Linda Lovgren’s Sterling Career Earns Her Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame Induction
Wherever one lives there are those high achievers whose professional work and community service connote on them the epitome of respect, and that’s certainly the case with the subject of this profile, Linda Lovgren, a marketing-public relations expert known for her keen strategic thinking and execution. I can attest to her not only being extremely professional but eminently approachable as well. She’s just what you’d expect from a Midwest entrepreneur, too, with her legendary work ethic and unassilable integrity combined with that down-to-earth humility that makes her rather uncomfortable talking about herself. Of course, she makes her living polishing the image of others and so naturally she prefers deflecting attention away from herself to her clients. But it’s easy to see why clients would develop an easy rapport with her and place their trust in her. Yes, she’s as salt-of-the-earth as they come. But don’t assume that means she’s unsophisticated. Her blue plate client roster is proof she’s fully engaged in 21st century marketing-public relations techniques.
Linda Lovgren’s Sterling Career Earns Her Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame Induction
©by Leo Adam Biga
Soon to appear in the New Horizons
“I’ve kind of always been a carpe diem or seize the day sort of person,” says new Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame inductee Linda Lovgren.
The highly respected public relations maven began her Lovgren Marketing Group in 1978 at the age of 30. It was an era when relatively few women, especially women that young, went in business for themselves. Growing up and working on her family’s far northwest Iowa farm taught the former Linda Hoeppner the independence and conviction necessary for being an entrepreneur. Her parents were both teachers but they left that field to run a farm and later formed another business. With that enterprising model as an example, Lovgren made the leap from working for others to working for herself only eight years after graduating college.
“It never occurred to me I could fail,” she says.
She’s keenly aware of the glass ceiling many women report encountering in the corporate world, then and now, but she didn’t experience it herself.
“I felt like when I started my business I had an equal opportunity to go after new business or to make people aware of what I was doing and to integrate into the community,” she says. “Now those aren’t things you do overnight, it takes time to grow a business, to grow relationships, and one connection leads to another connection. It’s this large linkage you begin to build.”
With businesswomen scarce then, her mentors were the opposite sex.
“As I discovered there weren’t very many women in business and so that made it a little bit tougher, and so a lot of my business mentors have been men.”
She says former Chamber president Bob Bell was a big help at the start.
“I went down to get a Chamber membership and I met Bob and told him what I was going to do and he said, ‘Well. let’s see what we can get you involved in that would be good.’ He kind of started to help connect me in various ways.”
Those connections not only aided her in getting established but forged a strong relationship with the Chamber that culminated in her serving as its first female chairman in 2003.
Several other prominent men have taken her under their wing.
“Hal Daub was clearly one of them,” says Lovgren, who’s been active in Republican party politics. “I got to know Hal when he was running for Congress and he hired me to do marketing work with him and we became very good, lifelong friends. In fact, when he was running for reelection in 1980 I had young children at home and one night we needed to have a meeting but I couldn’t leave because my husband had some obligation and I had kids to put to bed. So the meeting came to my house and Hal put my kids to bed. He read them the stories while his staff and I worked on the campaign. We always chuckle about that a little bit.
The late Bob Reilly, an Omaha PR-advertising legend, proved an invaluable resource as well.
“When I first started in business I realized I knew a lot about advertising and public relations but I didn’t know a lot about running the business. I didn’t know the business management practices for billing and managing. I called up Bob, who had been a partner in Holland, Dreves, Reilly and was teaching at UNO at the time, and I said, ‘Can I hire you to consult with me and help me through this startup phase?’ We talked things over at what turned out to be a long lunch and we developed a long friendship and great relationship.”
For someone as forward-thinking and confident as Lovgren, making a go of it on her own was a strategic move to advance her career. She entered the adventure with a come-what-may attitude that prepared her for whatever happened.
“As I look back on it now I just kind of looked at it as this is the next step in what I’m going to do, and if it works out that is spectacular, and it has been, and if it doesn’t work out, there will be another door opening.
Besides, when she and her husband moved to Omaha after college she tasted the disappointment of not finding the dream job she had her sights set on, yet she landed on her feet anyway and soon found the pathway to her career.
“I really had wanted a job in an advertising agency,” she says. “I had gone around and knocked on all the doors and dropped off my resume and nothing happened.”
