Ten Money Questions for Cooper Smith
Cooper Smith is the editor-in-chief & publisher of Gay List Daily, a snarky, but superbly useful e-zine that boasts daily editions. I’ve dubbed it the DailyCandy for homosexuals. Cooper, who leads a public relations firm in his spare time, is the master at getting the word out on all things gay. After all, just look at his Queercents endorsement: “Did you know that when the economy is down, booze sales go up? Shake yourself a martini and log on now!” Spot on suggestion! Now, we’ve turned the spotlight around and asked for his comments on all things money. List away…
1. How can Gay List Daily save me money?
It depends on the day — admittedly, some days we write about very over-the-top, expensive products, services, restaurants and the like, but we’re also always on the look-out for great deals and inexpensive entertainment options as well. For example, for our New York edition, we’ve launched a series that we jokingly called “The Hobo-Sexual” where we highlight ways for us gays to save a buck through cheap eats and creative uses of everyday products and services.
2. How old were you when you started your PR agency? Where did you get the money to hang out your shingle?
I was just a few weeks shy of my 28th birthday when I officially started working as Cooper Smith Agency full-time. Prior to that, I was working full-time and doing some freelance work on the side.
Fortunately for me, there aren’t many start-up costs for professional services companies, such as public relations firms. In the early days, it was just me in the spare bedroom of our house. The only things I really had to invest in were a good computer and printer, a logo, business cards and a website. Also, I already had health insurance through my partner’s company, so that wasn’t a concern.
3. Can “gay and trendy” ever be budget conscious?
Absolutely! It’s more about your personal style than the name on the label. If you’ve got self-confidence and you really believe that you look good, you’ll always pull it off.
Plus, I think that anything “trendy” should in fact be cheap because it’s only going to be around for a short time before the next trend rolls around.
4. What did your parents teach you about money?
Unfortunately, not much at all. I come from a conservative, working class family in far south Texas. There wasn’t much money in our household and my dad doesn’t think it’s appropriate for kids to know about things like that. To this day, I still don’t know my father’s income.
My partner of ten years and I are in the process of adopting our first child, and I’ve already vowed that our kids will be taught about money, the importance of saving it and ways to spend it wisely. In age-appropriate ways, of course.
5. Do you think young gay men have a problem with spending?
I think it’s a universal problem with all young people, not just gays. It’s way too easy to get credit cards. When I graduated college in 1997, I’d amassed more than $10,000 in credit card debt, and I was staring down about $30,000 in student loans. It was scary, especially considering that my first job paid a measly $21,000 a year! I still have no idea how I made ends meet.
6. As a small business owner, what’s the secret to managing cash flow?
Cash flow is absolutely the hardest thing to manage, even six years later. As my firm has grown, it’s become less of a problem, but only because I’ve built up a cash reserve and I have systems in place to watch it. My top priority is making sure that there’s always money in the bank to make payroll. Worst-case scenario, all other bills can wait at the sake of making sure that my employees are taken care of.
For Gay List Daily, we luckily don’t have many costs. All of the writer’s are freelance and we intentionally designed the site and all of its functions to be easily self-serviced. Outside of writing fees and some relatively small marketing costs, we try to keep things pretty lean.
7. How does a poor economy impact the PR business?
The economy is a double-edged sword for public relations. Frequently, all things marketing are the first places that companies foolishly slash when times get tight. However, since public relations is significantly less expensive than advertising, it’s an easier sell for companies that know that they need to keep their name out in the marketplace.
Even in the worst of times, while one industry is in shambles, there are always other industries doing exceptionally well. I’ve intentionally kept our client base diversified so that if one industry tanks, it doesn’t pull us down with it.
8. Do people treat money differently in Dallas, than say in New York or Los Angeles?
People like to paint Dallas as this big-spending, image-crazy place, but I don’t think it’s any more so than other major cosmopolitan cities in the U.S. One of the many great things about being in Texas is that our economy is relatively steady and stable. For the most part, we don’t see quick waves of wealth, followed by bursting bubbles, like you see in California. Also, our cost of living is a steal compared to other major cities.
9. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever bought for a boyfriend?
My partner, Todd, is a very frugal financial analyst with an MBA, so I have to be very careful about how I spend money on him. Otherwise, he gets cross with me and can’t see the gift past the price tag. Since we started dating when I was making very little and still saddled with lots of credit card and student loan debt, any poor soul who I dated prior to Todd didn’t get much of anything from me. I was too poor to be crazy!
For Todd’s birthday last year, I bought him tickets to see Elton John – in Las Vegas! He’d always wanted to see Elton in concert but could never bring himself to pay the outrageous prices that nearly all concerts cost these days. He really loved the show, but I could still see him calculating the cost-per-minute in his MBA brain!
10. Does fame automatically equate to fortune?
Fame absolutely does not automatically equate to fortune, however it certainly does provide people with opportunities to create wealth that non-famous people don’t have, like endorsement opportunities, access to elite business leaders and legions of fans who are willing to be free word-of-mouth armies on their behalf.
Unfortunately, many “famous” people don’t have the sense to take advantage of their situation to put themselves in a comfortable position long-term. And even when a lot of money does come their way, they spend it foolishly. Just look at the sports figures, one-hit wonders and other celebs who now struggle to make ends meet – remember M.C. Hammer?
Given the choice, I’d rather be rich than famous any day!
More about Cooper Smith
Cooper Smith is the editor-in-chief and publisher of Gay List Daily, a popular free e-zine he founded in 2007 that boasts daily editions in Dallas, New York City, and Los Angeles, as well as a national “anywhere” edition. He is also the principal of Cooper Smith Agency, the successful public relations firm he founded nearly six years ago.
Through his work at Cooper Smith Agency and in the years prior to his agency’s start, Cooper has provided media and community relations services to a number of high-profile companies and organizations, including the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, Ben E. Keith Co., Southwest Airlines, Dal-Tile Corporation, Turner Construction Co., Cirque du Soleil, American Cancer Society and Citigroup.
Cooper is a proud alumnus of Southern Methodist University, where he earned an undergraduate degree in public relations and corporate communications. His unquenchable curiosity about the world around him led Cooper to also study German, Spanish and anthropology while at SMU. In 2005, Cooper was honored by SMU’s Division of Corporate Communications & Public Affairs as the year’s “Rising Star,” an award recognizing outstanding young alumni of the university.
An active member in the community, Cooper supports a number of non-profit organizations, including AIDS Arms, Human Rights Campaign and the SMU Alumni Association. Cooper sits on the advisory board to the public relations program at SMU and on the Governing Committee for the DFW Federal Club, a major donor group supporting the Human Rights Campaign. He has previously served on the board of SMU’s Young Alumni Associates.
Cooper is also an ardent fan and supporter of the visual and performing arts, oftentimes offering his PR agency’s resources in support of local artists and performance groups – most frequently, Uptown Players. As editor-in-chief and publisher of Gay List Daily, Cooper focuses much of the e-zine’s content on highlighting local art shows, performances and other cultural events.
Read other Queercents interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.