Public relations pro Bernie DiMeo

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dimeoWe’ve all heard it said that, to succeed in business, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” For marketing maverick and public relations pro Bernie DiMeo, it’s a combination of the two.

DiMeo has the pleasure of running not one, but three, businesses right now. Bernie DiMeo Communications is a public relations firm, Rocco Shirts sells novelty custom-made apparel on-line while Hot Sports Grills sells football and baseball shaped charcoal grills. Why three different businesses? It stems from an entrepreneurial gene shared by his forebears.

DiMeo grew up in a Rogers Park two-flat in an Italian household that hailed from Rogliano, Calabria. While his family lived on the first floor, DiMeo’s aunt and uncle on his mother’s side lived on the second.

“My father was a liquor salesman for many years and also became a precinct captain in our ward,” recalls DiMeo. “My uncle, who was my godfather, started his own business. He would buy meat and vegetables in the city and go to the suburbs and sell them. They both were very proud of what they accomplished in life. My uncle would sit and smoke a 10-cent cigar and say, ‘I wonder what the poor people are doing?’ As far as he was concerned, he had it made.”

Early in his career, it took DiMeo a little time to develop exactly who and what he knew.

After graduating from Southern Illinois University, he pursued a career in radio but never got the break he wanted. After a few years, his father gently nudged him to connect with the city, and he landed a job in the Chicago Park District’s public relations department. DiMeo’s good work spread into speech writing in the 49th ward and ultimately landed him a job as a public relations writer for an advertising agency.

“One of the principals of my firm had a chance to pitch the White Sox but knew nothing about the team,” describes DiMeo. “Being the Sox fan that I was, I was brought in for the pitch and we won the account in 1982. I’d go down to spring training and I was like, ‘Pinch me. I cannot believe I’m doing this.'”

DiMeo was eventually bitten by the same entrepreneurial bug that got his uncle, and in 1987, he started his own advertising/public relations firm. It wasn’t long before the White Sox followed DiMeo to his new shop, and soon he would add a few household names like Wendy’s, Amtrak and True Green Chemlawn.

The economic downturn hit DiMeo’s firm hard, and he shuttered his business in 2010. Just a few months later, he tapped into his entrepreneurial prowess and opened Bernie DiMeo Communications, focusing strictly on public affairs and public relations.

DiMeo is now combining what he knows with who he knows. O’Briens restaurant in Old Town and Nashville, TN-based Thermal Solutions Manufacturing are just some of his current big-name clients. His novelty shirt business and charcoal grill business are starting to take off and DiMeo hopes to bring one of his three sons into the business one day soon.

“I’ve got three businesses going right now,” describes DiMeo. “It’s keeping me busy. It’s a new world, and I like what I’m doing.

“Looking back at all the breaks I got, I was the first one on my side of the family to go to college, I didn’t know my dad was working three jobs at a time to get me through college,” he adds. “I feel grateful I was able to accomplish things and get my name in the paper while my father was alive to see it. He was very proud of me. I didn’t find out how much until late in life,” he said.

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About Lissa Druss

Lissa Druss is founder and CEO of Strategia Consulting, a government relations and business relations and crisis communication firm. She is a regular contributor on television and radio stations, offering perspective on crisis events and public affairs issues. She spent 21 years as a television journalist and is a nine-time Emmy award winner. She holds the title of Cavaliere dell’ Ordine della Stella d’Italia; serves on the boards of Milan-Chicago Sister Cities International, the Get Growing Foundation and the Italian American Human Relations Foundation, and is chairman of the Jarrett Payton Foundation. She works with the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii and the JCCIA, and is a member of the National Italian American Foundation.

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