Continuing the Conversation with Young Entrepreneur and Marketing Dude Garry Howell

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

In this space, I’ve been a stalwart supporter of the value behind networking.

The real kind.

You know, the activity that requires you to unplug electronic devices (well, figuratively, I suppose) and travel to a gathering where you’re compelled to meet people — people you don’t know, people you only get to know well through interpersonal contact.

That’s what I did a few days back; the outcome was meeting Garry Howell, the founder and president of SOGO Marketing, a way cool agency based in the west Chicago suburbs.

We immediately struck a few responsive chords: We liked talking about the communications industry, many things Chicago-focused, and the Chicago Cubs.  So, I felt Garry would be an excellent participant for a Q&A post.

Here’s Garry’s responses to my questions.

1. From our conversation, you launched SOGO Marketing shortly after graduation from the University of West Virginia. What prompted/inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

Entrepreneur and Chicago Cubs fan Garry Howell.

I was that typical college graduate, leaving college with a $140,000 piece of paper and no idea what I was going to do with it. SOGO was born shortly after graduating because I was fortunate enough to make an amazing connection with a great company that was seeking help with marketing and communications. I was offered a salary position, but I negotiated to get the work contracted, and from there SOGO was born. I have entrepreneurial blood. I had always dreamed of owning my own company after growing up in a family restaurant. Those adolescent daydreams eventually translated to my adult life, when I recognized I had the willingness and ambition to start a marketing agency.

2. I also recall that you began your college career focused on civil engineering then changed to Multi-Disciplinary Studies – Communications, Business Administration, and Public Relations. What inspired you to make the switch?

It seemed like as the courses went on, I found it harder and harder to discover my identity in the industry. I realized that after a year with the City of Morgantown as their civil engineer intern that this wasn’t for me. Again, I was that typical student that really hadn’t identified a career path. Engineering sounded good at 17 years old, but I honestly hadn’t given that career much thought then, I just knew my parents would like it. The pivot point came during my third year at West Virginia. I had one of those “ah ha” moments, when I realized what my true interests were. It was one of those moments when the stars aligned. Happy to say, I’ve never looked back, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

3. SOGO clearly is a modern communications firm. What sets you and your team apart in terms of the services you provide?

By definition, SOGO means brotherhood, unity, and cooperation. This not only reflects the culture of our agency, but also defines the relationships we have with our partners.

4. SOGO boasts a fairly diversified client roster. What advice could you offer other entrepreneurs who plan to open their own shop?

I think an individual who wants to open an agency needs to have professional will and personal humility. You need to set the standard of greatness early on and settle for nothing less.

5. Now, let’s lighten things up. You’re a Chicago Cubs fan and own a dog named Wrigley. A two-part question: a) What did you learn as a professional from the way the Cubs organization managed its brand last year? b) what do the 2017 Cubs need to do to get back on the winning track?

Ricketts and Epstein are a dynamic duo. From a business standpoint, you can learn a lot from what they have done to revitalize the Cubs. Their formula was right for 2016. We’ll see how they adapt for the 2017 season. I have no doubt in Joe Maddon and his supporting cast. It’s hard for a club to replicate a groundbreaking season like last year but you got to have hope! Go Cubs!

Recent Labor Statistics and the Impact of Public Relations

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Lost or overshadowed amidst recent disturbing news related to horrible accounts of terrorism, regular North Korean missile launches, climate change predictions and of course — some news-making presidential tweets– was some pretty good news.

Image courtesy of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On June 2, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released favorable numbers regarding employment: Some 138,000 jobs were created in May, and the unemployment rate remained at 4.3%. To most Americans, especially those of us who are still in the workforce (like me), this is encouraging news, a reflection of a robust and somewhat stable economy.

(Although, I trust there are doubters and detractors to last month’s positive employment statistics, those who maintain the stats are inaccurate and fail to account people who just gave up looking for a job. My perspective: If you have another way to analyze how many people are working or not working, please share.)

Now, let’s turn the clock way back to September of 2009, and the numbers project a much more sobering perspective on the national job front. That month, in the days of the Great Recession, U.S. businesses shed 263,000 jobs and the unemployment rate was 9.8%.  I certainly can relate because I lost a great public relations position on September 4, 2009, a somewhat life-changing personal event that compelled me to start the PRDude blog.

Hey, you probably wouldn’t be reading this if I got to keep the management position I held for 12 years! Without question, ultimately a positive outcome for me and the wonderful people who read my words.

Now, back to the focus of this post.

Through a little more research, I learned more about the impact of public relations professionals on the U.S. employment market.

Clearly, public relations professionals are a factor in the job market and economy.  But from another perspective, public relations will probably never rank up with industries like healthcare, retail, construction and accounting — industries that the government maintains are forecast to have the highest percentage of job growth.

And on a somewhat related note, those entering the profession may want to read a recent report claiming public relations ranks eight in terms of the most stressful jobs in the nation today — right above taxi drivers, but below corporate executives.

