Clark Drums PR Beat

February 18, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — After a decade of working for others locally in the public relations and communications field, Craig Clark began a little experiment a few years back called Clark Communications. He thought he’d try being his own boss for six months.

After “trying it” for nearly three years, Clark realized he was pretty good at working for himself. So he moved his experiment from his home last fall to new downtown digs.

“I’ve always loved the work I’ve been charged with doing in the PR and marketing world, and I saw an opportunity for me to make a living doing what I love, while also being able to enjoy being a new dad, because I started the firm right before we had Evan,” said Clark of flying solo and being near his newborn son at the time.

“I’ve had some ups and downs with the employers I’ve worked for over the years due to bad timing, either economically driven or organizationally driven. I’ve just been in kind of the wrong spot at the wrong time, so I’ve been downsized a few times. But loving what I do, I had some opportunities to take on some client work. I saw an opportunity for me to continue to do what I love doing, while being my own boss,” he said.

Since Clark started the firm, Clark Communications has helped 70 clients in 11 states with their PR and marketing needs, and billings now top $300,000 — meaning his experiment isn’t quite as little today as it was back then. Despite the genuine success he has had so far, though, he still remembers the start-up as being a frightening proposition.

Craig Clark
Company: Clark Communications
Title: Principal
Age: 38
Birthplace: Davenport, Iowa
Residence: Rockford
Family: Wife, Alison; and son, Evan. Another child is due in July.
Business/community organizations: Press Club of GR, VSA Arts of GR, West Michigan Public Relations Society of America, Ad Club of GR, Local First, Economic Club of GR, and the Association for Corporate Growth.
Biggest career break: Having the opportunity to learn from Saint Mary’s Health Care Vice President Micki Benz.

“Oh, indeed. It took a lot of prayer and a lot of conversations with my wife and other trusted advisors who told me that you have to take a risk. As long as I had a little bit in savings and a fall-back plan if it didn’t work, then you gotta give it a try. I’m kind of an entrepreneur at heart, and this is a big chance for me,” he said.

“I’d be kidding myself if I said it wasn’t a tremendously scary time.”

But it was a lot less scary for him to move Clark Communications in November to 25 Ottawa Ave. NW, where Clark shares a third-floor space with Bird Design on the building’s skywalk level that leads to Van Andel Arena.

“I love it. I’ve worked and lived in and around downtown pretty much my entire career here in Grand Rapids, and I’ve always been a fan of the area. So the opportunity to be based here, not only for business purposes because it is a credibility builder when people see the address, but also just for the energy that is downtown,” he said

When asked what he considered to be the biggest break he has had in his successful career, Clark answered without hesitating that it was having a chance to work with Micki Benz. Benz, an Athena award winner and vice president of development at Saint Mary’s Health Care, hired Clark in December 1995. Along with Trisha Spaulding, he said she taught him the communications ropes and the ins and outs of life in the city.

“I moved to Grand Rapids in August of ’95 and I knew one friend from high school — that’s all I had in Grand Rapids. Other than knowing of Amway, Meijer and the Steelcase trucks, I didn’t know much about this town,” said Clark.

“Putting myself in the PR role at Saint Mary’s, I was exposed to a lot. Representing one of the largest employers in town, I needed to know the area, and Micki, with her relationships in town and her history here, taught me the value of networking, who’s who and how business gets done in Grand Rapids. Her effort has helped me ever since.”

Benz told the Business Journal that Clark has great instincts for public relations work and said that was a trait neither she nor anyone else could have taught him.

“He’s also organized, understands his clients, and above all, makes it fun. I’ll probably be working for him someday,” she said.

Clark was born 38 years ago in Davenport, Iowa. But he moved to Lansing at the age of 5 when his father, Paul, accepted a position as a regional sales director for a welding supply company based there. Being raised in Lansing helped Clark grow up green — Spartan green — as he graduated from Michigan State University.

“I follow the Spartans and the Detroit sports teams, even the Lions. For my Spartans, it’s become more of a challenge to follow, due to the inability of most people to obtain the Big Ten Network,” he said.

Clark lives in Rockford with Alison, his wife, and the aforementioned Evan, their soon-to-be 3-year-old son. But the family will be expanding soon because the Clarks are expecting another Clark this summer; Alison is scheduled to give birth in early July.

“We’re hoping for July 3rd. We’re going to Butterworth, and maybe we’ll get a window that overlooks the fireworks. We’re paying for it, so we might as well get a room with a view,” he said.

Alison worked in the administrative office at Mika Meyers, a local law firm, two days a week while raising Evan. She left the job recently, though, to stay home with their son full-time. At least that’s what Alison thinks. He, on the other hand, has a different idea.

“I consider her my first full-time employee. She is going to be doing work with me now. She thinks she is a full-time mom. I think she is my full-time employee, so there is a discussion to be had to determine what she is,” he said.

Although there isn’t any doubt Clark enjoys what he does for a living, most people who know him may not know that public relations wasn’t his first career choice.

“Well, my first dream, although a pipedream, was to be a drummer in a heavy metal band. Pretty much up until my graduation from high school, I saw myself buying a van and taking my drums out to L.A. to be the next Motley Crue or something like that. But after some consultations with my parents, I decided that probably wasn’t the wisest of moves,” he said.

It’s safe to write that buying a van, packing up the drums and heading to the West Coast isn’t in Clark’s immediate future, at least it wasn’t when the Business Journal spoke with him. But what he did see for the coming year was both a business and a family that will grow.

“I see a new kid coming into my life and a new intern for Clark Communications — no,” he said with a slight laugh.

“But I see a lot of growth in my business model. Sharing an office with Mark Bird of Bird Design, whom I collaborate with quite often, has kind of touched a nerve in the business community where people realize they can almost have a team assembled to meet their needs. … I can assemble a pretty deep team that would rival any traditional agency.”

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