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Howard Stutz

Nevadan at work: 'Strategic' move by PR pro leads to his own business

20 October 2014

LAS VEGAS -- Reggie Burton called it his “if not now, then when?” moment.

In the middle of 2009, MGM Mirage Hospitality, LLC was downsizing its communications staff as the recession tightened its grip on the company, the gaming industry and the community.

Burton, 47, who oversaw corporate and community affairs, decided to start his own boutique public relations and consulting business.

“Our department was going through some changes, such as reducing staff size,” Burton said. “It was pretty clear to me that my position was going to be eliminated. Rather than pursue opportunities in the company, I had that moment.”

It has been five years since he started Reggie Burton Communications, and he hasn’t looked back.

He began the company with one client: Converse Consultants, an engineering firm working on CityCenter. Burton helped the company with strategic communications.

Today, he handles communications work for Bank of Nevada and Nevada Restaurant Services — parent company of the Dotty’s tavern chain — as well as delving into public policy and advocacy issues, including medical marijuana, Internet gaming and universal background checks for gun ownership.

“I’m constantly rotating four to six clients,” Burton said. “I feel like that’s what I can do to be successful.”

Burton was a reporter for the Reno Gazette-Journal in the early 1990s when he was given a chance to work in the public relations department for the National Football League’s San Diego Chargers.

He moved to Las Vegas in 2000 to oversee public relations for Circus Circus, eventually transferring to the corporate communications side for the Mandalay Resort Group.

When the company was sold in 2005 to MGM Mirage for $7.9 billion, Burton joined the new ownership’s corporate communications and public affairs team. Among his job assignments was handling work for MGM’s diversity program.

Burton said he had the support of his family, corporate communications associates and close friends in starting his public relations business. The move also allowed Burton to branch out beyond gaming.

Burton has one employee — himself. He collaborates with other marketing professionals, such as advertising experts, media buyers and website designers.

“The marketplace is more receptive to working with other consultants or other sole practitioners,” Burton said.

He still works out of his home office but will make use of office space offered by his clients.

“The way business is today, client expectations are not based on the square footage of your office or if you have a basketball hoop in the back,” Burton said. “They just want to know that you are available when they need you, and is your strategy on point.”

Question: Why did you start your own business and not look for another corporate public relations position?

Answer: It was pretty clear to me there was an opportunity for someone with my background. I knew other companies were eliminating key staff in their communications departments. I had some conversations with MGM about doing some consulting around diversity. It was an area that I had developed some expertise in.

Question: What were your initial thoughts about branching out on your own?

Answer: It wasn’t like I was jumping out of an airplane at 30,000 feet without a parachute. It was strategic, and it was calculated. I did my homework. Was it tough? Absolutely. There is always fear. But I had great relationships. and I leaned on those relationships.

Question: What mistakes did you avoid?

Answer: I didn’t want to grow too fast and have to hire employees. Instead of hiring employees and hoping business comes in, I decided to work more collaboratively.

Question: Why did you put your name on the business?

Answer: One mistake small firms tend to make is understanding who you are and what your brand represents. I wasn’t going to come up with some nebulous name. People associated my career with honesty, integrity, great work and a great person to work with. I had a lot of equity built into my reputation.

Question: What is the right size for your business?

Answer: I would say when you’re still getting referrals and no one is complaining about the quality of work, that’s when you know you have the right size. My biggest fear is having too much going on and I start to juggle and things fall through the cracks. I haven’t had that problem.

Question: Do you prefer long-term clients or project-only clients?

Answer: I prefer retainer clients because that allows stability in terms of cash flow, which is the thing that will derail a small business before anything else. I like projects, but I’m very picky and choosy about the project. It had to be something that is important to the community. I’ve been moving more in the last few years into advocacy.

Question: Do you find yourself competing with large public relations firms for business?

Answer: When I first started, I used to have firms call me and say, ‘Reggie, here is a (request for proposal) that we won’t touch because we’re too busy.’ Now, I don’t get those calls.

I’d rather focus on clients that appreciate the fact that I have 15-plus years in this industry and I can help them with strategic communications, corporate and social responsibility, diversity, advocacy, outreach and all other things they are trying to do around communications. I just don’t have MGM or Mandalay Resort Group behind me. But, I have that experience.

Question: How did you end up working for the San Diego Chargers?

Answer: I was offered an internship with the team where you go to training camp and basically try out. An internship is how you work your way into a job. There were no guarantees. I made it through training camp and the season. Months later, the team played in the Super Bowl in Miami. In professional sports life, one year is equivalent to three or four years at a job. Going to a Super Bowl is like five years. You don’t have a life.