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?