Thursday, May 6, 2010 | 3:56 p.m.
Jo Cato is a tireless advocate for minority small-business owners.
As president and chief executive officer of North Las Vegas-based public relations and public affairs firm Periwinkle Media Group, she is ideally positioned to help minority entrepreneurs compete and prosper in the marketplace while also helping large businesses gain corporate positioning within the minority community.
Cato, whose background includes experience in the telecommunications industry, attended UNLV as an adult, where she sat in on some public relations classes, and realized she had an inherent aptitude for marketing and business development.
“I thought, ‘I love this!’ ” said Cato, who went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in economics from UNLV, a master’s degree in economics from George Washington University School of Business and Public Management and an executive MBA from the University of Arizona. “I love helping companies get their messaging out to a wide audience, whether it’s a negative or a positive.”
Cato founded Periwinkle in 1999, after diligently networking and volunteering with numerous local organizations and businesses to gain a better understanding of both the industry and the needs of the community. Like many small businesses, Periwinkle Media Group was founded around a kitchen table on a shoestring budget.
“When I started it was just me and my ex-husband, who is now a silent partner, and we were burning the midnight oil,” said Cato, who now has six employees and anticipates hiring two additional staffers by the end of April. “Our original focus was to help small minority businesses that were struggling to get noticed by the media, and to help other big businesses understand that there are small local companies here that can provide products and services to them.”
Since its inception, Periwinkle has expanded its focus to include all businesses, although some 60 percent of clients are minority-owned. The company now provides comprehensive strategic communications to corporations, coalitions, associations and individuals, and is committed to assisting clients in the business of differentiation in both the public policy arena and the public relations marketplace.
Because minority businesses often face obstacles and challenges in getting up and running, Periwinkle Media Group provides its clients with a comprehensive handbook, which covers topics such as creating a business plan, obtaining necessary licensing and getting loan approval.
Periwinkle — considered a local authority on diversity outreach and inclusion — also created a new agency model, retooling Periwinkle into a brand development firm designed to help minority businesses drive profits by focusing their internal and external marketing practices on better connecting with customers.
“They need to understand it’s a long-term process, and that it usually takes three or four years to see any return on investment,” said Cato, who in 2009 was tasked with providing public outreach and media-related services for clients in Las Vegas’ redevelopment area, and was instrumental in developing the city’s first diversity employment plan geared at hiring minorities from communities with the highest unemployment rates. “We’ve been working with the African-American and Latin-American communities closely, and being African-American myself I have an understanding of the growing pains that communities and businesses in blighted areas go through, so I have reached out to big corporations and encouraged them to hire people from these areas to help stimulate growth.”