All posts in What you missed

  • LKF Marketing and Heather Isch: Clients, Culture and Kalamazoo

    Taking over one of Kalamazoo’s oldest locally owned and run advertising agencies is no small feat. But that’s exactly what Heather Isch did back in December of 2015.

    Heather spoke to InterCom at our April lunch about her agency’s transition, their niche business, pathways for success and the future of advertising. Heather, the new president and owner of LKF Marketing, held a cozy roundtable discussion about traditional and digital advertising sans any digital support. Communication was served up old school with good old fashioned conversation.

    The agency started as Lawton, King and Fricke in 1989 with three partners: Brian Lawton, Charlie King and Carol Fricke. Nine years later, Carol Fricke took sole ownership and christened the company LKF Marketing, Inc. Heather Isch joined in 1998, served as Vice President for nine years and purchased the company in 2015. With new ownership came a new address. After spending more than 26 years at the Rose Street Market, the LKF crew made the move to the Main Street East building off of East Michigan in downtown Kalamazoo.

    As with all businesses, we have to adapt to and apply new technology. When Heather first joined LKF she asked what they were doing with the internet. Their answer was, Nothing. Do you know anything about it? This was the launch pad for the digital-based success LKF enjoys today. Through trial and error, they found their niche. They continue to be a full service ad agency but combine creative, strategy and technology under one roof.

    One of the keys to their success is sticking with B-to-B clients, but not limiting themselves to one industry. Their philosophy is good marketing and good strategy work, no matter what industry you’re in. They tend to shine in businesses that are technology-heavy, have challenging sales channels and have complex marketing issues. This includes clients in the fields of finance, economic development, environmental consulting, health care, government and non-profits.

    Key Discussion Takeaways #1: Good Programmers are tough to find and keep in Kalamazoo.

    One of LKF’s main services is building websites and driving traffic to them. With good strategy and design comes programming. Yet with a local programmer unemployment rate of 2%, good programmers are tough to find in our region. I have a job listing for a PHO programmer on our website, stated Isch. We never take it down.

    One of their latest digital challenges has been cyber security. They’ve gone from solving fun marketing challenges to all of this crazy cyber stuff. Clients want their sites to bring them customers, not thieves. Luckily, they just hired a programmer who will oversee PCI Compliance and allow the rest of their team to do what they love to do¦ which is marketing, not IT.

    Key Discussion Takeaway #2: Culture is king. Work hard, play hard.

    With a tip of the hat to former owner Carol Fricke, Heather detailed how one key to attracting and retaining good team members is building an exciting work culture. Work hard, play hard isn’t just a motto, it’s a way of life. They’ve always had an agency that did whatever it took to get the desired results for their clients, but they had fun doing it.

    It’s not unusual to come to their office and see dogs running around (It happens every other Friday). They also stop working at 4:30 on Friday, get everyone together, have a cocktail and decompress before they part for the weekend.

    On a serious note, about four years ago they started implementing E.O.S. or Entrepreneurial Operating System. Founded by author Gino Wickman, the E.O.S. model provides a visual illustration of the six key components of any business that must be managed and strengthened to be a great business. This model applies to big and small businesses alike, in any industry.

    E.O.S. gave us access to a lot of tools to run our business and help solidify our culture, Heather explained. Work Hard, Play Hard became a set of core values that helps them hire, review and, if needed, fire team members. Somebody may have all of the right skills, but they may not share the same core culture. If they don’t have those cultural values, they are not going to fit on our team very well. These standards help stop the revolving door of employees that plague some companies. Most of the LKF team has been there for more than 10 years. Longevity also runs with their clients as well. The average client tenure in the agency world is two and half years. LKF has a list of loyal clients that have been with them for 15 to 20 years.

    Key Discussion Takeaway #3: Clients are good, good clients are better.

    LKF’s passion statement is assisting the people in their family to thrive. Family is defined as the employees, the employees’ family and to no lesser degree, their clients as well. However, not just anyone can join the family.

