Starting Saxum

In life, we all have moments which are unforgettable. Days that are seared into our memories, holding a place of importance to be cherished and easily recalled. Not every day can live in cognitive permanence and these times must be contrasted with the majority of our lives that pass us by like a next-morning dream, wholly forgettable.

How can we fight for more unforgettable days?

There have been few unforgettable days on this big adventure as we travel the world, but I wanted to share the memories and feelings I had 15 years ago today; July 29, 2003, the day Saxum Strategic Communications, LLC was born. I had just bought my first house, quit my second job and turned 25 years old. Whatever I lacked for in academic and real-world knowledge, I made up for with self-confidence. An inflated sense of self is dangerous and I’m fortunate to have also possessed a deep desire to make a difference, do my homework, strive for excellence and to move like I was being chased. It’s what we all call “a learning mindset” today.

I felt a strong sense of purpose in starting Saxum. I named the company ‘Saxum’ because it’s Latin for ‘large stone’. If a client called and I wasn’t in the office, I wanted them to know Saxum was about a team, not some individual who had limitations.

As I look back on 15 years, I also feel an incredible sense of accomplishment. Not for the money made, the accolades received or the growth of the business (yes, those feel nice too), but for the type of culture we created around our values of brave, original, lively and driven. Values are the best ongoing tools we have to scale the business.

The most rewarding accomplishment is when your fingerprints are all over the success of others.

Saxum’s 4th-anniversary celebration in Tulsa – 2007

Stocking the YMCA Oklahoma City Santa Store with gifts – 2012

OKC Litter Blitz – 2017

We have provided a paid internship experience for 135 interns and graduate fellows in our 15 years. On a regular basis, I receive notes from people who have interned with us, gushing about the transformative experience and how it impacted their future. Our company has worked with more than 400 companies and organizations. Each client is unique but they all possess the same challenge to us; help us solve a marketing or communication problem. Whether they are small or large – we’ve worked with all kinds of clients – I have taken great pride that our team knows that we have to show value or we get fired. Have we nailed it each time? Of course not. But we have fought hard to help our clients achieve their goals, I know that for certain. No clients equals no Saxum, as I’m prone to say.

A team trip to Las Vegas – 2007

Saxum Oklahoma City open house (our old office) in 2011

The ribbon cutting of our new headquarters in Oklahoma City – 2018

We’ve donated over $1.5MM in agency time since 2009 to non-profits as part of our Step Up program. Instead of haphazardly giving our time away for free, we’ve focused our efforts and treated these grant recipients as bona fide clients with the expectation of nothing in return.

The people are why I come to work each day. These people fall into four distinct categories.

  1. A total of 225 team members have worked for Saxum at one point in their lives, some of which still call it home. Agency life is transient and people move on, most on great terms. A big thank you to anyone who has worked at Saxum in the past. You are part of our success even though you’ve moved on.
  2. There are countless partners, both service providers like lawyers and accountants as well as freelancers and partner agencies. Our success is impossible without their professionalism and commitment to our values and clients. There is no better feeling than a former employee becoming a contractor or finding that perfect agency that complements our work. The future of agency work is in partnerships to find the perfect mix of talent to serve clients.
  3. There is the family of people who we work with. The spouses or significant others, children and even extended family. When you are employed somewhere, you spend the majority of your waking hours away from those you love. I’ve always been grateful for the support shown by the family of our team members as we ask for people’s very best in a challenging and changing environment.
  4. Finally, and most importantly, there are our current team members, now numbering 42 full-time employees and eight interns or graduate fellows who are the lifeblood of the organization. Their loyalty and sense of duty is inspirational. For my current teammates, you have my deepest and most sincere gratitude.

One of our first websites – 2004

Our website today – 2018

Back to July 29, 2003.

It was hot. I remember because I had a suit and tie on [ed note: I wore a suit to work Monday through Friday until I was 35].

That morning, our papers were filed at the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office. Saxum was official. I remember feeling grown up with a mix of nervousness and excitement; the perfect formula for growth. My first meeting of the day was with a gentleman I’d been networking with who was building student housing in Norman, Oklahoma. He told me to “stop by” which is never a great sign. I went ahead and dropped in.

Pat McCoy was at his desk in jeans and a blue polo shirt, papers everywhere on his desk.

I hope he takes me seriously, I thought.

“Now tell me what it is you do?” Pat asked hurriedly. This was going to be a short meeting.

So I told him what we do. I wish I had it recorded because I’m certain it was a mess. I also remember my pitch was really long because half way through he clearly stopped listening, fidgeting with something behind stacks of paper and books.

I don’t think his air conditioning is on, I thought with sweat running down my back.

All of a sudden Pat snapped back to attention and I heard a loud rrrrriiiiiippppp.

Pat handed over a check made out to Saxum Strategic Communications, LLC for $1,000.

“I have no idea what you just said to me, Renzi. But I like you, I think you are smart and I think you can help me grow my business,” Pat said with a smile that told me the meeting was over. I needed to get out of there before he changed his mind.

I walked out of Pat’s office into the hot Oklahoma sun with the confidence like I’d been doing this for years. I knew right then that Saxum would make it. On day one, Saxum made $1,000. Our first employee, me, was determined to earn the money that had been entrusted to the company.

Each day in our lives does not have to be memorable. However, when days come around where something meaningful happens, take a moment to make a mental picture and pause for gratitude. These are the moments where our dreams are made real and it is worth taking the time to celebrate. Happy 15th birthday, Saxum.  

– Renzi

5 thoughts on “Starting Saxum

  1. As one of those 225 who has had the privilege of working for Saxum, I am forever grateful for the opportunity to work with some of the most talented people I’ve ever known. Thank you for taking a risk and starting Saxum. It was a great ride!

  2. Thanks for the background, Renzi. As a writing/editing freelancer who’s only recently begun working with the outstanding Saxum team, I’m delighted to know more about you, the company and your colleagues. And I’m gratified to be considered one of Saxum’s partners.

    I love the name Saxum – how appropriate for a company founded by a 6’10” Stone! I hope you and your family come back invigorated from your round-the-world trip. As a guy who’s been lucky enough, in the first part of my life, to have had the opportunity to live and work in a range of cultures and environments (village India, the USSR, Brazil, Japan, Israel), I know what an enriching experience your travels will be. Your kids are very lucky to share in it.

  3. I’ll always be thankful for my time as an intern at Saxum, and the amazing people it led me to meet. So excited to watch your next 15 years!

  4. Yes, it’s the people that make Saxum truly outstanding… helping each other learn, grow, survive and thrive through the ever-changing world of PR. Thanks, Saxum team, for launching me in the right direction. Keep on keeping on!

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