One Image, One Question: Muskogee, OK

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

Before there were interstate highways, there were main streets —  gateways to business and commerce and culture.

A solitary scene on what once was a vibrant, thriving small-town downtown.

Every small and medium-sized town across America had a main street; but, many communities haven’t been the same since the four-lane, limited access highways were built 60 or so years ago.

This image of Broadway Street, in Muskogee, Oklahoma — the town’s main street, although there is a Main Street — was taken Saturday, June 17. We were in this community in the northeast part of the Sooner State for a memorial service, and I decided to go for a stroll downtown.

The time, around 11 a.m.  The compelling thought: The absence, aside from myself, of people and traffic on a Saturday morning. There were a few open businesses operating in still impressive and preserved brick storefronts, but patrons were scarce.

I learned downtown Muskogee once had a Sears department store and an independent retailer named Anthony’s. The pedestrian and vehicular traffic certainly would have been robust on a Saturday morning 30 or 40 years ago, not absent as during my visit.

Lots of commerce could be found, however, along the highways surrounding Muskogee. Motels, healthcare centers, big box retailers, fast food restaurants and auto dealerships abound. These businesses were thriving, and workers were completing a new restaurant/bar — I Don’t Care Bar and Grill.

The same can be said, of course, to many small towns and even suburban communities outside Chicago and other cities: Call it development, call it sprawl, but when new business interests and the local economy spreads from the initial urban core, the result is devastating to the fabric of main streets.

Now to the question:

What can small towns like Muskogee, Oklahoma, and many others across the nation do to revitalize its main street?

One obvious strategy: Give people a reason to head downtown again, to make it a destination.

One strategy that should be considered: “Pop up” stores that could occupy vacant or underutilized retail spaces for a day or extended period.

Your thoughts?

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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.