    A key to having a great client relationship is avoiding potential cultural differences and misunderstandings down the road. LKF can be picky about the type of clients they seek. They built a profile client list. These clients should have certain desirable characteristics in order to fit into the family. One key element is seeing LKF as a partner, not just a vendor. Another is clients looking for a long-term relationship and seeing LKF as an extension of their own marketing department. It is better to shy away from a potential bad relationship at the start t than to find disaster six months down the road.

    It was clear to all who attended Heather’s talk that LKF’s third act is just beginning, and their journey is definitely headed down the right path.

    By Curtis Cunningham, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Lawrence Productions.

  • Sheri Welsh

    The KzooConnect Story

    Companies have long understood the importance of differentiating their brand for consumers and clients. But the need to win the hearts and minds of employees is a relatively new concept for many employers. This was the message from Sheri Welsh, president of Welsh & Associates executive search & professional recruiting services, who spoke at the March 11 InterCom 2nd Friday event. Welsh introduced attendees to The KzooConnect Story, a case study of corporate branding and talent recruitment through storytelling.

    KzooConnect is a magazine-style blog that highlights positive news about the Kalamazoo region. Welsh & Associates launched it in 2013 as a way to keep professionals connected to the region, especially those in the Millennial age-group, which is quickly becoming the largest age demographic in the workforce.

    With Western, Kalamazoo College and Kalamazoo Valley all here in the region, Welsh said we’re graduating talented young people with skills and expertise that local companies can benefit from. Many leave, which is what young people do.

    It’s natural for young people to want to leave the nest, move away and explore the world, Welsh said. That’s OK, but when they’re ready to think about settling down, we want them to know that the place they once called home is filled with opportunities for them.

    To keep these young folks engaged and informed, KzooConnect offers stories about the people and places that make southwest Michigan a great place to live, work and play.

    The Talent Dilemma

    Welsh said the idea for KzooConnect started to develop before the recession hit.

    Experts like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and a slew of economists predicted a looming talent shortage of major portions.

    And although unemployment skyrocketed during the recession, it remained relatively low for professionals aged 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree. (Today, unemployment for that group is at its lowest rate in years, even here, in the Kalamazoo region.)

    As a leader in human resources management, Welsh often spoke to business executives who lamented the challenges of bringing top talent to the region. If you’ve grown up here or lived here for any length of time you know it’s a great place to live, they said. How do we bring those folks back, and how do we attract people who have never been here and know nothing about the region?

    The human resource landscape held other challenges. Among the trends were:

    • The aging of America, which will lead to 60 million Boomer exiting the market in the next two decades
    • The 40 million Millennials entering the job market
    • The prediction that Millennials ” as employees ” will be unlike generations past and are expected to have 15-20 jobs over their lifetime
    • The shortage of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) talent
    • The emergency of technology as a driver in the hiring process, with social media becoming the dominant method of job seeking ” which demands that companies follow suit with an online hiring presence

    A Community’s Future Depends on Top Talent

    At about the same time, something called a talent community was emerging within the human resources sector. Talent communities are company-sponsored blogs that keep employees, and prospective employees engaged with a company’s culture, subtly extolling all the great reasons why top professionals would want to work there.

    Welsh, who is always looking for broad solutions that support all her clients, wondered if a talent community could work at a larger scale ” a scale big enough to benefit the region. When she tested the idea with community leaders, she found there was strong support. Kalamazoo Public School graduates, for example ” those graduating with and using the Kalamazoo Promise to attend college ” were among the sought-after young talent that community leaders wanted to keep engaged. The idea had strong, broad support.


    Welsh turned to LKF Marketing to help design and launch KzooConnect, which has been growing in visitors, shares and reach ever since. A big part of the blog’s appeal is its story-telling aspect. It features regular articles by and about young professionals engaged in work they love. It offers insight into the entrepreneurial and artisan culture of the region. And it highlights the area’s short commutes, local music scene and close-by nature.

