Fun with a Purpose
Partners at chikmedia Say Marketing Shouldn’t Be StressfulMeghan Rothschild was taken aback by how Bob Lowry, owner of Bueno y Sano, described her new marketing firm’s work: “zany things that make lasting impressions on people.”
“I said, ‘wow … that’s the best endorsement I’ve ever heard of our company since we started,’” said Rothschild, who partnered with Emily Gaylord to launch their business, chikmedia, about six months ago.
Perhaps some agencies would recoil from a word like ‘zany,’ but Rothschild and Gaylord embrace it.
“When we started, we made this silly video dancing in a frozen-yogurt shop, and we posted the thing on Facebook,” Gaylord said. “We figured, if we’re going to do this, if we’re going to be successful, we’re going to be ourselves from day one. Our clients know, from the first meeting, that this is who Meghan and Emily are — and that it’s going to be fun. That’s a huge part of our business. Being effective is the other part.”
Rothschild has been in marketing for eight years, first as marketing and promotions manager at Six Flags, then development and marketing manager at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, and, later, as director of marketing and communications at Wilbraham and Monson Academy (WMA). She and Gaylord worked together at those last two stops and found they hit it off in more ways than one.“We were constantly doing outside favors for folks — writing press releases, designing logos,” Rothschild said. “One day, I said, kiddingly, ‘we should start a company and start charging for this.’ She said, ‘OK, I’ll start today.’ She got a website up and running, we launched a Facebook page, and the rest is history.”
Said Gaylord, “we were both doing freelance work on the side. She was doing freelance marketing, and I was doing freelance design, and we thought, why not go into business together? It would be more productive, more lucrative, and, frankly, more fun, because we get a kick out of working together. About 48 hours later, chikmedia was born. I made a logo that day.”
With about two dozen clients, including Bueno y Sano, UMass Dining, Papa John’s, ArchitectureEL, Energia Fitness, SkinCatering, and Lioness magazine, to name just a few, “we got really busy very quickly, and we didn’t anticipate how successful it would be in such a short period of time,” Rothschild said. “We were just overwhelmed with how many people started reaching out to us and wanted our services.”
Gaylord said their strong relationship has contributed to their quick start. “I think a lot of businesses fail when friends start a business together. We’re different; we became friends because we work so well together. We’ve always had the same kind of vision, the same tastes. Honestly, it’s just been a very good, very positive relationship.”
By the end of 2013, Rothschild added, “we decided we either have to pull back and stop accepting new clients, or make this thing bigger. We decided there’s so much potential with the company, we had to pursue it.”
Rothschild said the company’s name reflects that vision. “We decided on chikmedia because we wanted to focus on women-run businesses and organizations, although we cater to both men and women.”
“The goal was to be a female-focused business,” Gaylord added. “We have plenty of male clients, but female entrepreneurs are becoming a force to be reckoned with, and we believe in that; we want to see more women in charge, and the only way that will happen is if women start taking leadership roles. But we have a wide variety of clients.”
That women-focused niche, Rothschild said, is attractive to both men and women. “Men feel a little special when we’re taking them on, and women know we get it; we get who they’re trying to market to. They know that women hold the purse strings in households. They’re the ones dictating the weekend plans, managing the books, dealing with finances — they’re making the decisions.”
Rothschild handles the PR and marketing end of the business, while Gaylord is the creative force, handling design work. “She’s a genius — it’s amazing what she comes up with,” Rothschild said.“We worked together for years,” she added. “She was my intern at the Food Bank, and I recruited her at WMA. We work so well together — similar in some ways, but polar opposites in the way we do work. I’m more nuts and bolts — ‘here’s the deadline; let’s meet it.’ She’s more creative — ‘here’s what I envision for the client.’ We work incredibly well together because we complement each other.”
Part of chikmedia’s appeal, Gaylord said, is the broad umbrella of its services. “Some companies just do marketing, or just PR, or just design. We do it all. That way, everything is cohesive; everything matches. The message is the same.”
