Sunday, November 30, 2003

PR firm bolsters services


Agency expands marketing range

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

[IMAGE] Lauren Abel, president of Creative Consortium; Richard C. Cummins (center), president of ISOC.net; and Mark Tischbein, principal, Tischbein Design, with the Web page of Creative Consortium, a virtual agency of marketing professionals.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
COVINGTON - Three years ago, Lauren Abel decided to think big and step outside the limits of her public relations agency. Her calculated risk has netted new clients and new capabilities.

In 2000, Abel mapped out a 10-year strategy to guide the vision and growth of her firm, Abel Associates Inc. While continuing to offer public relations support, she wanted to provide a greater range of services.

"I envisioned the company growing into a one-stop marketing shop," she said. "After creating the plan, the growth path to achieving those goals was clear. Abel Associates could grow by acquiring another company and/or by partnering with other companies, which would, in turn, provide greater value and service for everyone involved."

Abel combined those two strategies with the purchase, in 2001, of Creative Consortium Inc. from its founder Judith Hoyt Pettigrew. The firm, which Advertising Age had termed the nation's first "virtual agency," was an association of 400 Cincinnati area companies and independent contractors specializing in about 40 marketing communications categories.

The new owner then set two new goals: to pay back her bank loan and to redefine the consortium. The first goal took less than a year to accomplish. The second was much more demanding and time-consuming.

"The challenge was to reshape and reposition the consortium into the company that really shared and epitomized my vision. That meant closing parts of the company that I didn't have a passion for, such as the book publishing division, and also focusing it on what our clients really wanted and needed," Abel said.

She first identified what she felt were her clients' priority needs: public relations, media relations, crisis media management, graphic design, Internet services, marketing, advertising, direct marketing, media buying and marketing research. The next step was to find the best possible providers of those services.

Said Abel: "I needed to create a team of professionals that not only provided the top quality work in those fields, but also worked well together and within the consortium's vision and culture, with clients, other associates and me. It took some time and effort to create the team, but it was well worth it."

The streamlining effort also simplified the company's structure. In addition to closing the book-publishing division, Abel made the company's non-profit division an integrated part of the whole. She replaced the consortium's educational division - which offered marketing seminars for small and start-up businesses - with a step-by-step book that shows budget-conscious companies how to do their own marketing.

"The consortium has amazing capabilities, but in the past, I think people didn't really understand what it did, how it worked, and what it could provide," said Abel. "The growth of this business since I bought it two years ago has been extraordinary and exceeded even my expectations."

With the company's tighter structure, relationships among associates have developed and Abel can assemble teams that match client needs. Synergy among the consortium's associates has fueled the company's increased sales, as it has boosted the individual providers themselves.

"It has opened the door to some exciting clients and accounts," graphic designer Marc Tischbein said of Tischbein Design's association with the consortium. "I've seen an increase in the quality of the pieces we've been asked to work on. We've definitely grown."

"It brings out the best in each of us, working with the other companies," said Richard Cummins, the president and CEO of Internet solutions firm ISOC. "You want to please the other companies as well as the client."

Abel is both Creative Consortium's owner and a public relations associate of the company. She said that the two roles are compatible.

"When Judy owned Creative Consortium, Abel Associates was the primary public relations provider. It still is," she explained. "Basically, if a client needs only public relations services, Abel Associates will service the account. If they need multiple marketing communications services including PR, Creative Consortium and its team of associates will service the account, with Abel Associates being the PR provider on the project."

"Lauren brings energy to these projects, and keeps everybody motivated," Cummins said.

"She's very precise in how she puts the pieces together, selecting the right people with the right capabilities for a job," added Tischbein.

Creative Consortium has just unveiled its new Web site, which not only describes the services available from its independent-but-teamed associates, but also serves as an example of what its creative folks can do.

"It showcases our strategic mentality and our creative capabilities," Abel said. "I feel it will take the company to an even higher level of growth."

E-mail jcallison@zoomtown.com



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