    For Welsh, the effort is in many ways a labor of love and a way to give back to the community. But there are benefits, too. KzooConnect has furthered the company’s growing reputation as a thought leader in talent management. And in this way, the blog has been a brand differentiator for W&A among the company’s clients.

    If you missed this presentation at InterCom, you can still catch Sheri Welsh and The KzooConnect Story. Sheri will be speaking April 13, 11:30 “ 1 p.m. at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation Winter Garden as part of Social Media Week. Register here.


  • Renée Newman shared the Give a Craftâ„¢ Beer Trail passport backstory

    The Give a Craftâ„¢ beer trail was launched in 2015 to attract craft beer lovers to the Kalamazoo region. The trail features destinations at each of 12 craft breweries located throughout the county. Conceived as a fun way to experience Kalamazoo’s beer scene, it’s been hugely successful. Kalamazooans often find themselves raising beer glasses alongside visitors from throughout the Midwest and across the country. And the passports ” which were originally required for trade-in in exchange for swag ” have become a treasured souvenir.

    But the trail isn’t unique to Kalamazoo or to even craft beer. In fact, the idea came from similar trails in other industries. Bourbon, to be exact.

    This was some of the intel ” and the first of several best practices ” gleaned from Renée Newman, Discover Kalamazoo’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications, who shared the Give a Craftâ„¢ Beer Trail passport backstory with InterCom members and guests at the February 2nd Friday Speakers Series event.  As a case study in successful marketing initiatives, attendees learned best practices from Newman’s experience. Following are a few of those insights.

    1. A great idea doesn’t have to be new, and it can come from anywhere

    A connoisseur of America’s fine bourbons, Newman was a traveler on the Bourbon Trail when the kernel of an idea for a similar experience in Kalamazoo began to form for her.  At the time, the Kalamazoo region’s craft beer culture was still developing. She sat on the idea for a while, informally gathering background. As the number of craft breweries in Kalamazoo began to grow, so did the possibility of a successful beer trail.

    1. Do the research and adapt it to your local market/organization’s needs

    The beer trail had the potential to be a hallmark visitor experience for our region, but Newman and the Discover Kalamazoo team wanted to make sure it was thoroughly planned and well executed. That meant research. Back to the Bourbon Trail. And on to other beer trails in Boulder, Colorado, and Bend, Oregon.  What Newman learned was that each community tailored their trail with unique features that fit local culture. Like any great promotional effort, the success of Kalamazoo’s trail required a keen understanding of the target audience.

    1. Make it easy for those on the front line to participate

    Increasing local traffic around the craft beer culture would naturally drive exposure for brewers. They should want to be a part of the process, right? The business boost was welcome, but most of the local brewers are small start-ups with an intense focus on product quality first and foremost. Participation in the trail program had to be easy and without cost to the brewers.

    1. Continuously innovate and adjust based on feedback

    Like any good marketer, Newman and her team have baked continuous feedback into the Give a Craftâ„¢ beer trail. That previously mentioned swag, for example, can only be had when you’ve turned in a quick, light-hearted survey ” and only after you’ve completed the trail. In its original design, participants were asked to hand over their passports. But it was soon discovered that the passport itself was a much-desired keepsake.

    Maybe one of the most important lessons was: When you tap your creativity around the right project, a rising tide can lift everyone’s boat. And stein.


  • Distillery founders link local history, ingredients in spirited startup

    One of the first things you’ll notice about Green Door Distilling, at 429 E. North St. in Kalamazoo, is that there’s no green door. The front door is cherry. It’s handcrafted. And it comes with a story that founder Josh Cook shares readily. (Originally intended for a residential home, the door made its way to the start-up distillery through Heritage Architectural Salvage & Supply; Green Door purchased it for a fraction of its original selling price.)

    Story is an important part of the Green Door Distilling brand, which is still evolving. It’s as if this unfinished tale invites casual observers to join in the telling. Join the adventure is a company tagline. Cook brought attendees of InterCom’s January 2nd Friday Speaker Series up to date on his story ” and the story of Green Door ” so far.

