t say, or how we could frame an idea. A lot of that has its roots in philosophical thinking,” he explains. 

In addition to the curriculum, Bob gained several key habits that still contribute to his success today.

“When you’re 19 and you have to get up a 7 a.m. every morning for morning prayer, regardless of your lifestyle, that definitely taught me discipline,” he says.

It helped him to understand that sometimes you have to do the things you don’t necessarily want to do every day in order to form a positive habit. 

“Do I love following up with reporters if they haven’t gotten back to us? No, it’s not my favorite thing, but I know I have to do it,” he says. “Sometimes you’re doing small things that lead to a bigger vision or goal.”

Developing the will and drive to do the difficult things every day has played a large role in Bob’s ability to scale and grow Bear Icebox Communications.

Growing from solopreneur to full-time employer

One of the things Bob learned after striking it out on his own was that, while being an entrepreneur can present many challenges and growing pains, it truly is something he enjoys.

“Internally throughout the first 12 months, I had a lot of thoughts like, ‘If I don’t bring clients on, I don’t feed my family.’ I realized early on if you don’t swim, you’re going to sink,” he says.

The pressure isn’t for everyone, he explains, adding, “I've always liked putting pressure on myself, which I don't know what that says about me from a psychological perspective, but you have to be willing to put self pressure on and embrace it.”

For Bob, the key to being able to handle the challenges that come with being a solo business owner is ensuring you’re passionate about the work you’re doing, and finding other people — be them contractors or full-time employees — to help fill in the gaps when you’re ready. 

“When I first started, handling the business side was a pain in and of itself,” he recalls. “I love working with clients and the projects we were doing, but I don’t love keeping books or doing a P&L statement. So I brought in a bookkeeper early on to help.”

He does admit that adding employees, just like deciding to start a business from scratch, takes a leap of faith. 

Although it can be scary to think about selling beyond what you alone have the capacity to do, he encourages other solo PR pros who are considering taking the next step to think about selling from the perspective of an organization larger than yourself.

“I was hesitant for a while, because I’ve seen the potential consequences of overselling without being about to deliver,” he says. “But as I realized my clients were generally satisfied and providing good feedback, it gave me the confidence to say, okay I can sell more of this.”

With the massive surge of the gig economy post-pandemic, Bob feels it’s easier than ever to find and build relationships with strategic partners or others who have their own kind of micro-business. 

Starting small is a great way to dip your toe in. “Clients don’t care if everyone on your staff is a W-2, they care that they’re going to get great results,” he says.

Groups like Solo PR Pro have been a great resource to connect Bob with other business owners and solos looking to collaborate, as well as potential mentors and guides to help along the way. 

“Having a network or a community of people that understand what you're going through and can be in the trenches with you and offer support is so important,” he explains. “There's been moments where I see people sharing in the group things like, ‘Hey, I'm having this issue’ and then a bunch of people jump in to say they’ve dealt with it before and offer advice.”

Written By Karen Swim
Karen Swim is the President of Solo PR and Founder of public relations agency, Words For Hire.