Public Relations Maven Judi Schindler Transitions to the Stage

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

In its essence, public relations is a communications discipline, right? In public relations, we communicate with a target audience to build awareness, acceptance and ultimately action for a product, cause or service.

For decades, Judi Schindler excelled in the public relations profession as founder/owner of a namesake boutique agency and stalwart businesswoman. A few years ago, Judi partially retired from public relations to pursue a different profession — acting.  (Hey, actors also are communicators who interact with a target audience, but in a more controlled environment.)

Now for the disclosure: From 1988 to the early 1990s, I had the honor of working with Judi as a member of her account team. We developed and managed public relations programs for some leading Chicago real estate companies and great B2B clients. I learned a great deal about public relations, as well as new-business generation and account management.

What follows are Judi’s responses to questions sent via email.

In her new career as an actress,, Judi Schindler effectively demonstrates there is life after a long, successful career in public relations.

1. You built your successful career and business in public relations, then transitioned to another field. (More on that in a moment.) What inspired you to initially pursue public relations as a career?

When I was a journalism student at the University of Illinois, I dreamed of being a police reporter so I could follow in the footsteps of my two role models: Lois Lane and Brenda Starr.  It was not to be, however.  The only job I could get was at Jobber Topics, “The Bible of the Automotive Aftermarket.”  My job consisted primarily of rewriting press releases.  Somewhere between the manifolds and ignition systems, I decided I’d rather write the press releases than rewrite them.

From there I had jobs with a public relations agency, a major fund raising campaign, a real estate developer and a small telecommunications firm. Eventually I turned the latter into a client and began building my firm, first as Schindler Public Relations, and later as Schindler Communications.

2. Digital communications, of course, has changed — forever — the way we communicate. Do you keep current on digital strategies and practices today?

Can anyone keep current?  The landscape shifts every time Google changes its algorithm.  In February, I resigned my last client, The GO Group, an international consortium of airport transportation companies.  For the last several years, I oversaw their social media strategy as well as their pay-per-click campaign and web marketing.  I had worked with this client for 10 years and with the Chicago partner company for more than 30 years.  One of the reasons I resigned is that I didn’t feel I was bringing new technology driven tactics to the table.

Aside from technology, the underlying practice of public relations is unchanged.  We use our client’s knowledge, experience and history to create content.  How we deliver that content is the only thing that changed.

3. While you managed Schindler Communications, you also were a strong advocate for women in business. What advice do you have for women entrepreneurs today?

I still maintain my affiliation with the Chicago Area Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), which I helped found.  For the most part, I think today’s women entrepreneurs are more sophisticated that we were.  While most of us started businesses as a means of self-employment, many of the women I meet today are starting companies as investments, hoping to build equity and sell out.  I know several who could be called serial entrepreneurs.  I would advise any women starting a business today is to find a supportive network of peers, like NAWBO.  Women are extremely generous with each other and are a great resource.

There are owners manuals for just about everything. So, why not one for husbands?

4. Now to the question regarding your current career: How did your decades in public relations contribute to the skills and challenges required for success in your new career as an actress?

Running an agency taught me not to take rejection too seriously.  Casting agents say the same thing as clients, “we decided to go in a different direction.”

I started taking acting classes after I merged my business with Sally Hodge (operating as Hodge Schindler for five years.)  No longer the “boss,” I felt I needed another outlet, and acting was something I enjoyed as a kid. Classes eventually led to auditioning and doing plays.  When I no longer worked full time, I got an agent. In the last several years I’ve done several plays, local commercials, voice-overs, short films, museum exhibits and one Onion video.

A few year ago, the entrepreneur in me took over and I decided to write a performance piece that could be delivered as entertainment at women’s groups, bridal showers and entertainment venues.  Titled “Husbands: An Owner’s Manual,” it’s based on my 50-plus years of marriage.  I explain how to select a husband and how to maintain him in good working order including such topics as warranties, exchanges and replacement parts.

I am currently working on the book of the same title.