    Born and raised in Kalamazoo, Cook grew up like most youngsters, with a dream of making his way somewhere else ” anywhere else ” but Kalamazoo. He’s a third-generation entrepreneur: His father owns Cook Construction and his grandfather founded Sanford Insurance Group. When Cook decided on a career in engineering ” as the first college graduate in his family ” he opted for Western Michigan University. It’s been among the top engineering schools in the country for several years, Cook says. Why leave to go to a lesser school?”

    WMU is where Cook met fellow engineering student Jon Good. They graduated together in 2012 and both found jobs in the region. But they were anxious to carve their own career paths. Good more so. He got Cook’s attention when he said he was leaving his job to start his own distilling company. Kalamazoo’s thriving craft brewing and growing coffee industries had proven that the region would support artisan drink markets. Their engineering backgrounds gave them an edge in the complexities of distilling. They even designed their own distillation equipment. And the national market for niche distilling was growing. The pair began planning. Learning about the distilling industry. And tapping the expertise of anyone in their extended circle of friends and acquaintances who could teach them something or lend a hand.

    By this time Cook had put down his own roots. He knew Kalamazoo was where he wanted to make his mark. He’d opted for an apartment in Kalamazoo’s growing Rivers Edge district, just north of downtown. And he’d joined the Kalamazoo City Planning Commission. He and Good began the search for a place to build their business. But as a start-up business in a highly regulated industry, their options were limited.

    We’d ruled out every available property to us downtown, Cook says.  It was a bit of serendipity that a facility on a relatively large piece of land opened up a short walk from his apartment when Artwear Apparel and Graphics relocated to Gull Road. More good luck when NoMi Developers, LLC announced new projects in the area, including a $5 million mixed use project across from the distillery on Walbridge street. When complete, it will include apartments for some 50 residents and a restaurant, targeted for completion in 2017.

    Following an initial round of crowdfunding from friends and family, Cook and Good have done nearly all of the renovations themselves ” including hanging that front door and installing windows in what will ultimately become the production room. They found the windows on Craigslist and drove them back from southern Illinois in the hatch of a U-Haul sprinter van. “Not one of them sustained even a crack,” Cook says. It’s another chapter in the story.

    When Cook isn’t working to build Green Door ” the structure and the business ” he’s cycling, traveling, or doing market research. Both Cook and Good are outdoorsmen and they’ve woven that love into Green Door’s brand, too. The pictures on their whiskey bottles capture places they’ve traveled in Michigan. Michigan is central to the spirits’ story as well. Cook and Good have committed to using all Michigan-grown ingredients. The bottles are the only thing ” so far ” we haven’t been able to source in Michigan, Cook says. But they’ll continue to look for local options.

    Green Door’s date for sales to begin remains weeks, perhaps months away. Though most of their regulatory hurdles are behind them, a few restrictions ” like labeling approval, which can’t occur until production begins ” remain. Cook says the distilling industry remains highly regulated. Many restrictions are holdovers from Prohibition, which is also the source for Green Door’s rather cryptic name. “During prohibition, a green door or green mark on the door was the sign of a speakeasy, Cook explains.

    Though little known, Kalamazoo has its own rich history in distilling, with brands like Ol’ Luke’s Best and Whitcomb Brothers Blend once popular local favorites. Cook and Good will incorporate that local lore in their products. Among their plans is to learn and share the stories of those long-ago sprits and the makers behind them. And, of course, to create history themselves.

    By Gretchen Johnson, President of InterCom and owner of WordPlay Marketing Communications

    View Josh Cook’s presentation here.

  • InterCom Holiday Gathering

    After four years, it’s officially a tradition. InterCom members, friends and colleagues bid the year adieu while noshing and toasting at the The Union Cabaret and Grille in downtown Kalamazoo.

    Among our official announcements, we unveiled the speakers who will finish out the 2015-2016 2nd Friday Speakers’ Series.  Come to learn. Come to connect. Come to collaborate and grow your career or build your business.

    Thank you to our sponsors ” Kalamazoo 10 movie theatre and Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park ” for our fabulous door prizes. As always, the food and atmosphere at this Millennium Group restaurant was outstanding, too!

