Twin Cities region

Edtech Entrepreneurs Gather At Twin Cities Bootcamp.

Posted on October 18, 2014. Filed under: Public Relations, Twin Cities region | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Change the business model, change the school.

Our challenge, which we readily accepted, was to change the college’s business model.

Make no small plans, said famed Chicago architect Daniel Burnham.

Make no small changes to our school’s business model, decided we three initiates to the world of higher education administration.

Just Change It.

So, we bent to the task at hand: breaking the mold of an heretofore successful traditional four-year liberal arts college. Our intentions were good. All we wanted to do was make sure the college was fit to compete against the new uber-barbarians invading the collegiate space.

We got only so far down our chosen path before realizing that the future of western civilization rested in our hands.

We muffed it.

The Sponsored Education.

Call ours the corporate sponsorship approach to higher education management. The big idea was to sell not just naming rights but content rights to college courses – and even major areas of study – to the highest bidders. Big companies, we assumed, would jump at the chance to forge untrained students  into tailor-made corporate gladiators.

But how to  attract students to a school with such a Machiavellian bent? Easy. Ignore the students, and pursue the parents instead. Scare Mom and Dad into believing that without a degree from Corporate U, the kids were bound for dismal lives of career mediocrity.

Money does change many things. No more would our college cater to the student seeking a broad-based, liberal arts education. Theater majors, philosophy hounds and English Lit enthusiasts need not apply!

Giving The Boot to Western Civilization.

On that note, we understood how seriously off the rails our little exercise in collegiate reinvention had careened. For our model to succeed, western civilization needs must end.

The ghost of George Orwell was invoked at this point.

An Exercise In Business Redirection.

Fortunately, it was only an exercise – a game of business reinvention, played out in just 20 minutes. No colleges, universities or civilizations destroyed in the process. We, the players, were attendees of the recent Business Models In Education Bootcamp, organized by Educelerate Twin Cities and Education Startup and held in St. Paul. The goal of the exercise was to give us a hands-on feel for the work of strategically redesigning a business or institution. Working in groups of three, we tackled the job with the aid of a worksheet called the Business Model Canvas — a concept ably explained by Teresa Marchek, a Twin Cities business consultant and event co-facilitator.

The idea of the exercise, as boot camp co-facilitator Rajiv Tandon said, was to give us a crash course in leading business and institutional transformation. The bigger the change, the better for purposes of the exercise, Rajiv advised.

Scribbling down our thoughts on Post-It notes which we attached to the worksheet as a record of our journey, we tracked the effects of our ideas across nine different areas of strategic importance to the institution:

  • Customer segments
  • Customer relationships
  • Channels
  • Value Propositions
  • Key Activities
  • Key Resources
  • Key Partners
  • Cost Structure
  • Revenue Streams

Getting all those pieces to fit together takes some doing, obviously. Our brief plunge into the process did show us the value of the approach. Using the Business Model Canvas as our guide, we plotted out a rough outline for completely making over  our unnamed liberal arts college. That it would have been the sure ruin of a fine institution renowned for its instruction was beside the point. Working with the Business Model Canvas was the point – and a good one at that.

I’ve been to a few Educelerate Twin Cities events now. This was one of the best, not least because of the classroom-like activity. All Educelerate events are  an open window on the world of edtech entrepreneurship in the Twin Cities. Steve Wellvang, a partner at the Minneapolis law firm Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly, is one of the genial Educelerate organizers.

A recent article in Forbes Magazine hailed the Midwest as the nation’s new breadbasket for business startups. Medical and alternative energy were two sectors labeled attractive to venture capital investors; edtech from Minnesota belongs on the list as well. (See the Forbes article here: Forbes: Midwest Land of Opportunity.)

What’s your experience in edtech or business startups and innovation in general? I’d like to hear from you…

Download the Business Model Canvas here Model from the Business Model Foundry website.

Information on Educelerate Twin Cities is here: Educelerate.

Doug Hovelson, author of this blog post, is an experienced media relations and public relations professional working out of Minneapolis. Some might call him a media junkie, in a good way. He’s written and placed thousands of press releases and company stories in almost every media outlet known to humankind. He’s always delighted to talk media relations strategies with people who want to see if they can do more with their media relations efforts. He can be reached at 612-722-5501 or at doughovelson AT MSN Dot COM.

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Macy’s American Icons window displays bear looking into.