5. Let’s finish up with some questions on the book. What inspired you to take on this project? And, has your husband, Jack, read it yet?

People who’ve seen the show have been encouraging me for years to turn it into a book.  My original intention was to use the book as a way to monetize and promote the show.  But it’s taken on a life of its own.  Right now, it is in the hands of a designer who is creating fun, colorful pages that contribute to the humor and viewpoint of the text.  I hope to go to press by the end of October and have copies by the end of November.

I am currently working on my PR/marketing plan for the book launch, which includes my blog, “The Toilet Seat Must Go Down,” where I answer such vital questions as “why men can’t find the pickles behind the mayonnaise.”

And to answer your question: No, Jack Schindler has never read the book or seen the performance, even though everyone tells him that it’s an homage.  It does keep him on his toes, however. He’s afraid everything he says or does will turn into a new chapter.

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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!

Lessons Learned from Three Entrepreneurs at Crain’s Small Business Forum

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

Bright and early on this (reportedly) first day of Spring 2013, I joined around 200 business professionals at a downtown Chicago hotel to attend a breakfast panel discussion, “Entrepreneurs in Action,” hosted by Crain’s Chicago Business, our town’s leading source for business news.  It was cold outside, but the meteorological bluster was tempered inside thanks to the welcome from newly-made business contacts and perhaps that third cup of coffee.Crains

And, before I get too far, sincere thanks to the folks at Comcast Business Class for inviting me to this excellent event.

The stars of the morning, of course, were the three panelists — all successful entrepreneurs, all from widely different industries — who shared some tremendous insight during their introductions and during a roundtable discussion moderated by CCB’s Lisa Leiter, an award-winning print and broadcast journalist.

CrainsHere’s what I learned from a guy who in 1998 launched a staffing company that continues to grab market share, the co-founder of a web site that let’s people and business shop for better electric rates, and the founder of a healthy alternative to pasta. (Note: These aren’t exact quotes, but I maintain I did capture each panelist’s thoughts and perspectives accurately.)

Tom Gimble, President and CEO, LaSalle NetworkMantra: “Work hard, treat people right and have a good idea.”  Thoughts on entrepreneurship: “It was not in my DNA; but there are so many ways to do it right.”  Words of wisdom: “Stop looking for the perfect solution.”  Business value: “Every company needs good people.”

Phil Nevels, COO and Co-Founder, Power2SwitchBusiness philosophy: “People matter, in fact in business, they’re the only thing that matters.”  What entrepreneurs need: “Find partners you can trust; and find investors who believe in your product or service and share your passion.”  On people: “This may be a challenge, but learn how to both hire and fire employees.”  More important than the above: “Family should be the most important thing in your life.”

Terri Rogers, Founder & Chief NoOodlist, The NoOodle CompanyChildhood hero: “Ritchie Rich, the comic book rich kid.”  First success:  “I started in sales and was very successful, but I love to cook and was very creative.” A-Ha moment: “Learned about a healthy Japanese noodle that had been around for centuries.”  Current business principle: “I was born to bring the world noodles.”

And, along with the above, here’s what I took away from the discussion:

The Value of Good People: This was a common thread among the panelists.  Businesses — from entrepreneurial start-ups to conglomerates — all need workers who are passionate and believe in the company’s mission.

The Value of Social Media:  Social media platforms can help cash-strapped start-ups and small companies build awareness for their products and services; but be patient because building a following takes time.

The Value of a Solid Network in Building a Business: Gimbel noted that he likes staff “who are not too proud to beg, who know how to ask for help.” Nevels pointed out the benefits of an effective public relations program. (Note to Mr. Nevels: I have some experience in that area and would be glad to help.) Rogers called on past customers from her job as a VP for a national wholesaler to build her business.

As I continue my search for that next great job in public relations, I’ll keep top of mind what I learned from these entrepreneurs.  Along with their passion for business, they reinforced my belief that there are opportunities for those who believe in themselves.

What have you learned from entrepreneurs?