Black business awards celebrate excellence

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The worst thing a business can do in this economy is pull back on marketing and advertising, said Estelle Mannion, president of Stellar Productions Advertising LLC. In her keynote speech during the 7th annual Spirit of Excellence Black Business awards banquet Saturday at the Savannah Marriott Riverfront, she pointed out how necessary it is to stay out front in troubling times.

“Since World War II, we’ve been through 11 recessions in this country,” she said. “And the companies that survived are the ones that stayed strong and aggressive.”

As a former sales executive for television station Fox 28, Mannion said she was the first black female in media advertising. She learned to listen to customers and assess their needs.

“You need to stay ahead of the game so as soon as the economy swings back you have a competitive advantage over those who are playing catch-up to you,” she said. “It takes more money and effort to gain a new customer than to retain an existing one.”

Mannion mixed scripture with business acumen and down-home wisdom to get her message across.

“In general, African-American businesses don’t market or advertise,” she said. “We use flyers and rely on word of mouth.”

That only gets you so far, she said, because customers don’t always sing your praises when they’re pleased with the service or product, but will tell everyone they encounter if the opposite is true.

She quoted retail tycoon Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart and Sams Club, “If you don’t invite people into your business, they won’t come.”

Local business consultant Charlie Brown agreed with Mannion’s assessment.

“Our businesses need to keep themselves out front,” he said. “Out of sight, out of mind.”

But the night was truly about a celebration of successes.

In nine categories, 11 local business leaders were honored:

– Rising Star (a person under 30 who has proven an up-and coming leader in business or his/her profession): Andre Allen, publisher and owner of The Seaport Magazine, a monthly entertainment publication aimed at the under-30 crowd.

– Entrepreneur of the Year (an innovator who has led and maintained a company for at least two years): Jamal Toure, owner and CEO of Day Clean Journeys Inc. Many know Toure for his tours and lectures on historical black events in the greater Savannah area and his work on Geeche/Gullah culture.

– Emerging business (in business three years or less, but that exhibits evidence of growth and sustainability): Adams Funeral Services, a family-owned establishment with a history of four generations of morticians.

– Artist of the Year (a person in any form of the arts with exceptional achievements): Arthur “The Artist” Milton, a member of the first graduating class of Savannah College of Art and Design and a local visual artist specializing in painting, sketching, drawing and face art.

– Corporate Leader of the Year (one who has excelled in leadership with a company for over two years with notable accomplishments): Davita Dunston, director of marketing and consumer services for Strength of Nature, a consumer hair care products company. The runner-up was Eula J. Parker, senior vice president of The Savannah Bank.

– Business of the Year (a business of more than three years with an outstanding record): Jake Hair Care Center, owned by barber Jake H. Williams, who’s been in the business for 50 years.

– Male Extraordinaire (male who exemplifies leadership): The Rev. Clarence Williams Jr., pastor of First Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church.

– Unstoppable Woman (woman who inspires others with a record of substance, character, and achievements in spite of obstacles): Sondra Barnes, founder and CEO of Capitol Teens Productions Inc. who brought the American Junior Miss Pageant to the area and helps run the program at Beach High School that allows students to be pages during the state legislative session.

– Unsung Hero/Heroine (a person who serves the needs of others without pay): The Rev. Freddie L. Hebron, pastor of Christian Revival Center who spearheads missionary support to Haiti and the Dominican Republic; and Cynthia Kennedy, president of Eastside Concerned Citizens.

Copyright (c) 2009, Savannah Morning News, Ga. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.