Posted on July 6, 2014. Filed under: Doug Hovelson Photography, Minneapolis, Ramblings, Retail, Retail window displays, Twin Cities region | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

It’s time to update the world on what’s going on with Macy’s window displays at its big Nicollet Mall store in downtown Minneapolis. It’s the American Icons series, featuring Ralph Lauren apparel — and a host of references to other American icons such as the open road, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and mid-20th century America. These are windows well worth looking into — as I discovered while strolling the Mall, camera in hand, recently.

Macy's window display - Iconic

Styled All American look at Macy’s.

An all-American look at Macy's, complete with references to artist Jasper Johns and other

An all-American look at Macy’s, complete with references to artist Jasper Johns, as part of the American Icons series of window displays at the Macy’s Downtown Minneapolis store.

Macy's American Icon window display

The enduring appeal of denim, with artistic notations by Jasper Johns (the American flag), and a sign for Route 66 — America’s highway — for the American Icons series — it’s a series, after all — of window displays at the Macy’s Downtown Minneapolis store.

American flag is part of the American Icons - Ralph Lauren display at Macy's

Macy’s goes with the red white and blue theme for summer style promotion, in Macy’s Downtown Minneapolis store.


Denim is iconic style featured in Macy's window display.

Iconic America, with denim, at Macy’s Downtown Minneapolis store.

Sunglasses give cool look at Macy's

Sunglasses are so cool at Macy’s Downtown Minneapolis store this summer.

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A Fourth Of July Day In Downtown Minneapolis.

Posted on July 6, 2014. Filed under: Minneapolis, Ramblings, Twin Cities region | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

July 4 was a fine day for taking in the sights in downtown Minneapolis.

Mississippi River chugging along in downtown Minneapolis.

Swollen by recent heavy rains throughout the state, the Mississippi River was really chugging along on July 4. This view is from the St. Anthony Falls area, with the Hennepin Avenue Bridge in the background.



Let us do the pedaling, that's the credo of the pedi-cab drivers in downtown Minneapolis. Pedi-cabs are allowed to travel on Nicollet Mall - sharing the pavement with bicyclists, buses and pedestrians. The weather was fine for pedi-cab riding on July 4.

Let us do the pedaling, that’s the credo of the pedi-cab drivers in downtown Minneapolis. Pedi-cabs are allowed to travel on Nicollet Mall – sharing the pavement with bicyclists, buses and pedestrians. The skyway in the background is festooned with a banner promoting the upcoming Major League Baseball All Star Game at Target Field in Minneapolis. The weather was fine for pedi-cab riding on July 4.



Festive scene along Third Avenue Bridge in downtown Minneapolis on July 4.

The Third Avenue Bridge offers the best seats in town for the annual downtown Minneapolis fireworks show on July 4. People arrive early — very early — to stake out their turf on the bridge. The festive atmosphere brings out all kinds of food vendors. Ice cream treats are especially popular. Also spotted along the riverbank: a food wagon selling foot-long hotdogs.
The Third Avenue Bridge spans the Mississippi River between downtown and southeast Minneapolis. The bridge is not open to motor vehicle traffic any longer. But it was preserved by the city as a pedestrian bridge. It’s a great amenity to the city, with terrific views of historic St. Anthony Falls on the upriver side, and the University of Minnesota on the downriver side.



A man plays the trumpet on Nicollet Mall.

A lone trumpeter holds forth on Nicollet Mall on July 4. He was settled in on a bench across from the IDS Building.



Red white and blue logo for WCCO-TV on July 4.

WCCO-TV’s signal tower logo was decked out in red, white and blue colors in honor of Independence Day.




Downtown Minneapolis has a variety of faces.

Couple of guys on Nicollet Mall in costume.

You never know who you’re going to meet when you take a walk down Nicollet Mall. These two colorfully adorned guys were hanging down by the Loring Greenway on July 4. They hailed me as I walked by and asked if I’d take their picture – using their iPhone. I did, and then I took a photo of my own with my camera. I think they’d be pleased with the result. Nice guys.

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About Me – the author of the PRStar blog – professional version.

Posted on April 21, 2014. Filed under: About Me, Creative Marketing, Public Relations, Twin Cities region | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Long overdue, if I do say so myself.

Here’s a biographical sketch of the author of this blog:

My name is Doug Hovelson. I’m based out of Minneapolis, working as an independent public relations consultant and writer.

