PROFILE: Morris serves black community in 80-hour weeks

Committed to filling a void she perceived in the black community, Morris parlayed her innovative streak into growing Florida's largest black-owned PR firm and starting up Black PR Wire.

Committed to filling a void she perceived in the black community, Morris parlayed her innovative streak into growing Florida's largest black-owned PR firm and starting up Black PR Wire.

Bernadette Morris is founder, owner, president, and CEO of not one, but two companies - Sonshine Communications and Black PR Wire (BPRW). She generally arrives at her Miami Beach office, where both are housed, between 4:30 and 5am, and works until 7pm. On Saturdays and Sundays, she goes from 5am until noon. Morris reveals her weekend schedule in a way that suggests she's giving herself a break. Her husband, who happens to be managing director of Sonshine, claims it is not Morris' heavy workload that keeps her at the office 80-plus hours per week. Colin Morris explains, "Her creativity flows during the early hours of the morning, when there are no phones ringing and no traffic noises." Her creativity is one thing few, if any, of those who have done business with this entrepreneur will deny. Dorothy Baker, president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce, raves, "Whenever someone asks us to recommend a PR person, we tell them to go to Bernadette because she is so creative. You won't see anything she does duplicated anywhere else." Similarly, Dr. John Eaves, regional manager for the US Peace Corps, says, "Bernadette's outlook on life and on what she is trying to do is creative, professional and accommodating. She has taken those qualities and manifested them throughout her company." While a great deal of Morris' creative spark is clearly just part of her genetic makeup, channeling it into PR can be traced back to her college days - when, she says, she "got bit by a PR bug." As an English major at Stetson University, she was writing and pitching stories about the men's basketball team. "I just fell in love with the whole process of developing stories and setting up interviews," recalls Morris. Because Stetson did not have a communications major, Morris transferred to the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, and she graduated in 1983. After returning home to the Miami area, she was hired to work as a producer and publicist for a PBS radio affiliate station. During that time, she was working toward a master's degree at Florida International University. She eventually received her master's in public administration in 1989. Morris put the degree to use in her job as media relations director at Miami-Dade Community College, where she had been working since 1987. With more than 90,000 students enrolled while she was there, the college was, and still is, one of the largest in the country. Morris was repeatedly promoted over the years, eventually finishing her career at the college in 1993 as the associate dean of public affairs. Upon her departure, Morris' colleagues presented her with a poem called "The Seven-Year Itch," a condition she admits to having had. "I loved it there, but I felt I wanted to do more in the community that involved creating cause-related messages," explains Morris. That, combined with the void she saw in the black community for communications services for nonprofit, state, and church organizations, prompted her to open her own PR firm. Her husband, Colin, has played an integral role in the agency since day one. "When you take all your savings to start a company, you need to have your husband's support," she says. About eight years ago, Colin, with his background in finance and public health, became the full-time managing director of Sonshine. She recalls, "As the agency continued to grow, we realized we definitely wanted to make it a family ministry and work together." Today, even the Morrises' children - Rebecca, 12, and Stephen, 10 - have their own "office" at the Miami Beach headquarters, where they often come after school to do their homework. Sonshine Communications is the largest black-owned PR firm in Florida, with a staff of 18 and annual revenues of about $2 million. Clients include the US Army Corps of Engineers, American Legacy Foundation, Florida Department of Health, US Peace Corps, US Secret Service, Heaven Sent Consultants, and the Family Christian Association of America. Bernadette Morris' work for Sonshine clients, and particularly her outreach to the black community, led to her second business venture. She recalls using traditional wire services to distribute press releases, only to make a follow-up call and find out many of the black media outlets - among Sonshine's most important audiences - were not receiving them. Aware of the country's growing black population, as well as its influence and buying power, Morris established BPRW in 2000. "I realized I had established such a comprehensive list of black publishers over the years," says Morris. "I knew there had to be other PR companies out there like mine who were having the same difficulties reaching this community." Business Wire (BW), one of the two most widely used wire services, agreed. Shortly after BPRW was launched, the two companies formed a partnership, under which BW clients interested in reaching black communities go through BPRW. "Bernadette identified a real market need in developing Black PR Wire," tells Neil Hershberg, VP of global media for BW. "No other service comes close in terms of blanketing the black market." BPRW has a database of more than 1,600 black-owned media outlets, executives, community leaders, organizations, and journalists. The company also provides ANRs and VNRs, newsletters and press-clipping services. Each day, the BPRW staff combs close to 155 black publications, serving such big-name clients as the US Postal Service, Washington Mutual, State Farm Insurance, Burger King, and Toyota. In the limited time she has away from work, Morris enjoys doing Christian ministry support work. She says she treasures the personal time she has with Colin and their children. Recently, the whole family went to see the motion picture Holes, Rebecca and Stephen having just finished reading the book. "I see her battling with the demands of being a professional and a mother," observes her husband. Few would disagree she is doing a pretty good job. ----- Bernadette Morris 2000-present President and CEO, Black PR Wire 1993-present President and CEO, Sonshine Communications 1987-1993 Media relations director and associate dean of public affairs, Miami-Dade Community College 1983-1987 Producer and publicist, PBS Miami radio affiliate

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