This story was originally published in Caribbean Today Magazine
Bernadette Morris Successful and helping others
By Jason Walker
Bernadette Morris is a highly accomplished lady who has found a way to turn her passion into business success. Morris started and owns the largest African American, full-service marketing communications firm in Florida. Sonshine Communications is actually one of the largest in the United States. Morris also started and owns Black PR Wire, the Unites States’ first and largest Black newswire distribution service. Black PR also serves the Caribbean. On top of all of this Morris also started and owns a non-profit entity called Women Grow Strong. This last organization focuses on developing training and empowerment programs for women.
Before she started these companies Morris was a publicist at NPR and at PBS where she also helped to bring about programs that impacted people throughout the United States, she also worked with South Florida NPR affiliate WLRN and served as Division Director of Public Affairs at Miami-Dade College. All of this she has done while partnering a 22 year marriage and raising two children who are now in college.
Any persons achieving what is in just one of these paragraphs would be regarded as successful. Mrs. Morris has accomplished the above in both paragraphs and more. I caught up with the very successful CEO in DC coming out of an important meeting on her way to another meeting. Ms. Morris calls herself a Miami girl and I found her to be very engaging and charismatic. She is full of life and positive energy.
When asked how it all started, Morris immediately points to the period of time that she was a tutor for the Stetson University men’s basketball team. During this time she recognized her love. With glee in her voice she stated that, “I loved PR, I loved writing for the men’s sports team at Stetson and changed my major from law to communication”. Showing that recognizing her love was an integral factor for her success.
As is noted above she had an enviable career in journalism, communications and publicity. For milestones during this she mainly speaks of giving the projects her “all and then you see the fruits of [the] labour come to fruition; from everyday news stories for national public radio making a huge difference all across the country, to creating a phenomenal book fair for Miami Book Fair International….. you are able to give it your own special touch.” However there is “nothing more rewarding when you own your own business and you get to do [(sic)such projects]”.
18 years ago she started Sonshine Communications she describes the company as “a public relations, marketing and advertising agency” that focuses on “campaigns that have a cause or a message at the end of the day”. Morris highlighted the Truth campaign (national anti-tobacco campaign) that Morris along with other partners created. Sonshine Communications became the African American Agency for the Truth Campaign and the American Legacy campaign. “Winning that contract started me on a good front”, Morris states, enjoying the memory of that achievement. The campaign was very successful especially by using diverse along with grassroots avenues to engage the target audience. That platform began the development of what is now a million dollar company that is fast becoming a standard not just in South Florida, but also across the country. Other campaigns that followed include “You Drink You Drive You Lose”, “Click it or Ticket and the Florida HIV AIDS campaigns.
Morris found the biggest challenge was showing people that she could do the job; however once she got in the room she was able to convince them that she was capable of doing the job by being creative and doing a lot of research to come up with the best strategy to achieve goals. Also she had to “surround [herself] with people that are high energy and highly creative”. Morris stated that for success one also had to win the “confidence of people that don’t know you, especially when you are across the country.” Going further Morris said that one has “to show that you are very serious about what you are doing, even if you are in Miami and the business is all over the country”. Another gem she stressed is that one has to earn the “confidence you have to build in your clients, but once you build it it’s there and then you have to work to keep it.” Morris says she maintains this success by being a workaholic, she has very long days and she is very focus driven. She acknowledges though that she is able to achieve because she loved what she was doing.
While doing this work Morris noticed that she knew more black media than the traditional newswires did, so she went ahead and began an online company called Black PR Web. Black PR Web distributes news and press releases to African-American and Caribbean newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations. The online news company has become the go to place in order to reach black media in the United States and the Caribbean. “I am very happy in knowing that there are key messages and services that are going directly to the black community. In addition to reaching and penetrating the black media, we also work very closely with black stake holders, organizations and groups.” Black PR Web has been so effective in the United States and the Caribbean that there is a strong demand for it from black media in Europe. Besides having impact the online business has grown tremendously in value.
Morris does not just stop with here; she looks back at her career and remembers when she just started that there were no women that she could find to help or guide her. So Morris started her “third business; this one is my very first non-profit; it is called Women Grow Strong and it’s an empowerment company slash ministry that I created 3 years ago…and Women Grows Strong helps train and equip women and young girls to be successful in business. I started it because I realized that there were a lot of women who did not know the ropes!” “I did not have that!”
Women Grow Strong has empowerment sessions and training sessions and at this point has helped 600 to 700 women. Morris has a goal of reaching 1,000 people. She makes sure the sessions are diverse though with experts speaking about health, eating, personal finances and more. She does the presentations on business empowerment. Morris, through grants, donations and money out of her pocket she tries to keep the event free for all patrons.
Morris has shown an amazing ability to recognize a need that needs to be filled and how to fill it. She has also made sure that the need is in an area she loves so it is easier for her to do the hard work necessary for success. She still keeps herself grounded as she now focuses on her personal goals: the success of her family. Morris wants to see her children who are both in college have success during and after school. She also wants to join her husband in opening a Christian retreat focused on helping “couples and people just reconnect with themselves and understand the value of Godly living and Christian character in business ….. I want to help businesses and help people succeed.” Mrs. Morris we look on in admiration and say amen to that!
Jason Walker is a freelance writer for Caribbean Today Magazine who has had an award winning journalism career that spans 20 years. He can be followed on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jasonwalker_ or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org