Renzi Stone had a courtside seat in the real life class of public relations.
Stone, president and CEO of Oklahoma City public relations firm Saxum Communications, got his first lessons in PR and marketing watching his father build a chain of convenience stores in the Tulsa area and promoting them with his own professional basketball team.
Saxum is the 13th fastest growing firm in Oklahoma City for 2007, reporting a 118.98 percent growth in revenues on the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber’s Metro 50 list. Stone declined to discuss specific numbers, but the Metro 50 list ranks firms on percentage of revenue growth over the two previous years and requires 2006 operating revenues or sales of at least $1 million.
Although Saxum has a strong presence in the Tulsa market, serving an impressive list of clients including U.S. Cellular, WalMart, Flintco Cos. Inc., Crowe & Dunlevy, ARC Outdoors and Oklahoma City businessman Mart Green, who stepped in to aid troubled Oral Roberts University. Stone intends to bolster that presence by opening an office in Tulsa this year.
“Actually having a staff on the ground, whether it’s by acquisition or by finding the right person, is a goal for 2008,” he said.
In the four and a half years since Stone opened Saxum, he has grown the firm to 15 full-time employees.
Standing 6’9” and cited as one of the state’s best dressed business people, Stone is easy to spot in a crowded room. But, he also brings his confident stature to his efforts to secure economic sector leaders in the state as clients.
He attributed the growth of Saxum to his ability to “adapt to things and to see opportunities and not be afraid to reach out and grab them.”
“A lot of the PR firms in the country are specialist practices. They say ‘We do entertainment, or we do development, or we do health care or we do oil and gas.’ Our strategy is very succinct. We want to own geography,” he said. “We look at the economy of Oklahoma, and we look at who the biggest players are in each sector, and we have been very calculating in taking on clients who lead those sectors.”
Stone’s ties to Tulsa also gave him an early predisposition to enter the PR and marketing world.
While attending Jenks schools, Stone watched his father, Larry Stone, who had been national marketing director for Citgo, begin acquiring a chain of convenience store holdings, beginning with 10-12 stores owned by Pemco.
In 1988, Larry Stone headed a group of investors who bought the Continental Basketball Association’s Savannah, Ga., franchise and moved it to Tulsa, where the team was called the Fast Breakers. As the convenience store chain grew, he rebranded the stores as Fast Break to take advantage of the promotional opportunities.
But by 1991, after acquiring 7-11 and building a chain of 111 stores in Oklahoma and five other states, the operating firm, LMS Holding Co., was forced to file for protection from creditors under Chapter 11.
Renzi Stone credits his father, who now works in residential real estate and real estate development in Annapolis, Md., with instilling his early entrepreneurial and marketing spirit.
“I mean, the guy bought a CBA team to promote his stores,” Stone said. “I don’t know what better PR you can have.”
Stone, a 2000 University of Oklahoma graduate with a history degree, a Rhodes scholar finalist and a three-year starter on the OU basketball team, also looks to his college years for building the character that he brings to the marketing world.
As a history major, “that liberal arts background gave me the ability to think critically, to do research and to evaluate things that happened in the past and then analyze that history,” Stone said. “History gives the perspective and background that has really served me well in PR.”
But it was his basketball training under now Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson, including a run to the Sweet Sixteen in 1999, that formed his business outlook.
“I always tell people the best class I took at OU was basketball, because basketball is really a microcosm of how I run my business,” he said. “My business is about teamwork. It’s about people understanding what role they play.”
Taking the Challenge
Stone immediately moved into marketing with Learfield Sports, which owned the marketing rights for OU and Oklahoma State University athletics, where he introduced the idea for the OU promotion Sooner Fan Fest, and then opened an Oklahoma City office providing research and data analysis for PR firm Corvus Communications
While working for Corvus, Stone recognized a business opportunity when he saw a gap in the public relations services in the Oklahoma City market.
As he would complete a research product, “there was always great information, and the client had a PR goal to use the data, but I looked around and there was no PR firm to help them get that information out,” Stone said. “And when I say there was no PR firm, what I really mean is there were a lot of individuals doing PR but there were very few firms that had more than 2-3 people.”
“I looked around here and thought, ‘Where is the real creative energy of teamwork?’ and I just didn’t see it,” he said. “I saw that immediately as an opportunity to grow a segment in the economy here.”
Stone created Saxum in 2003. ?