She considered working in television, whether in front of or behind the camera. She acted in theater productions and did public speaking throughout high school and college. She studied broadcast journalism as part of her communications program at Indiana University, where she interned at the school’s TV station.
“I really wanted to work in that creative field of writing and production.”
Among other things, she was the IU station’s weather girl. “I knew nothing about the weather,” she admits. “It was all about the performance,” And about a pretty face and nice figure. Thus, she says, “my first job interview in Omaha was to do the weather on KMTV. But Carol Scott got the job.” With her TV and advertising aspirations foiled, Lovgren moved onto the next best thing.
“I went to work for KRCB Radio in Council Bluffs. I was doing the writing for all the direct accounts and doing a lot of voice-over production. If the news person got sick I did the news. It was a small family station at the time. This was before it was acquired by the Mitchell Broadcasting Company.”
Her big break finally came when veteran ad man Howard Winslow offered her a position with his Winslow Advertising agency.
“His clients included Sears, McDonalds, Shavers Food Marts and a number of retail stores. As creative director I was the writer-producer of all the spots we did. I really was well-suited for that. I enjoyed working with the clients.”
In seven years with Winslow she says “I got a broad education from him. That was a good foundation.” He was the first in that string of male mentors who aided her professional development.
Branching out on her own after working for Winslow was “a defining moment” in her personal and professional life, she says. Making it an even greater challenge was the fact she had a 16-month old child at home, with her second child on the way. Going it alone while pregnant was a big decision. She knew being a mother, wife and owner-operator would severely test her and the family.
She got the idea to go in business for herself when, she says, “some of the clients I had been working with came to me and said, ‘We know in a few months you’re going to take some time off but we would really like to continue to work with you.’
So I thought about that for awhile and decided I was going to start the company.”
She says she and her husband, Robert W. Lovgren, then a fresh from college Mutual of Omaha manager and now longtime executive with the company, discussed the pros and cons. “We talked about all of this and he said, “I know you really well and I know you’re not going to be happy unless you try because you’ll always look back and say, Should I have done this?’ So I had great support from him to start with.”
She concedes there were sacrifices and struggles being a working mom but she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
“I know I was a happier person because I was working, which means my children were probably happier kids. It meant that when we spent family time together we spent very focused, productive family time together, and so that’s a positive. It was just a matter of figuring out how to make all the pieces fit.”
Finding the right balance, she says, was key. That was no easy thing either for this self-described “workaholic.” Having a driven nature is characteristic of virtually every successful entrepreneur and she’s no different. Her hectic schedule as a new business owner and mother was all she could handle.
“I had childcare in the mornings, so that”s when I’d see my clients and do my work outside of the house. Then I’d come home in the afternoons and do naps and activities with the kids, fix dinner at night and put the kids to bed. We would do that as a family. And then I’d resume work again.
“I’ve always been a late night person which probably was a good thing in this case.
I would always enjoy that peaceful time in the evening to work and think about the strategies for my clients and do creative things.
She says young entrepreneurs need “to think about how they want to use their time and what kind of balance do they want in their life. As their business grows and if they have a family then the pressures on priorities start to grow as well. There were times when I don’t think I did the best of job balancing those priorities but now when I talk to my kids who are adults and have children of their own they say, ‘Boy, Mom, we didn’t realize it then, but we’re kind of wondering how that all worked out.’ And it did, too, because they both have great families.”
A favorite way she maintains balance is by enjoying the great outdoors, particularly her sport of choice, fly fishing.
“I grew up on the Minnesota-Iowa border and my mom and my dad and my brother and my grandmother loved to fish. I learned to spin fish for bullheads and crappies and bass when I was growing up.”
She says she hadn’t fished for maybe 20 years when she and her husband were off on one of their backpacking, hiking, camping trips in Estes Park, Colorado and she noticed a promotion for a fly fishing instructional.
“I thought, That looks really interesting, I’m going to go do that, so I went on this Sunday night four-hour excursion to learn how to fly fish and that was it. I have taken to it you might say like a fish to water. I love it. Part of the reason I love it is it’s physical and what I do day to day isn’t very physical.
“I also enjoy the peace and quiet and just the serene atmosphere. It’s just you and the fish. It’s an opportunity to think about things that aren’t day to day work. It’s just kind of that emotional release and, of course, catching a fish is a lot of fun. It has skill and it has art. But most of all it has an emotional attachment with the people I’m around when I fly fish.”
