You don’t know Carlos Toro or his company, Steer Digital Media, but you may have seen their work. They’ve created engaging, resonant video narratives for local brands like Matunuck Oyster Bar and Studio Dunn Furniture, as well as a slew of 2014 campaign videos for candidates like Angel Taveras and Mayor Elorza. With a growing company that operates squarely in the “knowledge economy” we so often cite as the key to revitalizing Providence, and a client list that goes well beyond our borders, Carlos Toro might just be the poster boy for the next generation of creative entrepreneurs in Rhode Island – if you could get him to stay put for long enough to take the picture.
What is the nature of your work?
Steer Digital is a digital media partner that is predicated on two simple insights: Emerging technologies have dramatically driven down the costs for any organization to run a sophisticated communications program, specifically online; and secondly, it’s very difficult to keep tabs on exactly what those technologies are and how to utilize them. Should you hire for them or outsource these competencies – and what does it mean to embrace these technologies with success in mind? This is the storm in which we operate. We help navigate that question through our offerings of web development, content strategy, and powerful video development.
I've doubled-down on our ability to provide full video production and film work that moves audiences, and recently brought home the award for Best Emerging Filmmaker at the Blue Ocean Film Festival (a film festival dedicated to marine exploration and ocean conservation), held this year in Monaco. This film festival is viewed as the highest caliber in its space and we felt validated for our contribution to the wider conservation about our place in this world and how best to manage our impact.
THE EDGE from Steer Films on Vimeo.
You work primarily outside of Rhode Island, so why does Steer remain based in Providence?
Our split on out-of-state versus in-state projects is moving towards 80/20. I haven't heard a good reason as to why a Providence-based team cannot regularly contribute on the global stage and we've set out to make that happen. As I write this, I’m on a vessel with the Discovery Channel in a very warm place, with our entire team, all from Rhode Island. This is not only achievable, but inevitable, as emerging technologies continue to shake up the vanguard.
Rhode Island and Providence, specifically, sits right in this valley of information that runs from NYC to Cambridge. We have access to the best minds, hands down. In any field, you are a few phone calls away from connecting with the best. If you aren't able to find the gold right beneath your feet, what makes you think you will be able to do it anywhere else?
What’s your personal story?
My personal narrative is probably the same as most people: trying to find a way to contribute that feels true to your experiences and the values you've formed on the way up.
My cloth was cut in Smith Hill on Felix Street. My mother and father both immigrated to this country from Colombia and Puerto Rico, respectively. That's a strong genetic stock to work with: who is braver and more strong-willed than immigrants who are willing to leave everything, put personal relationships on hold, sometimes indefinitely, to go somewhere foreign and start over? Could you picture yourself doing that at 26 years old (as in my mother's case)?
I imagine that experience has been imprinted in me at a fundamental level; I can tolerate a certain amount of risk and I don't hesitate to move on opportunities. That mission brought me through URI, to RIC, and then finally NYU to complete my professional studies.
In 2008, I joined the Obama campaign in Ohio. When I returned, I teamed up with one of his former classmates from his days at Harvard Law, James Bernard. We formed a charter school consulting team that helped managing organizations determine whether or not a particular charter development plan made sense for that community. That was successful and I knew I could expand on my capabilities. My mantra at that point was “smart people, smart projects.” I figured if a project or opportunity had those two characteristics, everything else would fall into place.
That brought me to the end of 2011. I’m still working daily on writing the script for what my story is from 2012 to now. This period has been the most interesting, but I don't have a full perspective on it yet.
What are Steer’s plans for the future?
I’m a believer in four-month plans. The immediate plans are to continue moving aggressively and with purpose into new opportunities. Every four months or so, I'll look back and ask myself if the prior four months were worth it and do a general check-in.
As a digital media company, we grow as our client needs grow. From landing page development and brand films to an integrated media presentation for large conferences, if we can do it a high level, we'll grow into that space and build that competency for current and future clients.
What opportunities do you see in Providence as a creative professional?
Providence is our home base. This is where we regroup after having traveled throughout the world and touch base with our local partners. I see an opportunity to collaborate locally on ideas, then turn around and apply that to opportunities outside of our local market. This is a city that needs to have more personal ambassadors creating relationships throughout the world to infuse it with new ideas and potentially spur some larger commitments or important ties to the city.
From your point of view, what is Providence doing right and how can we build on that?
In my opinion, the projects that create open spaces and bring people together are the most appealing to both residents and visitors. The Steel Yard and initiatives like the Providence International Arts festival this past year make sense for this city.
From a hard-lined economic growth perspective, we all have our bias, and mine is the rise of the digital worker. I believe making Providence a hub in the digital economy is a cornerstone to its relevance in the world today. Creating an attractive environment for people who can earn and draw capital from anywhere in the world right from their laptop in Providence can be a powerful driver for the local economy.
Matunuck Oyster Bar from Steer Films on Vimeo.