Stu Opperman, APR hadn’t always planned on being a solopreneur. In fact, he hadn’t even intended on working in PR.
He developed a love of sports and print media at a young age, and set off to the University of Florida to pursue a degree in journalism.
When he arrived on campus, however, he was amazed by the student-run broadcast stations, including radio and TV stations that would actually compete in the local market for ratings.
“I saw that the media could be a lot more exciting than typing on a laptop,” he says.
Stu refocused his sights and graduated with a degree in Telecommunications, eventually landing his first professional job doing news, sports, and as a DJ in California.
After a decade in radio, Stu was in the market for a professional life that offered more stability, and made the leap to PR pro, eventually working his way up the ranks at an advertising-dominant agency based in South Florida.
It was there where Stu got the notion he had climbed as far as he could while still working for someone else. Without a backup plan or large savings to fall back on, he took a leap of faith and gave notice to take his career journey into his own hands.
He started Impact Players in 2009 and hasn’t looked back since, saying, “I couldn't be happier being a solo practitioner with my own business, calling my own shots, getting credit for my work and doing all the things you sometimes can’t when you work for somebody else.”
Hitting the pavement to find full-time employment
When he graduated from the University of Florida, Stu was in the market for a full-time position in radio.
At that same time, his sister decided to move across the country. Since Stu didn’t have any immediate job prospects, he agreed to help her get her things to Los Angeles.
Prior to the drive to California, he set his plan to secure work in motion. Utilizing Bacon’s Business Media Directory, he tracked down the address and news director contact information of every local station that did news and sports programming in the coastal area between LA and San Francisco that was outside of those major markets. Once on the west coast, Stu rented a car and visited all the local stations he had previously mailed air-check cassette tapes and resumes to, asking for an opportunity.
“A bunch of the stations I reached out to got back to me and invited me to come back for a conversation,” he says. “I hopped in my rental car and did a different station and city every day. At the end of my week-long trip, I got two job offers.”
He accepted his first post-college, professional job at a radio station doing news and sports on the morning show, with a spot working as an overnight DJ.
Unexpectedly, the station asked him to start immediately. With little more than the clothes on his back and his rental car, Stu started his first professional broadcasting job in California.
Crossing over from broadcast media to PR
After spending nearly a decade in the radio broadcast industry, Stu was ready to settle down, get married, buy a house, have kids, and “all that stuff you do as adults.”
He didn’t feel that the radio life aligned with his personal goals anymore.
“It’s such an insecure lifestyle, especially working in sports. There’s always someone willing to do it for less than you make, because they just want to be around the athletes or get press passes to games,” he says. “I was already past that and wasn’t interested in working cheaply just because the job looks glamorous on the outside.”
Stu didn’t know much about PR, but had a vague understanding of media relations, having been on the receiving end of pitches during his time producing talk shows.
Figuring he could brand himself as a media and broadcast expert with keen writing skills, he hoped someone would take a chance on him.
At the same time, O’Connor and Goldberg, a public relations agency in South Florida, had just earned the contract to represent the South Florida Super Bowl XXXIII Host Committee for the NFL championship that would take place in 1999.
When they received Stu’s application and saw his sports experience, they decided to bring him in as an account executive, working on the Super Bowl as well as some other big clients.
Through the connections he made working with the host committee on that campaign, he was eventually offered the opportunity to join an advertising agency in Fort Lauderdale, helping to bring life to a new PR division.
“They didn’t have a lot of PR experience, but knew it could be a revenue center for the agency, and they entrusted me to handle that,” he says. Stu ended up staying with that agency for 10 years, working his way up from PR director to vice president.
From account executive to entrepreneur
Although Stu was happy in his position at the agency, he was searching for more paths for advancement.
As he considered his next move, he received some unexpected advice from an old childhood friend that would drastically change his life.
His friend, Jeff, a partner at a prominent local accounting firm, reached out to Stu about potentially working with him. Stu figured he’d bring him on as a client at the agency where he worked. Jeff, however, had different ideas.
“He said to me, ‘Well what’s in it for you if I come to your agency? Do you get a piece of the monthly retainer or a promotion of some sort?’ And I must’ve looked a little puzzled because he went on to say, ‘I don’t want to help them, I want to help you,’” he says.
Around this time, the idea of the solopreneur was beginning to take hold in the PR and marketing communities, with big names like Peter Shankman and Seth Godin publishing content and building their own audiences.
It opened his eyes to the idea that you don't have to be somebody's account executive for the rest of your life.
“I didn’t have money in the bank or a fancy business plan. I wasn’t quite sure how this was all going to happen, but I knew I was determined to see it through and bet on myself,” he says.
A few weeks later, he put in his notice at work and set to work, flipping through his mental Rolodex and putting feelers out there for potential clients.
Stu picked up a few clients from the sports world fairly quickly, and made sure to give his old friend at the accounting firm a call.
“Looking back I feel stupid about it now, but Jeff saw that in me. He saw my future better than I did,” he says. “I knew I was tired of working for someone else, but I didn’t see the bigger picture until that conversation.
Maintaining a truly solo PR firm
Stu officially opened his firm in November of 2009 and has enjoyed being a solo PR pro ever since.
Since starting Impact Players, Stu has onboarded a variety of clients from various industries, including one of the largest healthcare systems in the country, the Southern Florida chapter of the Make-A-Wish, and more.
Despite taking a nontraditional path towards opening up shop, Stu has clearly always operated with an entrepreneurial spirit.
“I call it playing the long game,” he jokes. “When I went out to California, there was not one radio station I visited that had a job posted. But I was willing to make the effort, show up and have that conversation to form whatever relationship I could.”
That willingness to pick himself up by his bootstraps and hit the pavement is one he carries through into his client work today. “Even though I’m a senior-level strategist, I still do the grunt work. And I think a lot of people in the solo world do that and have that mindset of doing whatever it takes to get the job done.”
Stu has also intentionally stayed solo, opting not to grow a full-time team at Impact Players.
After spending a large portion of his career working for others, he enjoys the freedom it allows him to grow the business the way he sees fit without having others who directly depend on him for employment.
He is certainly no stranger to working with other solos and small businesses when his client work requires it, though.
“My niche is still media relations. I do a lot of crisis communications, and content production. So when my current clients ask me for things like website design, I’ll bring in programming experts from that world,” he says. “I can still oversee the entire project, write the content, and make branding and presentation decisions while being able to expand the scope of work for my clients.”