VOL. 130 | NO. 208 | Monday, October 26, 2015
SMALL BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT
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Caissa Public Strategy Works Behind The Scenes for Clients
By LANCE WIEDOWER
The word public, by its definition, seems to say out in the open.
For Caissa Public Strategy, that’s not how it works. In fact, the Memphis-based firm likes to work in the shadows, so to speak, where the agency helps its clients grow and protect reputations.
“Nobody knows really what we do,” said Brian Stephens, who founded the firm in 2010 along with partner Paige Walkup.
He’s clear to point out that Caissa is not a marketing agency.
Brian Stephens of Caissa Public Strategy: “We’re not a marketing shop, we’re a reputation shop. It’s about growing and protecting people’s reputations.”
(James David Pittman)
“Somehow we keep growing,” he said. “We find it’s best to be on the back of scenes instead of the front.”
Caissa is a strategic communications and crisis management firm that works to get its clients wins. That can include political campaigns, as Caissa was active in the recent Memphis elections. It managed or assisted in the winning campaigns of Memphis City Council incumbents Kemp Conrad, Reid Hedgepeth and Bill Morrison as well as council newcomer Philip Spinosa.
Caissa also worked with council candidates Berlin Boyd, Frank Colvett and Worth Morgan who advanced to Nov. 19 runoff elections for three other council seats.
The business’ approach includes relationship building, strategic communication, detailed assessment of data and tactical planning. It’s a path that isn’t common in Memphis, Stephens said.
Caissa’s work goes beyond the political sphere. For example, when the Mississippi River levees breached following the 2011 floods, there was a push to not rebuild. Caissa was part of a coalition to encourage Congress to rebuild the levees. The firm worked with similar agencies in neighboring states to communicate with local officials.
Caissa also was involved last year in the city’s pension reform battle. The firm organized research and gained an understanding of the financial pitfalls so it could help educate the public and elected officials about how the local tax base could be affected by potential adjustments.
When Stephens started Caissa it was on the heels of being involved in some successful startups, as well as some that weren’t quite so. He was an attorney and had completed some work on political campaigns. Offers began coming to work in other public strategy shops.
The problem? He and his wife loved living in Memphis, but he didn’t see any firms doing the work locally.
“People don’t understand it, but when they have an issue, they call us.”
“I began asking why we don’t have a public strategy shop in Memphis,” Stephens said. “In D.C., there are 200. There are even two in Louisville. Down here, we didn’t have one. Do I have to move to do what I love?”
Because the industry isn’t a well-known commodity locally, there is some natural confusion about what Caissa does for clients.
“People don’t understand it, but when they have an issue, they call us,” Stephens said.
Caissa has grown to 11 employees. Stephens is always on the lookout for new talent, particularly younger people the firm can train in the craft.
The political roots are undeniable. Stephens previously served as the Shelby County Election Commissioner. He recently was appointed to lead and facilitate Mayor-elect Jim Strickland’s transition team discussions.
In an effort to broaden the business’ scope while keeping with the mission of maintaining a client’s reputation, Caissa has launched The Rep Shop, a platform that can help control online reputations.
Think a restaurant or local retailer that can see business harmed in a big way by a handful of bad Yelp or Google reviews. The Rep Shop platform gives the user the opportunity to monitor their online reputation.
“We were already doing some of this for clients, but we wanted to build this model for them,” Stephens said. “We think that’s the future of where we’re growing. A lot of companies don’t even know they’re being judged.”
The Rep Shop, therepshop.com, is a component of Caissa Public Strategy. Beta testing was completed in the spring and it’s been live since April.
And about his firm’s reputation? Stephens seems to like to work in the shadows, where the client knows his or her best interest is the focus.
“We’re not a marketing shop, we’re a reputation shop,” he said. “It’s about growing and protecting people’s reputations.”