    Though the snow was absent, there was plenty of topical banter — about the weather, politics, the goings on about town and lots more. Check out our photos. And if you missed it, mark your calendar now for 2016! (Tentatively scheduled for December 8, or the 2nd Thursday in December.)

    Hope to see you Friday, Jan. 8, 2016 for our next speaker event, featuring Green Door Distilling Co.!

  • Chris Praedel shared how focusing on the details drives Western’s Alumni Relations success

    On Friday, Nov. 13, Chris Praedel of Western Michigan University’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations shared insights into creating the ideal customer experience through event planning.

    Praedel provided examples of how to foster lasting relationships based on his own experience, including the recent opening of Heritage Hall at WMU. Details make the difference, Pradel explained. He said leaving a lasting impression doesn’t require money, but it does require creativity and a focus on what you want guests to experience at your event.

    We’ve included his presentation here.

    Chris Praedel’s Intercom Presentation 11-13-15


    He also shared two videos; you can see those at the following links:

    Heritage Hall “Reveal” Video

    Heritage Hall “Feelings” Video

  • Building a website that works

    Below is a recap of the presentation I gave to InterCom Kalamazoo at their 2nd Friday Speaker Series for October. This article was originally published on the InterCom Kalamazoo website.

    Websites are tools that help us reach our business goals. If a website doesn’t help us reach those goals, why are we spending time and money on them? After 10 years of working with small businesses build successful websites, I’ve put together a 5-step step process for building a successful website that I want to share with you. Read more

  • Kalamazoo Community Foundation’s Extreme Makeover

    Tom Vance, Director of Marketing for the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, provided a behind-the-scenes look at his organization’s major rebranding effort. With only a three-person communications team to tackle the project, they succeeded in reinventing their brand in a way that moves the organization deeper into the hearts and minds of all their stakeholders ” donors, volunteers, staff and the community they serve.

    Among the many insights he provided, here are a five best practices.

    1. Consider who’s done this work locally that you can learn from. Reach out to them and ask what lessons they learned. Vance and the Community Foundation reached out to Kalamazoo Valley Community College, which had undergone its own successful rebranding effort within just the past few years.
    2. Look at like organizations or companies outside your local market but within your niche. If they’ve undertaken similar work, ask them the same question: what did you learn?
    3. Reach out to all of your stakeholder groups, from volunteers to vendors to donors.
    4. Don’t forget to ask your team. It’s easy to focus on your outside stakeholders ” customers or donors, especially. Don’t forget to include the folks who work beside you everyday. They need to embrace it, too. And when the campaign is over and the new brand is in place, they’re the ones who will have to answer questions about what it all means.
    5. Take advantage of already-planned activities and work research into them by asking for input from attendees.

    Check out Tom’s slides he used in his  presentation to learn more.

  • Works like magic

    Our Summer Gathering in August at Arcadia Ales showcased InterCom at its best.

    Current members and new friends met and reconnected both socially and professionally.  We made merry and made connections. Conversations ranged from boisterous to deep. We laughed with kindred spirits, broke bruschetta together and talked shop.

    Put a bunch of friendly, creative, communicators together, focus on mutual success and ¦ magic happens.

    Here’s an example

    At the Summer Gathering, I had a chance to speak at a deeper level with guests about their professional challenges and goals for the coming year.  And in many cases I was able to introduce them to:

    1)    Peers experiencing similar challenges,

    2)    People who could help fill needed business services, and

    3)    People who could refer specific solutions.

    Gretchen Johnson, InterCom Board President

    Voila! Talk about some enchanted evening! And that was just one event “ the first of three evening gatherings we hold each year.

    Think of the magic you could make from an entire membership year, with:

    ·      Free admission to our outstanding speaker series

    ·      Connections with professionals across the region

    ·      Our upgraded talent directory

    ·      Plus a new website, new blog/newsletter (with opportunities for your input) and more.

    All for just $45 — a lot less than a top hat and white rabbit.

