When Brian Chandler tried to land a few more clients for his business, the public relations specialist naturally turned to two of his favorite pastimes: boating and fishing.
“I said I’d really like to start some kind of business in the marine industry, boating and fishing, I just thought, ‘OK, I like doing these things; how great would it be to work in the industry as well?”’ Chandler recalls.
“We already had a solid book of business for the Virginia/Mid-Atlantic region. I thought we could grow the company even more if I could do work with a passion that I knew and could talk about intelligently,” he said.
A decade later, Chandler’s firm, Commonwealth PR, has built a client base that regularly includes marine companies, boat builders, charter fishing companies and similar businesses. Customers over the years include the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), Barker Boatworks, BoatUS, Sea Tow, Shakespeare Marine and Sportsman Boats.
He also has a hand in the industry itself, working with the ASA on the Senate’s passage of the federal Modern Fish Act. And earlier this year, he was appointed to the board of directors of the national Marine Marketers of America.
Such involvements have rubbed off on his own fishing and boating pursuits, which in turn, Chandler said, introduced him to both a professional network and the fishing community in Richmond.
“Now I’m definitely more informed about different things in the industry – engines, boat handling or piloting, conditions. For me, it made me a safer boater,” he said. “Over the last six years, we’ve probably worked with half a dozen clients in the industry, and some of them are still full-time clients that we work with today.”
It all started when Chandler decided to combine work and pleasure after attending a workshop on helping clients with social media. He said he stepped away from it, wanting to grow his own online presence in a concerted effort to appeal to the marine industry.
“I changed my profile to say, ‘My tweets are 50-50 PR/marketing and saltwater fishing and boating,'” he said. “Literally overnight, I more than doubled my followers.”
He also began following some of those firms on Twitter, including industry giant the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which turned out to be looking to hire a PR firm to help promote a personal boating safety campaign for a sister association.
“We responded to their RFP and instead of our normal suit and tie and formal
photos for headshots, I had a photo of me holding a big red drum (fish) and I had the team send photos of them in the water,” he said. “They responded and said, ‘We like your proposal, it was definitely made with our industry in mind,’ and they got that account.” From there it started to spread.”
These days, his firm’s five-person client list includes two full-time marine clients, as well as others who visit the firm regularly for contract work. Despite the firm’s inland location, Chandler said businesses in fishing hot spots like Florida and California are common among them.
“We’re hearing from them that they were initially a little skeptical of this PR firm in Richmond knowing their industry. But after five minutes of talking to me, they say, “He’s got it. He understands what we are trying to do and knows our industry very well. It was really great to get that feedback.”
Growing up in Dublin in southwest Virginia, Chandler, 47, began fly-fishing nearby streams and nearby Claytor Lake State Park. In college, the Emory and Henry graduate said he got into saltwater fishing with a friend who had a boat in South Carolina.
Today, the married father of two fishes mostly inshore, though he said he also does some offshore fishing. He owns a 20-foot Key West fishing boat that he runs on the Chesapeake Bay, and in Richmond he frequents popular fishing spots along the James River to the Wall and the Mayo Bridge, where he said he became part of a fishing community.
Noting other locals who get together to fish for striper and shad that head upriver to Richmond from the bay in the spring, Chandler said, “They’re a bunch of guys that go down right at the floodwaters, right at the bridge on 14 th street, and it’s like a community. They share tips; we text each other like “The bite is today!”
“They’ll have campfires and cook fresh fish right there on the banks of the James. There’s a really neat tight-knit community here in Richmond when it comes to stripers and shad and now the smallmouth bass you can catch at Pony Pasture.”
While he has found ways to integrate fishing into his work, Chandler said it also provides him with a much-needed break from the daily grind.
“It’s just an opportunity for me to get away from the daily activities of work and life and be in nature,” he said. “Whether you’re on a boat or ashore fishing, it just helps you calm down and brings peace and stability.”
This is the latest installment in our Downtime series, which focuses on what business people do outside the office. If you, a colleague, or someone you know in town has a unique way to spend your time off the clock, send suggestions to [email protected] For previous installments of Downtime, click here.