Wendi Winters spent a dozen years writing her way into the Capital Gazette newsroom. After a career in fashion and public relations in New York City, the 65-year-old mother of four began stringing for the Annapolis news organization. She soon built a reputation as a prolific freelance reporter and well-known community resource.
The Edgewater woman was one of five Capital Gazette staff members killed in the Capital Gazette newsroom shootings June 28th, 2018. Wendi covered all sorts of local news as the community news reporter and the columnist for Home of the Week, Teen of the Week, and Around Broadneck columns - and more. Wendi was the founder and organizer of the annual Annapolis P.R. Bazaar.
It was a very special moment this past Tuesday at Maryland Hall in Annapolis. Wendi Winters’ PR Bazaar was back. It didn’t miss a beat. Wendi’s dedicated daughters, Summer Leigh and Montana, kept the tradition going, and almost 200 people filled the room for the annual speed-dating fest that Wendi honcho’dfor so many years.
The annual PR Bazaar brings together reporters, public relations professionals, elected officials, small business owners and local Annapolitans to talk about public relations. We kibitz and talk and collaborate and exchange ideas for three hours. There are a dozen panelists (I was lucky enough to be one this year), and they visit a dozen tables in a speed-dating format to talk to the aforementioned guests about their philosophies, ideas and beliefs about PR. Business cards are exchanged. Eyebrows are raised. World views are enlightened. And we all walk away as better PR professionals.
Other panelists included Capital Gazette editor Rick Hutzell, Baltimore Sun political reporter Pam Wood and other PR business owners like ProVision Advisors. This entire effort was a labor of love for Wendi Winters, who was tragically killed last June 28th in the Capital Gazette newsroom by a madman in what was a stark and alarming attack on journalism, journalists and humanity. Jarod Ramos didn’t just extinguish Wendi’s life that day. He took away Summer Leigh’s and Montana’s mother. He took away my friend. And he took away a damn good reporter. An eccentric and difficult reporter? Yes. But, damn, was Wendi a good reporter.
And the PR Bazaar was a stark example of what made Wendi a great local journalist. How many other reporters and editors out there are organizing events like the Annapolis PR Bazaar? Are they visionary enough to bring together reporters, PAOs, citizens and business owners to talk about communication issues like transparency, pitching stories and the evolving news cycle? I don’t know. And if you are reading this, I encourage you to consider this kind of PR Bazaar in your local area. The event breaks down barriers, and it informs everyone involved of the fresh perspectives that exist out there.
I was more than happy to hand out the ProVision Advisors business card and ask people at the event to consider us for their business. But I learned a lot. I learned about the obstacles and issues facing the PAOs for Anne Arundel Community College, the president of a power washing business trying to get his brand noticed more, and local Episcopalian church leaders trying to attract more parishioners. I’m trying to think of another time and place I would have been exposed to such a diverse group of people and their communications problems. I can’t think of one. And I walked away that night a better person and a better communicator. I walked away missing Wendi so much more.
Here’s the lesson – don’t forget about local storytelling. Don’t forget about the small businesses and other PR firms in your “neighborhood” trying hard to get by on the backbone of the home town. Bashon, Chris and I started this business because we wanted to chase our passion…communicating for the accounts and causes that appealed to us. One thing I really wanted to do as I left the Navy and state government was to advocate for and assist local Annapolis businesses and organizations in their quest to get brand recognition locally. These local businesses are not Lockheed Martin…or Hewlett Packard…and they are not a possible six-digit communications contract for our company. Good!!
We can’t forget about local communication and connections. Churches and power-washing companies and community colleges need PR help, too. So let’s not forget that. Communicate locally. Help out your neighbors and help their small brands become big brands. You might just come away enlightened. Just the way Wendi Winters would have wanted….