Not sure if I totally agree with the job stress stat; but I’m not about to worry and will remain steadfastly bullish on the value and need for sound, ethical public relations for many years to come.

 

 

 

Memorial Day 2017: A Perspective From a Changing Logan Sqaure

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Memorial Day 2017 dawned gloriously a few hours ago in Chicago, prompting a short excursion on foot through the somewhat deserted streets of our neighborhood.

This monument to fallen Logan Square heroes stands out amidst a changing neighborhood — and symbols of commerce.

Some advice: Take advantage of quiet times during holidays, especially those in the warm weather months, by strolling or biking in places familiar or new. You’d be surprised what may come to light in the hours you can claim as your own.

My walk today took me to the monument pictured in these images. It’s on Fullerton Avenue at Fransisco Avenue in Logan Square, and it honors those who lost their lives in “the great global war.”

There are 45 names on the now weathered bronze plaque at the base of the flag pole, which bears the U.S. stars and stripes and a flag honoring POWs.  Five red geraniums offer a little natural beauty, and someone later added a “V” for victory marker.

All of the names listed are men, save one, a woman (I presume) named La Donna.  All were residents of Logan Square around the turn of the 20th century, and all gave their lives in World War I.  All lived in a very different Logan Square.

Look close and you might be able to read all 45 names on this plaque.

Within steps of the monument, one can readily ascertain how the neighborhood has changed: A new cannabis dispensary, a hip coffee shop, a ramen noodle restaurant, art galleries and bars designed look like someone’s hideout.

In a sense, these American heroes — and the many who were killed over the decades while on duty — helped preserve the democracy that allows a neighborhood like Logan Square and others in Chicago and elsewhere to evolve and nurture these new business enterprises.

To some, bars that sell $8 glasses of beer and restaurants offering $14 bowls of soup are examples of gentrification; but from another perspective, it’s an example of the free-market economy we, as Americans, enjoy.

I hope others visit this little Logan Square monument this Memorial Day, even for a few minutes.  Then, patronize the local establishments, those made possible through the unselfish valor of others who lived here long ago.

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The PRDude has addressed Memorial Day in other posts:

 

 

 

 

 

See You in September: Spring English Master’s Class Remembered

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Earlier this month, I completed another step toward my quest to add some other letters after my name, specifically “MA” for Master’s in English.

The next leg of the journey will be in the fall. So, yes, to quote the ‘70s Alice Cooper song, “school’s out for summer!”

Or more precisely, the Spring 2017 semester is over, and I can enjoy 90-plus days without having to read a book just about every 10 days.

Image of Nabokov courtesy of gunsmithcat.deviantart.com. So what does this image signify? The author liked butterflies and wrote a book about a girl he named Lolita.

The 16-week course I completed focused on the writings of Russian/American author Vladimir Nabokov and other writers influenced by this legend of modern prose. Must say the class was very challenging, as I grappled at times with comprehending Nabokov’s themes and motifs. (Although I failed to fully comprehend why Nabokov would pursue the story line in Lolita and how he got away with changing narrators in some works.)

I learned a lot from our cool, engaging youngish professor, but also by observing some of my fellow classmates. Four are profiled here, identified by names I conjured up in a state of creativity.

The Jolly Scholar: A young fellow fellow clearly enraptured by literature, this colleague regularly shared keen knowledge of the assigned reading, espousing thoughts with a wit and wisdom beyond is years. An example of his commitment: He re-read Madame Bovery — a work not assigned — to be better prepared for the discussion on Flaubert’s Parrot.  Now, that’s dedication!

Slouching Girl: Clearly an intelligent person, this young woman demonstrated by her body language that she probably would have preferred to be elsewhere than in class. Consistent hair twirling gestures added to her mystique. Yet, when she did contribute, the thought added greatly to the class discussion; however, I had challenges comprehending comments due to her subdued, dulcet voice.

Goth Dude: Goth Dude looked like he just returned from a Cure concert, always sporting black attire and combat boots, always brooding. (I trust if there was a darker color of clothing available, he would have worn it.) But in all fairness, this guy shared very provocative insight and was the second smartest person in the room after the professor. Cool and staid, he consistently added thoughts to a notebook using precise penmanship.

The Marxist: Perhaps an uncalled for and unfair moniker, because I have no idea of this guy’s political ideologies. He was Russian, I believe, and he frequently defended his positions on Nabokovian (yes, this is a real school of thought among literary scholars) theory with a controlled fervor. For some reason, he favored t-shirts adorned with images of fictitious U.S. presidents and dead rock stars.

If you need more insight into why I’m pursuing an advanced degree, please read this post from July of 2016. By the way, I earned a B for the spring 2017 class — the grade I felt I deserved. My final paper can be found here.

So, what’s on the agenda for the fall 2017? Something a little less Nabokovian and more straightforward: Non-fiction writing workshop.

Okay Fast Company: Time to Slow Down and Listen

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

One general component of a public relations plan is some kind of “call to action.”