The sport took on deeper meaning for her when it became part of her own and other women’s ongoing healing as breast cancer survivors.
“About three years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I was home recovering from a minor surgery reading a fly fishing magazine and there was something about an organization called Casting for Recovery. It’s a program that does fly fishing retreats for breast cancer survivors because the therapy of the fly fishing is good for the muscles in the arms and chest area. I contacted them and got together a group of friends and we had our first retreat in Nebraska last September.
Fourteen women. We went out to Valentine and fished on the Snake River.”
She emphasizes she was “very lucky” in her own bout with cancer because the doctors caught it early.”
Life throws curves at her like it does at everyone else sand she says it helps to cultivate positive attitudes and friends.
“I guess you could say I always had confidence but it didn’t mean I always got what I wanted and I think that’s really an important lesson to learn, too – that sometimes even though you think you’re the best or you’ve done it the best you aren’t going to win all the time, and in a way those are good growing experiences, too. I’ve never regretted and I’ve never looked back.
“I surround myself with a very eclectic group of people that I like to be around. They’re all energetic, they’re all achievers in their own way. Some are professionals, some are stay-at-home moms. Some of them are my fly fish pals. They all like to get out and do things. They’re all looking forward to what’s the next adventure we can have. They’re also people that are very loyal to each other. If you need help and you call them, they’re there.”
It helped that she knew what she wanted when she launched Lovgren Marketing. Thirty four years later she still looks forward to coming to the office every day. Her hunger has never left and it’s reflected in the can-do attitude she brings to the image enhancement, branding, message control and media liaison work she does.
“Get there, do what you can, do it with enthusiasm, and if things don’t go the way you want, pick up the pieces and find out how to put them back on track. That’s what I love about it, and no two days are ever the same.
“What keeps me going every day is that I really love what I do and I enjoy the relationships I build with clients.”
One of her firm’s big ongoing projects is the Clean Solutions for Omaha or CSO Program that includes sewer separation in northeast Omaha. Lovgren Marketing has been recognized for its work on the project with multiple awards from the Public Relations Society of America – Nebraska Chapter.
“When the city’s CSO project came along we were selected to do the public involvement work on it, so for the last six-plus years we’ve been doing public education in all sorts of fashions: marketing materials, media management and training, speaking to civic groups, working with schools and doing presentations to students about the environmental reasons for the project and how it will affect them into the future.
“It will be 15 years before the project’s implementation is finished and many years beyond that before we finish paying for it. I’ve gotten to meet people from literally every corner of this city, from the Mormon Bridge to Bellevue, from the Missouri River to Elkhorn, and I really get energized by talking to other people and finding out what they’re thinking and why they’re thinking it.”
She says public involvement projects like this are a new niche for her firm.
“When we started out we were primarily a retail advertising organization. We worked for restaurants, a clothing store, an appliance store, a car dealer, a bank and for Countryside village shopping center. Krug’s Men’s and Boys Clothing was our original client. We were very active in political campaigns for two and a half decades. About seven years ago we started doing a lot of work with municipal organizations.”
Lovgren Marketing Group led the advocacy campaign for the Omaha Convention Center and Arena bond issue.
Her company also does its share of earned media and event marketing. “We’ve done things like the ground breaking and ribbon cutting for Pay Pal and Gallup and the CenturyLink Center.”
As communications has evolved so has her business.
“The public relations field today is not just about news conferences and news releases,” she says. “It involves Facebook and Twitter and all the social media activities that are available now to help people get their messages out and to help manage messages. So staying up with technology, understanding how that technology can impact a client, those are all important.
“As time has gone on our business has changed dramatically. Twenty years ago we didn’t have personal computers. We do probably three times as much business with one person because of the computers and the Internet and the ability to communicate and get more information quickly. We can design more quickly and certainly make design changes more efficiently, and that’s good for the client.”
Technology can only take you so far though. Her profession, she says, is still about
“thinking and strategy to come up with the best product you can.” She feels her staff of five have some built-in advantages, including “the ability to connect our clients to the right people to get their business done. Because we are experienced and mature we have a lot of network and connection throughout the community, so we’re able to help people find the right places to get information effectively to market their products or services.”
She brings a wealth of experience and a considerable tool box to the table.