Background Facts

  • Former newspaper reporter, editor, photographer.
  • Freelance public relations professional in the transition from newspapers to PR. (My take at the time: Holy cow! You mean there’s real money to be made as a writer?)
  • Account executive work at a small but very aggressive Minneapolis agency, Brum & Anderson Public Relations.
  • Public relations account executive to partner, Bozell Worldwide, Minneapolis office over a span of 15 years. (I’ve got the commemorative 15-year anniversary watch to prove it. Still works. Good watch.)
  • It was a major agency battleship,Bozell, part of a network that eventually reached beyond the Midwest into  New York City and then morphed into True North – which in turn gave birth to the global advertising and communications holding company,Interpublic,orIPG as it’s now known. Big accounts lent themselves to big opportunities to grow and do great work for clients in industries such as bookselling, retailing, consumer electronics, consumer finance, healthcare, packaged goods, commodities and food, travel and tourism. Learned along the way – the compelling value of great writing and creativity as key components to successful public relations programs, campaigns – and even one-off projects. Combining public relations with advertising and other communicationsdisciplinesdeliversmaximum value for the client – that was a lesson well learned at the agency.
    • When we introduced the Pork: The Other White Meat campaign, for example, we led with advertising and then used public relations to explain the startling and true facts behind the campaign (that pork was an actual healthful white meat, akin to chicken and turkey and in fact superior to those two fowl-born products in many ways).
    •  For Reading Rainbow, an Emmy Award-winning children’s TV show, public relations was the entire show – we garnered attention for the show with a national media relations campaign highlighted by coverage in such august media outlets as the New York Times, Washington Post, Good Morning, America, Today Show, CBS News, TV Guide and more. We also created posters, brochures, contests, and other promotional type materials and activities for distribution and implementation by individual PBS stations throughout the country.
    • Media relations led the way when we introduced the era of digital satellite TV to America via client USSB/Hubbard Broadcasting. From the floor of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to press conference settings in New York, Los Angeles and many other US cities, we dished out the news about this new way of obtaining basic and premium television programming via a small satellite dish that could be easily installed and enjoyed in homes across the country.
    • Those are just three of many examples that come to mind of the types of client challenges I dealt with while working at Bozell. The experience gained in working for large national accounts, often in tandem with advertising, direct marketing, market research and other forms of marketing disciplines helped me develop a very deep understanding of how to help clients successfully market their products and services with public relations strategies and tactics.
    • Big Thunder Public Relations, a boutique public relations agency – well, a solo PR firm with panache – owned and operated by yours truly. After working at a high profile place like Bozell, it sometimes feels like I’ve disappeared into the witness protection program as a solo entrepreneur. To combat that perception – and, frankly, to win more business and provide more and better services to clients – I’ve recently begun working on developing more strategic partnerships with other advertising and marketing agencies. And why not? The world is full of opportunities for agile, quick-thinking, creatively focused agency teams that can provide the right types of services for clients on a just-in-time or agency-of-record basis. I still leverage my background in journalism by emphasizing such specialties as great writing and content production, media relations in all of its contemporary permutations, and creative problem solving. In this latter capacity as a creative problem solver I often function as something of a general marketing advisor and promulgator of effective solutions, the goal being to advance the needle by whatever means work best. I’m not alone in this – some of the biggest public relations firms in the country have taken to calling themselves centers of client creativity of late – and I certainly believe that I and my style – and my strategic partners – fit that mode.

The Big Thunder Years – Client Experience By Type

Client experience in the Big Thunder realm includes:

  • • Healthcare technology – clinical management software
    • Conference and seminar marketing
    • Event marketing
    • Manufacturing
    • Outdoor power equipment industry
    • Consumer products – new product introductions
    • Automotive component manufacturing, US and international
    • Faith-based organizations
    • Non-profit organizations
    • Commercial real estate
    • Residential real estate
    • Professional services – law firms
    • Media
    • Food/specialty foods
    • Social entrepreneurship and social enterprise

Say Goodbye For Now

That’s about it for now. If you’ve a need for a fresh start with public relations for your business or organization – or simply want to talk with someone with an objective perspective on public relations and marketing – I hope you’ll think of me and Big Thunder. And don’t think that just because I’m located in the Twin Cities that my perspective is limited to the immediate area – the type of work I do and the level of expertise I can deliver can be of benefit to any company anywhere. In any case, I’d be happy to talk with you!

Contact information: doughovelson AT MSN Dot COM or 612-722-5501 in these United States, add the +1 in front of the number for international callers.

Interested in:

  • Queries from business people interested in upgrading their public relations approach for improved results
  • Simple introductory discussions with business people – including those who may be considering whether a public relations strategy is right for their business needs
  • Project work, including writing assignments of all kinds – PR, journalistic, promotional, research reports, etc.
  • Helping out any way I can – contacts, ideas, brainstorming, etc.


