In Memory: Chuck Schnake, A Lifetime of Achievement
By K.J. WEBB
PUBLIC RELATIONS LEGEND: Schnake Turnbo Frank founder Chuck Schnake is a man of many interests, as the cartoon in the background attests. Schnake is an avid St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan.
GTR Newspapers photo
Editor’s Note: Tulsa public relations professional Chuck Schnake, 78, founder of Schnake Turnbo Frank PR, passed away June 27. His service was held July 7, 2009 at the First United Methodist Church. This article was printed in the Mid-August 2008 Newspapers and is reprinted here in his honor.
Throughout the region, the words “public relations” are synonymous with the name Schnake Turnbo Frank. Schnake Turnbo Frank PR was founded in Tulsa in 1970 by Charles “Chuck” Schnake, and nearly four decades has grown to become the largest public relations firm in Oklahoma with clients across the Southwest.
Chuck Schnake, chairman emeritus of the firm, is a unique and rare blend of humility and confidence. As a humble man he didn’t necessarily assume that his firm would reach the stature it has. However, as a confident man he is not all that surprised at the growth and success of the public relations firm he founded 38 years ago. It takes self-confidence to start a business and make it successful, Schnake says. “Self confidence comes from a feeling that you can do as well as others. Saying to yourself, “I may not do it but I think I can,” and then giving it all you’ve got. That is self confidence,” he says.
Schnake also points out the importance of having passion for what one does. He recalls being a student at the University of Missouri at Columbia. “I was studying journalism at the time,” he says, “and a friend of mine suggested I take a class in public relations. I took the class and realized I really had a passion for it. It utilizes all forms of media and has broader applications. I thought it was, to use a word we used back then, neat.”
Schnake’s passion for public relations did not wane, even when he was serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. “I read the Public Relations Journal during that time,” he says. “I didn’t want to lose touch with it.”
He didn’t lose touch with the profession. Schnake settled in Tulsa and was working in corporate communications for an oil company when he was faced with a decision that would result in what is today Schnake Turnbo Frank PR. “My employer merged with Sun Oil and they wanted me to move to Philadelphia. I had no plans to do that. I liked Tulsa and wanted to stay. So I did.”
At that point the next order of business was to find a job. Schnake says, “I looked for a job but couldn’t find one so I started my own firm. My first client was Tulsa Junior College and it has been a client ever since.” When asked if he had a particular business strategy he used when founding his business, Schnake replies, “Strategy? I picked up the phone and called Al Phillips, the president of Tulsa Junior College, talked to him and got a part-time deal at $400 a month, so I was in business.” Schnake’s approach to growing his business was simple, straightforward and successful: “I concentrated on doing good work. If you do good work, the phone is going to ring. I didn’t make a business plan and I didn’t worry about growing the business. If you work hard and do good work, that’s going to happen anyway.”
As the business grew, Schnake hired more employees. He says, “I’ve always been conscious of getting good people who have a passion for the business, people who love to come to the office every day and feel energized by the work.” He mentions creativity: “I have so much appreciation for our employees and how they will come in and say, “I have an idea” or “I wonder what would happen if.” I love that! Ideas and creativity are the essence of the business. Fun should be too, and we have a fun atmosphere at Schnake Turnbo Frank. We take it seriously, but we’re not overly serious.” It’s an appealing work environment philosophy.
Schnake’s philosophy about public relations is based on and revolves around ethics, “We have never represented any client that we felt was unethical or that we would be ashamed of. Part of our function with our clients is to ask them, “are you behaving?” Organizations have relationships with the public. They have to relate with people and opinions will always be plus or minus. In order to keep the relationship going you have to have bigger plusses than minuses. You have to behave. The way to make this happen is through words and deeds.” He mentions “spin doctors” and “influence peddlers,” “There are some in the industry who will try and get any sort of junk into the news,” Schnake says. A lot of people think that these “spin doctors” and ‘influence peddlers” are practicing good PR because they think the role of PR is to get stuff in the paper for their clients. This is not the case. The basics of the business are: you have to understand your client’s needs, know your audiences, know the messages and know how to send them “not just try to get it in the media anywhere you can.”
When asked what three things are essential to succeeding in public relations, Schnake mentions listening, creativity and self-confidence. “You have to develop the ability to listen well,” he says. “You have to do this or you won’t understand the audiences you are dealing with. When I was in the Army they taught us about radios. They transmit and receive. When a radio was on transmit, it couldn’t receive. Just like people – if you’re talking all the time you’re not learning a thing.” He continues, “Creativity and having ideas are the essence of the business. It’s not only important to have ideas – you have to be willing to express them “even if you think everyone else will think it’s dumb. If your idea doesn’t take off, put it on a list and maybe it will come in handy in the future.” Underlying everything is self-confidence. “Without self-confidence you won’t succeed. I’m not talking about an ego trip. I’m talking about having the attitude that you’re as good as the next guy, you’ll give it your best shot and you’re not going to worry about failing. Be self-confident, do good work and you’ll succeed. And along the way, maintain your passion for what you do.”
Schnake’s passion for public relations, his self-confidence and approach has resulted in tremendous success and numerous accolades and prestigious awards over the years. Two stand out, however. In the early 1990s, Schnake received The Public Relations Society of America () highest national honor. He was inducted into the College of Fellows. One would think that this is as far as one could go in receiving professional recognition. Not for Schnake. In June of this year, the Tulsa Chapter of announced it was renaming its Lifetime Achievement Award the “Charles D. Schnake Lifetime Achievement Award.” It’s a distinct honor to be named the standard to which others” achievement is measured. As Schnake says, “Do good work and you’ll succeed.”