“I think I’m really good at sitting down with a client and saying, ‘What do you want to achieve?’ and then figuring out very useful strategic ways for them to meet their goals through marketing and public relations. And obviously one of the skill sets in that industry is having some creativity, being able to brainstorm with the client what creative ideas might help get that message to the public, what’s going to connect their product or service to their target audience.
“Over the years I think I’ve really honed a skill set that helps me get through all of the discussion and figure out what really is the underlying strategy for doing that.”
She’s quick to add, “i don’t do this on my own. In fact, sometimes I look at the organizational chart and I think I’m on the bottom of it. There are very talented people on our staff who do design and writing and PR and keep the organization functioning as a whole. We’ve had amazing talented people work here who I have enjoyed a lot. It’s a very collaborative kind of business. It’s like a family. Everyone has a task to do but as a whole we are so much better doing it together.”
What keeps her hungry for more after all these years is essentially the same thing that’s always motivated her.
“I think the thing I love the most is getting to the end of the day and knowing we helped a client or clients take one more step toward their success. You got the meeting you needed or got the ad finished and it looks great. Whatever that is it just makes you feel good when you go home.”
An indication of the mark she’s made locally is that she’s among very few women in the Omaha Chamber Business Hall of Fame. This year’s unusual in that she’s one of three women inductees, along with Ree Kaneko (Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts and KANEKO) and Lori Hogan (Home Instead Senior Care). The other 2012 inductees are Land Title Company founder and former Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey, Midlands Business Journal founder and publisher Bob Hoig and the late co-founder of Pamida, D.J. “Tex” Witherspoon.
Lovgren feels Omaha abounds with many “capable” women professionals and that it’s only a matter of time before more of them fill top management and executive roles in corporations and other organizations. She points out that many of the most accomplished women are, like her, Kaneko and Hogan, owners of their own businesses. Women CEOs are harder to find.
“It will come,” she says.
A chapter in her life that once again found her in a male-dominated field was her involvement with the GOP. “I worked very hard in party politics from 1976 to 1980.”
She was state party vice chairman before becoming interim chair. “It’s a huge responsibility. I enjoyed it tremendously, and I learned a lot. I certainly met people all over the state. It was a great time.”
While working on the state committee to elect Ronald Reagan she went on a campaign junket the then-candidate made across Nebraska. She flew on the press plane and then got to sit next to Reagan in his limo on the way to a speech he was making in Grand Island. “
“I spent 15 minutes talking to him. That was very exciting.”
At the 1980 national GOP convention in Detroit she was part of a team that put together a daily newspaper delivered to delegates. She was on the convention floor and attended various parties. “It was a lot of fun,” she says.
“I did stay involved in party politics for a long time after that in other ways,” she adds, but today she’s more calculated in her political deliberations.
“I’m very interested in politics and where it leads because it has an impact on us every day in terms of the policy that’s made. I think it’s very important for people to pay attention to the candidates and the issues surrounding us.”
Just as politics can be topsy turvy, her life and career have had ups and downs but she tries keeping an even keel through it all. She buys into the conventional wisdom that one learns more from failures than successes.
“I do agree with that, and sometimes they aren’t big failures either. You know, in our business we have great clients but sometimes they merge with someone else or they sell their company or the relationship just doesn’t work and you move on and they move on. I never look at those as failures in the sense that a lot of people might. I look at them and say, What opportunity does that present for me to build a better company and to build better relationships with the clients we do have? So I think you learn from everything you do.”
As a matriarch in her field, she feels she has something to offer young people coming into the profession and embraces sharing her knowledge base with them.
“I take every meeting that I can get with them. Not only young women but young men, too. I enjoy talking with them because they come with new ideas and fresh perspectives. I think it’s important for them to understand what they want to do, what they want to be, and if I can help them sort that out I’m happy to do it. I haven’t done it all right but I’ve done enough things right.”
She says part of the satisfaction she takes from her career is when a former employee goes on to success of their own and tells her they couldn’t have done it without her. “That tells me I made a difference for somebody,” she says, “and that’s what we all hope to do in our life.”
For Lovgren, whose give back has included volunteering with the State Fair Board, Nebraska Kidney Foundation, Mid-America Boy Scouts of America and Habitat for Humanity, “the prize in the end is not one thing,” adding, “The prize is – Did I accomplish what I wanted to accomplish for the people who surround me and work hard for the company, for my family who have come along for this whole effort, for the clients we work for? It’s really more about knowing you have accomplished something that has made a difference for all of those people.”
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