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Any Luck? November Fishing In Minneapolis.

Posted on November 27, 2012. Filed under: Sporting life, Twin Cities region | Tags: , , |

Lake Calhoun, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Lake Calhoun, Minneapolis, Minnesota (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fishing on a cloudy, cold day in Minneapolis.

Fishing on Lake Calhoun, late fall

Thanksgiving Day in Minneapolis started off nice and balmy. But the break in the weather didn’t last. By mid-afternoon, the wind had kicked into a blustery gear and the temperature was falling fast. Still, two guys stuck it out on their fishing boat in Lake Calhoun. Were they having any luck? Hard to tell from this picture. One thing for sure, there was no competition from other fishermen.

Snow started falling not long afterwards. By then, I was at my parents’ house in the distant suburbs, settling in for the Thanksgiving feast. The snow fell harder as the day wore on into the evening. When I went out to my car, along about 10 p.m., it was coated with ice and snow. Out came the ice scraper. Driving was not bad, however. Very little actual snow accumulation.

On the way home, I thought about those two guys out pressing their luck for a last-minute fishing excursion on Calhoun. I thought about fishing in late November in Minnesota. I thought about all the fish not yet caught. I thought it was probably a fine idea, to go fishing one last time for the season on Thanksgiving Day 2012 on a city lake in Minneapolis.

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New McDonald’s In Town (Minneapolis)

Posted on September 7, 2012. Filed under: Public Relations, Ramblings, Retail, Society, Twin Cities region | Tags: , , |


New McDonald's opens on East Lake Street in Minneapolis - photo by Doug Hovelson

Spiffy new McDonald’s opens in Minneapolis

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Sneak Peek – New Minneapolis McDonald’s

Posted on August 25, 2012. Filed under: Doug Hovelson Photography, Minneapolis, Public Relations, Retail, Twin Cities region | Tags: , , , , |

Workers toiled into the evening recently in preparation for opening of new McDonald’s on East Lake Street in Minneapolis. The new store was built on the site of an older store, torn down earlier this summer to make way for the new and much-modernized store. Judging from the looks of it, McDonald’s is going for a more diner-friendly atmosphere inside. The façade includes a limestone motif that reflects an architectural style common to the surrounding neighborhood. Interesting…

Newly built McDonald's being made ready to open soon; photo credit: Doug Hovelson

Newlly built McDonald’s on East Lake Street in Minneapolis, nearly ready for business. Built on site of old store.

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Social Networking The Mississippi River Way

Posted on July 19, 2012. Filed under: Public Relations, Small Business in Minnesota, Sporting life, Twin Cities region | Tags: , , , |

Patrick Boulay, publisher of the New Business Minnesota monthly magazine, poses in front of a company promotional banner at a recent meet-up honoring heroes of the business start-up community in Minnesota.

Patrick Boulay, founder and publisher of New Business Minnesota magazine.

Not even Mark Twain would find much to complain about vis-à-vis the notoriously inhospitable Siberian climate of the Twin Cities this summer. In fact, incurable river romantic that he was, Twain would likely have cozied up to the bar at the Pool & Yacht Club in Lilydale on the Mississippi — as I did the other night. Twain might then cast a gaze filled with fond admiration at the rolling waters of nearby Old Man River — as did I — and then, just before tossing back his double shot of Scotch whiskey, raise a glass to the inventor of air conditioning.

Because it was blazing hot late into the afternoon of Tuesday, July 17. The type of heat that drives away all thoughts of January wind chills — and causes one to marvel at people’s ability to assume the trappings of civilization — in this case, the choice to don a sport coat and serious leather dress shoes — before sallying forth into the inferno.

A Little Well-Deserved Startup Love

But no matter. For this was the New Business Minnesota meet-up, a chance for startup owners to “Network with Leading Business Professionals You Should Know,” held at the Pool & Yacht Club that very same day. Five to seven p.m., the invitation read, and at 5:30 or so there I was, primped and pumped for a brief interlude of business networking with these friends of Patrick Boulay.

A good turnout it was too — some 40 to 50 friendly faces, by my casual count, milling about with purposeful abandon in the spacious setting of a river-facing meeting room. Mr. Boulay arranged this meet-up to share the wealth of social networking capital he derives as publisher of the New Business Minnesota journal. It is, as he notes, a guide to getting going on running a new entrepreneurial enterprise in Minnesota, chock-full of useful information for the newbie biz wiz. He distributes 8,000 copies per monthly run, getting it into the hands of owners of startups who crave information tailored to their particular situations.

