ANALYSIS: Profile - Schneider: easy rider with a colorful bent

If you were at the motorcycle rally in Sturgis, SD, several weeks ago, you may have seen Joan Schneider tooling around on a Harley-Davidson Road King with her boyfriend. But you may not have guessed that someone who fits in so well with the biker crowd is equally at ease in a conference room with some of the nation’s top consumer and business-to-business clients.

If you were at the motorcycle rally in Sturgis, SD, several weeks ago, you may have seen Joan Schneider tooling around on a Harley-Davidson Road King with her boyfriend. But you may not have guessed that someone who fits in so well with the biker crowd is equally at ease in a conference room with some of the nation’s top consumer and business-to-business clients.

If you were at the motorcycle rally in Sturgis, SD, several weeks

ago, you may have seen Joan Schneider tooling around on a

Harley-Davidson Road King with her boyfriend. But you may not have

guessed that someone who fits in so well with the biker crowd is equally

at ease in a conference room with some of the nation’s top consumer and

business-to-business clients.



Then again, even Schneider & Associates’ conference room has a different

style than one might expect. The room, which Schneider helped design,

embodies her own energy and creative spirit, down to its teal walls,

apricot carpeting and brightly colored mint green, yellow, orange and

aqua leather chairs that surround the conference table.



’We re-covered the chairs in different colors because people are in

different moods on different days,’ explains Schneider while attempting

to eat an oversized slice of pizza. ’We do a lot of brainstorming in

here and come up with our campaigns, and we need cold air, spirit and

energy.’



Leader of the pack



As president and founder of Schneider & Associates, Schneider leads the

16th biggest agency in Boston, with 1998 income of nearly dollars 2.2

million and a client roster that includes Welch’s, Reebok, CVS and

Wyndham International.



Founded in 1980, the 22-person shop specializes in launch PR, and recent

campaigns include the opening of 50 CVS stores across the nation.



Not surprisingly, Schneider’s unconventional conference room has spawned

some rather unconventional ideas. In preparation for the launch of

Wyndham’s new flagship art-deco hotel in downtown Boston, Schneider

dressed up her employees in 1930s garb, rented limousines and had them

visit office buildings and hand out information on the hotel.



While Schneider’s creativity and enthusiasm has benefited countless

clients, it took several years before she found an environment conducive

to it.



After graduating from Boston University’s College of Communication, she

went to work as assistant to the president at Marvin & Leonard, an

advertising agency with a PR division.



After two years, she moved on to Baybank Harvard Trust, where she

learned that even an ad/PR manager in a bank wasn’t supposed to get too

crazy.



Schneider showed up at work one day in red shoes, and was told by her

boss, ’We don’t wear red shoes to work.’ He apparently didn’t appreciate

her retort - ’I wouldn’t expect you to wear red shoes to work’ - and was

sent home to change.



’It was a much more confined environment than I was comfortable in,’

says Schneider.



Fed up with banking, she then took a job as information services manager

at WBZ-TV, a position that she says was much more up her alley.



After a year she was lured away by WBZ’s PR firm, Newsome & Company,

where she became VP of the consumer group.



But Schneider quickly grew tired of working at what was New England’s

largest PR agency at the time, because while the firm handled both IR

and consumer PR, they didn’t understand how to do the latter.



A turning point came when Schneider went home for Thanksgiving in

1979.



Sitting around the dinner table with her relatives, she mentioned that

she wanted to start her own business. Her parents and grandmother were

all entrepreneurs themselves. She found a receptive audience as her

father asked how much money she would need to start her own business and

Schneider, not having done any research into the matter, replied that

dollars 5,000 would do the trick. Her father immediately wrote her a

check and told her to quit her job on Monday.



A week later, on her 30th birthday, Schneider started Schneider &

Associates, working out of her sun porch at her home in the Boston

suburb of Newton.



’I never thought it was going to happen so quickly,’ she recalls.



When Schneider bought a copy machine for dollars 2500, however, she

realized that dollars 5,000 wasn’t enough to start a business, so she

had to go back to her father for an additional loan.



’I should have asked him for dollars 25,000,’ says Schneider.



Early clients included WBZ-TV, Channel 7 and Baybank. Schneider also

lays claim to having launched the world’s first parking condominium from

her sun porch. But with neighbors complaining as FedEx trucks clogged

the streets of her residential neighborhood, she knew her time working

from home was limited.



’The crowning moment came when I got home and found press kits

everywhere, including on my bed,’ says Schneider.



Schneider & Associates became a niche firm that specialized in real

estate PR. It found success promoting each new development as having a

brand, an image and a charity, at least until the real estate market

imploded in 1989.



The agency dropped from a staff of 23 to six, and Schneider realized she

needed to make a drastic change for her business to survive. She

enrolled in the Owner President Management Program at Harvard Business

School in 1989, a ’crash MBA’ that covered management, marketing,

organizational development and negotiation.



’I went into Harvard a creative person who had a business, and I came

out of Harvard feeling like I was a business person who was creative,’

says Schneider.



Maintaining momentum



She re-invented the agency as a generalist PR firm with a consumer group

and a corporate communications group. She says she also got rid of the

’rake theory’ of management - where all her employees reported to her -

and appointed practice leaders.



Winning two projects for Dunkin’ Donuts propelled the firm into the

consumer space, where she has managed to thrive. The firm is approaching

its 20th anniversary and will soon start planning the celebration, which

promises to be ’memorable.’



Has Schneider’s excitement waned since the days of red shoe

incident?



Not a chance. ’Every day, you have to press yourself to be better and

you have to encourage your staff and mentor your colleagues,’ says

Schneider.



’What I like about PR is that you get paid to come to work and learn a

million different things.’ While wearing whatever color shoes she

wants.



JOAN SCHNEIDER, President, Schneider & Associates



1972: Assistant to the president, Marvin & Leonard PR division



1974: PR/ad manager, Baybank Harvard Trust



1976: Information services manager, WBZ-TV



1977: VP, Newsome & Company



1980-present: President, Schneider & Associates.



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