Image courtesy of truconversion.com.

Well, I maintain the public relations profession should rally to voice strong opposition to a recent article that claimed public relations was “failing.”

As you can ascertain, I found the piece, “Here’s What the PR Industry Is Failing,” to be inaccurate and totally void of any compelling reason to be published.

But the article was published May 1 by Fast Company and written by Bill Hankes, noted in copy below the article as “a longtime public relations veteran” and now founder of a startup “that helps journalists find the information they need to develop stories, some of which comes from PR professionals, but most of which doesn’t.”

(A question: How much is “most of which” as noted above?)

The crux of Mr. Hankes’ thesis here: Services used to disseminate communications initiated by public relations professionals are “outdated” and “facilitate bad behavior.”

Rather than attempt to bash Mr. Hankes and Fast Company for spreading erroneous and unsubstantiated commentary, I’ll take the high road of sorts.

(To step off the high road for a short time, Mr. Hankes: Refers to all of us in the profession as “publicists;” neglects to note that ethical, effective public relations is driven by sound strategies; and, champions incorporation of unproven “newer technology” to replace what many in the industry use regularly.  I could go on, but will stop here.)

On to the high road. This kind of commentary only perpetuates the erroneous belief that public relations is purely publicity, or to use the old-school term, “press agentry.” Yes, there are publicists out there and perhaps some press agents, but those disciplines do not reflect modern public relations counsel.

Back to the call to action, I would encourage all serious PR professionals to take every relevant opportunity to educate clients, friends, the person sitting next to you at the coffee bar, about the full scope of services we provide.

I’d be glad to discuss with Mr. Hankes, should he be interested.

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Full Disclosure: I learned of this article from a Facebook post made by Gerry Corbett, APR, a “major PR dude” featured in this space back in January of 2013. Thanks, Gerry.

With Hours to Go, A Final Thought on April APR Month

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

With just a few hours left in April 2017, just a final though on efforts underway to promote the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential.

After all, April has been designated Accreditation Month, and those of us who earned the credential are somewhat responsible for its future. So, what can APRs do help keep the process advancing?

I offer this very simple suggestion: Serve as an APR Panel Presentation member.

As an APR, here’s what your participation in the Accreditation process will accomplish:

  • Demonstrate your commitment to the credential and profession.
  • Provide an opportunity to learn more about the current KSAs and revisions to the APR process.
  • Meet fellow APRs and candidates seeking the credential.
  • Earn maintenance points needed to retain your APR standing.

And, if another incentive is needed, think of this: When you pursued Accreditation, three APRs found the time and demonstrated the commitment to participate in the presentation you had to deliver to move to the next step in the process.

Yes, we’re all busy these days. But hopefully more APRs will find the hours needed to review a candidate’s Questionnaire, review the document and commit the two or so hours required for the Panel Presentation.

Please find the time in your career to let someone else have that opportunity. Prove your commitment to the value of Accreditation.

Now it’s your turn fellow Accredited professionals: What can we do to nurture and advance Accreditation?

After all, the road to Accreditation transcends one month.

 

 

Perhaps United Airlines Should Look Back to 1990 for What to Do in 2017

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

By now, you’ve probably read, viewed and commented on reports related to what may go down as one of the most significant corporate communication and operational blunders of recent times.

Yes, I’m referring to the forceful removal of a United Airlines passenger April 9 from a flight departing Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for Louisville, Kentucky.

Image courtesy of the United Airlines website.

You know what happened to cause this now sustained crisis for United Airlines, which according to this news story operates some 4,500 flights a day. So, I’ll dispense with any background.  A quick Google search for “United Airlines crisis” will result in lots of results — 2,590,000 in fact as of this evening.

(An aside: On a visit to the company’s online newsroom I found only one reference to the incident that took place on United Express Flight 3411, and that was a statement from CEO Oscar Munoz.)

Many have branded this story as a “PR disaster.” And, from some perspectives, that’s totally correct: United is getting lots of negative publicity and social media exposure for what took place Sunday.  Initial crisis mitigation strategies and tactics were poor — at best.

But those of us who work in public relations know that communications can’t be disseminated without management approval.  Perhaps more effective and compassionate actions and messages were prepared but tabled in favor of what did take place: The initial rather curt message from Mr. Munoz, followed by a more conciliatory comment.

I’ll let those with the proven skills in crisis management comment on what United Airlines should do next. But I would like to share the video below. It’s from a 60-second television commercial for United first aired in 1990.  The title is “Speech,” and the spot was produced by the airline’s longtime agency of record, Chicago’s own Leo Burnett.

Two aspects of this brilliant spot are especially poignant for United Airlines today:

1. When company owner Ben says, “Well folks, some things gotta change.”

2. When the voice over narrator says, “Personal services deserves a lot more than lip service.”

I think United Airlines could learn a lot by revisiting this 27-year-old spot.

NOTE: This video was found via a YouTube search.