A Battler For Startups

A true champion of the startup class, Boulay notes in his Publisher’s column this month — titled “Startup Odds Are Pretty Good” — that the one-year success rate for startup businesses is 85%. Even five years on, after all the proverbial, epic struggles that entrepreneurial companies must endure, 50% of all startups are still in business. That is pretty good — and a good testament to the viability of all us small business operators as value-creators. (And don’t call us “small time operators” either. Small in scale we may be, but most of us in the small biz world think big. We have to – there’s no corporate cushion to fall back on, so we need to be ahead of the game at every step. Of course, we use what we know to help make our products and services more appealing and competitive, and if that ends up helping corporate customers and clients, so much the better. It’s not an either/or world, recent commentary by John H. Bunzel —Small Business Is Getting A Tad Too Much Love — in the Minneapolis StarTribune notwithstanding.)

That said, let’s not forget that key to every entrepreneur’s success is his/her ability to make professional contacts. Mr. Boulay’s meeting was an excellent venue for doing so — this is social networking at its best, e.g. in person, face-to-face, one tiny swap of business cards at a time. I would encourage other small business people to engage with Patrick’s organization at

An Urban River Haven

One last word on the setting: a revelation to me to discover for the first time the discreet charms of the Pool & Yacht Club. Scenically situated in — Lilydale, where else? — just across the 35E bridge from St. Paul, it’s a terrific spot from which to watch the river flow — or chill down during those Siberian-style Januaries that descend upon the Twin Cities. Boaters can pull into the docks and ramble on up to the clubhouse for food and refreshments too. Such river hospitality is all too limited in the Twin Cities, so take advantage. (I’ll just add the Pool & Yacht Club info, Pool & Yacht Club, to be sociable.)

You never know. The ghost of Mark Twain might wander on by while you’re gazing fondly at the rolling waters of the mighty Mississippi.

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Loppet or Leave it

Posted on February 7, 2011. Filed under: Public Relations, Sporting life, Twin Cities region | Tags: , , , , |

Minneapolis Loppet street banner

Minneapolis Loppet - a celebration of winter's wonders

What’s in a name? A plethora of wobble-legged snow cruisers, in the case of the world-famous City of Lakes Loppet in Minneapolis. When a California friend asked me what a loppet was, I was forced to admit I didn’t know. This in spite of living and working in Minneapolis all these years, with some ongoing exposure to the cultural life of the city. In my ignorance, I suggested to my SoCal friend that a “loppet” might indeed be some kind of a rabbit – a notion derived via a mental association of the word with the lop-eared rabbit of lore.

Visions of rabbit-stormed streets dashed

But I was wrong. It turned out there were no armies of ski-borne rabbits slipping noiselessly through the streets of Minneapolis during the recent loppet weekend (Minneapolis Star Tribune loppet recap).

No these were just ordinary two-legged cross-country skiers of the human kind, now assembled en masse in one spot for a weekend of slippery snow-sliding fun and friendly, democratic competition.

Nordic roots

As I discovered in doing due loppet diligence on-line:

“The word ‘loppet’ has its origins in Scandinavian culture and commonly refers to a mass participation cross-country ski event which includes longer, marathon length distances and both recreational and competitive elements. Some definitions refer to a loppet as a ‘citizen’s race,’” according to Sleeping Giant Loppet – a site promoting the March 5, 2011 loppet to be held in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

So it was that, once again, the value of a name was driven home to me.

Selling loppets to Californians

Loppet is assuredly a curious name for an event held in the United States – and on the same weekend as the superlatively named Super Bowl, of all things – and one that commands attention if only by begging for further explanation.

If a Californian has to ask, “what’s a loppet?” then there’s obviously a case to be made for a more forceful public relations effort in behalf of the world-famous Minneapolis Loppet. Something for Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak – the chief proponent of the Minneapolis Loppet – to consider as he basks in the afterglow of this past weekend’s very successful event. And one in which the Mayor himself was very much involved, as denoted from his breathless Sunday afternoon Tweets charting his own progress over the snow-covered course.

If the loppet of Minneapolis is indeed a cross-country ski celebration, as it most certainly is, it perhaps should have a mascot – and a lop-eared Finnish rabbit from Lapland would be a good one, in my humble opinion.

Randomly Noted:

Cost to make a child’s wish come true: “about $6,000,” according to Tom McKinney, executive director of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Minnesota. (See “Clawback Incorporated” in Twin Cities Business Monthly for details.)

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