by Nicole H. Holland
reprinted with permission from 2006
A small firm that is deeply rooted in the community, Sunrise began as a consulting and building maintenance firm targeted toward the minority audience. In a 1989 State Newspaper article, Darrell Jackson said, “There is a big need in the market for a first-class, minority consulting firm targeted toward the minority community.”
“But,” added Jackson, “we don’t restrict ourselves at all.”
Twenty years later, that statement is still true. Founded in 1986 by Darrell Jackson, Heyward Bannister and two others (Bishop A. C. Jackson and Bill Chapman), Sunrise is the oldest African-American public relations firm in South Carolina.
“Darrell and I met through Tim Rogers, my boss at the time, who was also an attorney in the House of Representatives. He introduced us,” recalled Heyward Bannister. Bannister had only been at Blackwater Associates (Tim Rogers’ PR Firm) for several months. Rogers, having attended a political meeting where Jackson gave a presentation on behalf of the Bible Way Social Action Foundation, was greatly impressed. “His exact words were, ‘You need to meet this bright, articulate, impressive young man. He is really dynamic!’” said Bannister.
“Shortly after that introduction, Darrell and I found out we had common roots. That is, both of us had family in the Gadsden area…and family members who attended St. Mark Baptist Church,” said Bannister.
According to Bannister, both men worked on a few campaigns for the South Carolina Democratic Party for at least two election cycles. “It was back when Bob Coble and Chris Verenes were Directors of the South Carolina Democratic Party,” reminisced Bannister. “Politics and PR became our common ground! And, sometime between the 1984 and ’86 campaign efforts, as we worked on the statewide ‘Get out the Vote’ effort, the seeds were planted. We realized that we could do this for ourselves!”
The excitement of that revelation is still evident in Bannister’s voice as he recalled the early years in which he and Darrell created a minority firm which targeted the African-American market. “In the 1980’s, there were no PR firms in South Carolina which concentrated on the minority segment of the market in terms of trends, buying power and advertising in general. Larger firms hired us to do what they now have in-house employees working on,” Bannister explained. “When Sunrise first started, we had two components with four partners: Bishop, Bill, Darrell and myself,” he says.
In fact, Heyward Bannister managed the PR side of Sunrise until Jackson was elected to the South Carolina State Senate. Then, Bannister opened BANCO-Bannister Company, a public relations and marketing firm which then took on the political consulting duties in order to keep the lines clear–so that there would be no conflict of interest. Bannister managed his own firm until he was appointed to former President Bill Clinton’s cabinet and moved to Washington, DC. Jackson was a key component to the consulting arm of the firm.
“Darrell Jackson was our strategist, our mouthpiece,” says Bannister. “Man, he could sell!”
Jackson retains his role as chief strategist and primary consultant, and in 2006 was re-named President and CEO. According to Bannister, Bishop Jackson was a silent partner, offering wisdom and financing. “You see, the three of us (Darrell, Bill and myself) were younger and less established. We knew what we wanted, and we brought the skills to execute, but Bishop Jackson had what we really needed…wisdom,” and, chuckles Bannister, “money.”
As the company grew, Sunrise was awarded a contract with Savannah River Site which grew into an annual contract of over $1 million. Soon Bannister was taking his PR management experience and applying those same skills to building maintenance management. Bill Chapman supervised the building maintenance since he already been involved in some aspect of that field.
A lot of people thought the janitorial and building maintenance aspect was risky. But it worked out well for many years. “If I had to explain or say why, I think it’s because the planning, management, execution, leadership and marketing skills propelled us to where we needed to be. Then too,” he added, “they were all transferable skills. Indeed, our management skills enabled us to defy some of the statistics you read about concerning small businesses, particularly small minority businesses. We overcame those challenges mainly because of the experience and skills we brought to the table when we started.”
You have to remember, the scope of some of our projects was quite significant. Project ADAM, One Church, One Child, and The Stone of Hope (at Martin Luther King Park) are all well-known projects that garnered national attention and which made a difference in the lives of people. In addition to that, through the janitorial arm we had contracts with SRS, the City of Columbia, Benedict College and Allen University.
“We created jobs for people, and that’s important,” said Bannister. “Indeed, at one point, we had over 100 employees through the janitorial arm of the company.
In 2003, as the company handled several high-profile sporting events, including the 2003 and 2004 Palmetto Capital City Classics, and began statewide media placement for clients such as Pro-Bowl Ford and John Edwards for President, they toyed with a name change for the organization, one that would reflect more of their advertising and media expertise.
“I remember Darrell saying, it doesn’t matter to me if we need to add the public relations or even advertising or communications, but it must stay SUNRISE,” recalls Director of Advertising, Kenya Bryant. “He was adamant about that one thing, not wanting to do away with SUNRISE.”
In 2006, Sunrise Enterprise of Columbia, Inc. became Sunrise Communications.
“I was the management person, so I was responsible for the due diligence and making sure it happened,” explains Bannister. As we searched for a name we knew we wanted something that represented dependability, reliability and energy. We definitely wanted something that portrayed energy and energetic.” As the group filed with the S.C. Secretary of State’s Office they soon realized there was already a Sunrise; so they added the words “Enterprise of Columbia, Incorporated” to provide the distinction.
Today, with combined experience of more than 45 years, Sunrise’s staff members are experts in the field of public relations, which includes: special event planning, media relations, media placement, reaching ethnic markets, community relations, crisis communications, and all components of integrated marketing and communications.
Sunrise Enterprise of Columbia, Inc. has been through many changes, at times shifting its interests and its focus. During this time, services offered have ranged from political consulting to janitorial service and building maintenance, and from project management to speech writing. Sunrise’s long-standing reputation has afforded the company the opportunity to conduct research and public relations campaigns for higher education institutions, hospitals, banks, industrial corporations and a variety of businesses and organizations.
“Personally, I have always enjoyed working with candidates and issues,” says Bannister. “The reason being, you can make a difference if you elect people to office, if the people you elect are first and foremost capable of providing leadership. I’m proud when I look at the results of the work we’ve done, particularly the campaigns we ran. In fact, Bob Coble, Kay Patterson, Darrell Jackson and Leon Howard, they’re still in office today. Another thing that comes to mind is the local option sales tax. Twenty years ago that wasn’t so popular, but we were working on it back then. We got out into the community, created grassroots campaigns that reached people that moved people and …it was definitely about changing the status quo. ”
He continued: “Twenty years ago we as business people providing marketing and PR services in South Carolina experienced both sides of a double-edged sword. Mainstream or corporate entities didn’t need us, but in our community people didn’t understand us, nor did they want to pay for something they saw as new (and untried). Today you see more PR, marketing and political consulting firms owned by minorities, and I’d like to think that we had something to do with that. Then too, I like to believe that the light bulb has come on, and that larger PR firms now see the need for niche marketing and targeting groups that have tremendous buying power and tremendous voting power.”
“Certainly,” summarizes Bannister, “I want to be clear in letting people know that it is still a challenge, even now in 2006, for black businesses to be accepted. In many ways, we’re still pioneering, we’re still educating.”
Indeed, there have been great achievements made regarding a number of different business opportunities that developed through Sunrise Enterprise of Columbia, dozens of African-American PR professionals have launched successful careers, satisfied clients continue to provide new and exciting campaign opportunities and elected officials continue to change the face of politics in South Carolina.
Sunrise has undergone over 20 years of flux and change, but one thing still remains the same: Sunrise is true to its mission as a minority consulting firm targeted toward the minority community.
“But,” as Darrell Jackson once said, “We don’t restrict ourselves at all.”