  • Insiders Track, the InterCom Luncheon Speakers’ Series and more

    If you missed the InterCom events of 2015 ” so far ” here’s what you missed:

    • A peak inside a dynamic new regional institution that’s changing healthcare communication
    • Learning about innovations in local fundraising, the opportunity to experience first-hand new approaches to communication for human resource managers
    • More than one occasion to network with the region’s top communications professionals
    • An encore event that brought members together to examine some of the world’s best commercial messaging

    Catch up on the latest events and activities here¦

    Luncheon encore event, Cannes commercial loop

    InterCom members enjoyed a bonus event in June with an encore luncheon featuring the Best of Cannes commercials. Combining funny and dramatic messaging from the world’s top creative talent, we gained ideas and inspiration from these award-winning campaigns that sparked lively discussion and some friendly debate. Hosted by Azon and its director of marketing, InterCom member Nancy Peterson, members also enjoyed a tour of Azon’s iconic international style headquarters built in 1962.

    25th Anniversary Celebration

    In May, we gathered at Arcadia Ales for a 25th Anniversary and Reunion Party. In place of our annual Tony Griffin Golden Word Award ” where we honor the region’s top contributors to professional communication ” we opted instead to celebrate the achievements of all our past winners and the success of our members. You can see the fun you missed by visiting us on Facebook.

    Behind-the-scenes tour and presentation of WMed

    Our 2nd Friday Speakers’ Series concluded ” officially ” in April with a private tour and presentation by Laura Eller of the WMU Homer Stryker MD School of Medicine. The new medical school is a collaboration involving Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo’s two teaching hospitals, Borgess Health and Bronson Healthcare. It’s among only a few U.S. medical schools in several decades to be constructed from the ground up, and is built on the strengths of extraordinary community partners. InterCom was given an insider’s look at how this new regional treasure is changing medicine.

    Among its leading innovations is the school’s approach to teaching doctors how to be better communicators, especially with patients but also with peers and within the field of healthcare. By demonstrating leadership, teamwork and collaboration, and showing compassion for all, WMU medical students are being equipped to bring a new level of quality to the field. Many of healthcare’s leaders will soon come from Kalamazoo and WMed. Its mission is to educate and inspire lifelong learners to be exceptional clinicians, leaders, educators, advocates, and researchers of tomorrow.

    Individual and organizational talent development strategies shared

    Our March luncheon featured Renee Shull, founder of Integrated Play, After the Draft. Renee helps former athletes worldwide by teaching them how to find their next career after they’re done playing professional sports. Among the tools she uses to gain insight into her clients’ talents and interests is a set of LEGO bricks. It’s a process called LEGO SERIOUS PLAY. Using the bricks in a structured and fun session, Renee showed us how to explore our own career interests. The process drives interpersonal communication in a nonverbal expression of play.

    In addition to helping individuals, Renee uses this technique to assist companies around the world with talent development and organizational strategy as it relates to human resource management. Renee was among the first facilitators in the nation to become certified in the process and has incorporated it into much of her work. Through LEGO SERIOUS PLAY individuals discover how they perceive the world, themselves and their life’s path in a fun, yet structured manner. Organizations use this approach to gain insight into their employees’ strengths and to build a cohesive culture.

    Crowdfunding project launched locally

    Every nonprofit knows the challenges of engaging stakeholders and raising funds. At our February event, we got an early peak into an innovative new approach to local fundraising from Thell Woods, founder and chairman of Crowdfunding Services. Thell and his team are revolutionizing crowdfunding by creating an online resource based locally in Southwest Michigan, called INVEST IN KALAMAZOO L3C. His team is currently navigating the regulatory and technology landscape that will streamline the process for local schools, churches and other nonprofits. When the project is fully launched, it will be tested in our market before being rolled out elsewhere.

    Crowdfunding Services LLC creates sites specific to a community or region, generating awareness for local projects looking to raise money and simplifying the giving technology to help them succeed. These strategies, combined with social media, give the community an opportunity to directly support local causes.