Start Your Engines: Talking Downtown Indy and #PRSAICON 2016 With Bob Schultz, APR

March 2, 2016

Bob Schultz, APR, is the senior vice president of marketing, communications and events for Downtown Indy, Inc., a private, nonprofit organization focused on improving downtown Indianapolis. He’s responsible for developing and implementing the organization’s strategic marketing plan to position the downtown area as a vibrant, safe environment in which to live, learn, work and play.

Previously, Schultz was the vice president of Borshoff Advertising & Public Relations, where he worked with organizations such as Eli Lilly and Co., WGU Indiana, University of Notre Dame and the 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee. He also had a 10-year run serving Visit Indy as its primary marketing communications director from 1999–2008.

Schultz is also an adjunct marketing professor at Butler University and IUPUI. He and his wife, Diane, are both lifelong Indy residents and have three children, ages 12, 18 and 20. He is the local host committee chair for the 2016 PRSA International Conference, which will take place in Indianapolis on Oct. 22–25.

Here, he discusses social media best practices, strategic storytelling tips, the 2016 International Conference, and the best part about living and working in Indianapolis.

What was your dream job as a child?

I wanted to be a game show host. After that, it was a cook on a cruise ship.

How did you first become interested in public relations and get your start? I read that you were a busker early on.

I have always been drawn to urban experiences, tourism, events and festivals and knew I wanted to help organize and promote them (or perform at them). Working in tourism and civic promotions seemed like a natural path.  

What are some challenges (and exciting things) that you face in your day-to-day role at Downtown Indy?

I’ve spent most of my professional life working for nonprofits and have learned how to do a lot with a little. What’s exciting about nonprofit work, though, is finding for-profit partners who want access to your audience and who find connections with your brand. I just love “making deals” and coming up with meaningful sponsorships and co-branding opportunities — and budget-relieving funds, too!

On a day-to-day level, another challenge (and some excitement) is the balancing of management duties with the need to still be tactical. As I have advanced in my career, I need to be the professional focused more on strategy — but I still want to be right out there in the middle of event execution, interacting with media and sponsor activations. 

What are some best practices when engaging on-the-go consumers with so many digital stimulants and social media platforms out there?

I always tell my students that word-of-mouth is still king. This is the greatest benefit of social media — that so many of these digital tools allow the consumer/public to provide testimonials and engagement at micro and macro levels. So a best practice, for me, is to live in the majority: In the nonprofit world, I encourage my teams to fish where the most fish are (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, mobile sites) and not get too hung up on the latest and newest medium. At the end of the day, it’s not what we’re saying about us but what they are saying to each other — as long as we’re invited into the conversation.

What are the challenges of reaching new audiences and those of various backgrounds, cultures and languages?

I’ve always been told “a friend to everyone is a true friend of no one.” Just as we learned in Communications 101, targeting your key audiences is paramount. We must be laser-focused here and stay true to our messaging and engagement. In doing so, however, our language must be inclusive and sensitive to diversity.   

What are the keys to implementing strong, strategic storytelling?

Know your narrative, as everyone likes a good story — there has to be some level of conflict, with a protagonist and an antagonist. The story is really a problem that is being solved with a payoff at the end — ideally with a lesson to learn from, too. Finally, we can’t be afraid to paint a picture — to use great words and images with a healthy dose of passion and a touch of Hollywood.

How would you describe your leadership style and what makes a good leader?

I asked my staff to help me answer this — and they used words such as “collaborative,” “relational” and “fun.” I like those words. I don’t take myself too seriously but would rather take what we’re doing more seriously. I love to see others succeed. And I tell my staff to never accept an assignment, unless it is clear what is expected of you — and then exceed those expectations.

What advice do you have for new professionals looking to break into public relations?

Be inquisitive and ask questions. Next, be an excellent writer and well versed on current events. Finally, create a personal “board of directors” or engage 3-5 professionals you admire who are doing similar work as what interests you. Ask them to be candid with you, review your résumé and help you prep for interviews. And ask them to join you in the hunt — everyone loves a good hunt.

What are some trends you see on the horizon for marketing and communications in the coming year?

Clearly, mobile and cloud-based technology reign supreme. But no matter what, the consumer or public must be at the center of all we do. It is less about us and all about them. Engagement and activation [are important]. And don’t be afraid of measurement. Metrics are our friends. Boldness will pay off.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned so far in your communications career?

Don’t be afraid of taking chances. Everyone makes mistakes. If you make mistakes, then own them, apologize for them and state how you’ll make it better or right the next time.

How would you describe the PR marketplace in Indianapolis? And what can attendees expect at the 2016 PRSA International Conference in Indianapolis?

I would describe it as positive, well respected and diverse.

USA Today readers have named Indy as the No. 1 convention city in America — prepare to leave uttering two phrases over and over: “I had no idea…” and “Man, they’re so nice there in Indy.”

What’s the best part about living and working in Indianapolis?

Some call Indy a big, little city where there are only two or three degrees of separation instead of six. With this being the case, we’re a place where you can become a maker or a producer — where if you have an idea with passion behind it, then you can be the next big thing at any age, stage or position.

Beyond that, I love that I can live in the house my wife grew up in and we can send our kids to the same schools we went to with such a hometown feel — all while having access to big-city activities and outstanding sporting events envied by most super cities in America, and in the most affordable, walkable and connected place in the country. I can’t wait to show it off.

Getting to Know… Bob Schultz, APR

Favorite book?

Fiction: “Pelican Brief” by John Grisham; Nonfiction: “Holy Sweat” by Tim Hansel

Favorite leisure activity?

Watching the Colts, learning about wine, Sunday crossword puzzles, and binge watching old shows on Netflix with my family (just finished “Parks and Recreation”)

Best piece of advice ever received?

“Look forward, not backward.”

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


Christopher William Grindrod says:

Excellent! I love Indy, and the career advice was spot on!

March 11, 2016

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