Scott Baradell is the founder and CEO of the Dallas-based, award winning PR firm Idea Grove.
Why did you start the business, what was the catalyzing event?
I had been a journalist and then a corporate PR executive before I started Idea Grove in 2005, when I was 39. I had left corporate PR because I wanted to be my own boss—not necessarily to own a business, but simply to have more freedom in the work I did.
It started with a blog. I wrote my first blog post about PR in March 2005; this was early days for blogging and not many marketers were doing it. I didn’t know much about SEO at the time, but suddenly I was getting phone calls and emails from people who wanted to work with me. It turns out my blog put me at the top of Google results for terms like “Dallas PR firms” — over giant agencies with Dallas offices like Edelman and FleishmanHillard. The business flowed in and the rest is history. I realized then the value of being a step or two ahead of the game. It’s what built Idea Grove, and what still fuels us.
How did you find your first customer?
Having been on the corporate side and having never worked for an agency, I didn’t have a lot of relationships that I could immediately tap into for work. The first customer I found was a company called BancTec (now Exela Technologies), a midsize business process outsourcing provider. I landed them because a creative agency that I had used in my last corporate job hired me to be a freelance writer and I worked on BancTec’s trade show materials and other content. The head of marketing liked my writing and it led to Idea Grove’s first PR retainer. Within a few months I had a full plate of retainer clients. The business stayed that way pretty much for the next five years, when I finally decided to take the plunge, lease office space and begin hiring employees to scale into a true agency.
Describe your first office/location.
Initially I subleased four cubicles at a small advertising firm in Carrollton in 2011. That only lasted for three months, when I needed to hire employee No. 5! We then signed a year-long lease at 14800 Quorum Drive in Addison. I was too nervous to sign a three-year lease, but finally did the next year. Over the eight years we were in that building, we expanded the space twice until finally we were at 6,800 square feet.
What’s the most creative thing you did to get your business started, or kept it going through a tough time?
That’s a good question. We focus so much on creativity in our work at Idea Grove, but when I think of those big decisions and key moments, it was never about creativity. It was always about risk—being bold and decisive. Creative minds can get cluttered; decisive minds require clarity. I’m naturally creative and I had to learn the hard way that taking too long to make a decision hurt the business and made employees unhappy. For example, I had originally built the agency around content creation, hiring very senior writers and more junior account people. But ultimately I needed to change that structure because it didn’t scale well for us. I realized that ripping off the Band-Aid was just sometimes what you had to do.
What’s something quirky or superstitious you do as a CEO?
I have many little OCD habits you either don’t want to hear about or I don’t want to talk about! But one thing that began happening from the time I signed that first lease is that for the first time in my life, I began having trouble sleeping. I’d wake up in the middle of the night worrying about something—which turned out to be nothing most of the time. There were long periods in which this happened literally every night. Among other things, hiring John Lacy as my president and COO in 2019 has helped me to get much better sleep!
What was your last job working for someone else? What was your favorite day job?
I was a corporate officer at Belo Corp., the Texas newspaper and TV company, when it was a $1.5 billion business. I was vice president of corporate communications. A few years after I left, the business was broken up. My favorite day job? Probably my first year as a reporter at the Dallas Times Herald. I relocated to work there, had never lived in a city as big as Dallas, and worked with a lot of other young journalists who had just been brought in. It was the last hiring spree for that newspaper before it was bought by Belo Corp. and shut down at the end of 1991.
Where did you come up with the name for your company?
I had never worked for a PR agency, but I had been a client of PR agencies. So I looked at what I thought PR firms were missing when, as a client, I hired them: Ideas.
It seemed like so many PR firms were more interested in presenting themselves as buttoned-up and almost lawyer-like, even down to the names on the doors: Edelman. FleishmanHillard. Weber Shandwick. Ketchum. Hill+Knowlton. It went on and on.
Hence a name that separated myself from other agencies at the time: Idea Grove.
It’s since become far more common for PR agencies to have names like ours, so I think I was a step ahead on that one.