And if a client has design or marketing elements in place that are working, she added, chikmedia won’t try to toss those aside. “If the client likes red and black, we’re not going to introduce teal. But we look at the message and make sure the message is consistent. We’re not trying to change who you are; we’re trying to show you off — and it’s something we do very well.”
The firm offers flexibility for clients who hire it for only one element, Rothschild said. “A lot of our clients want us for public relations; they want us to be their publicist — that’s one of the most popular options.”
She particularly enjoys this side of the business, noting that she has built a large network of media contacts from her time at Six Flags and, more recently, as a spokesperson for the Melanoma Foundation; she’s a 10-year survivor of skin cancer and a passionate advocate for sun safety and against tanning beds.
“My favorite part is pitching people in a way that works for the source you’re pitching to. That’s the most fun — finding ways to both help the media source, which needs content, and help the client. To find synergy, you need to make this easy for the media; they’re being pulled in 15 different directions.”
“You’re paying for our reputation in this field,” Rothschild continued. “If a reporter gets 80 to 100 press releases a day, Joe Shmoe is going to get lost in the mix. But we send you something, you at least look at it. We genuinely care about our partners, both the media and the client, and we want everyone to be happy. That’s important to us. No one ever looks at us and goes, ‘oh, not these people again.’ They know it’s going to be something fun, something cool, that will get their attention.”
To reach the media and the buying public, she added, “there isn’t just one template. We have to determine, who’s talking about this product? Who are the decision makers buying this product? Who’s got a stake in this game? That’s how we develop campaigns for women. It’s acknowledging they’re the power in their households and finding fun ways to get them interested in our clients’ products.”
Not Laying an Egg
Gaylord is still somewhat surprised by chikmedia’s first six months of growth. “I’ve studied entrepreneurship in college, and there are so many failed businesses,” she said. “Not only are we not losing a ton of money, but we’re making money, and that’s kind of shocking.
“Part of that, I think, is that people were waiting for it,” she added. “Meghan and I both grew up in this community, so we have some very strong roots here. As soon as we started the business, a lot of people seemed to be waiting for us to take that step — ‘of course, if I’m going to hire somebody, it’s gonna be you guys!’ We owe everything to the clients who took a chance on us right off the bat.
“So far, we’ve had very positive results,” Gaylord continued. “At first, it was a lot of networking, people introducing us to other people. Lately, we’ve been getting more calls out of the blue. It’s really exciting.”
The partners have expanded chikmedia’s reach beyond Western Mass., with clients in the Boston and Hartford areas, and plan to break into the Providence market, too. That sounds ambitious, Rothschild said, but much of it is based simply on treating people right.
“I always try to leave a lasting impression on people, try to be cordial and accommodating. A lot of customer service is being pleasant and responsive and quick to get back to clients. These are people who only want their business to succeed, and need you to help them.
“We’re definitely taking it slowly,” she added. “But you reach this point of critical mass where you have to bring someone on board. We just hired an intern, and we have a new business-development individual. But we’re getting at least one new client a week, and there’s no way we’ll be able to sustain that without bringing more people on board.”
Gaylord said she tries not to think too far ahead, but it’s hard not to be excited.
“I don’t have kids right now; this is my baby, what I spend my time and resources on. I’m like any new parent who wants to see their child thrive and succeed. OK, maybe I’m taking that metaphor too far,” she said with a laugh.
“We see a real future in it,” she added, “but we’re thinking practically. We’re not thinking that, in 30 years, we’ll be the hippest company on the planet — which will probably be true — but just making sure our clients right now are cared for. That’s why we’ve been so successful in six months. We’re thinking from a practical place first.”
Well, practical and fun.
“One of the things that sets us apart is that we want you to have fun,” Gaylord said. “Working with us is a positive experience, and when people take that step and say, ‘I’m not a marketer; I want to invest in some marketing,’ we want them to have a good time with it. We’re silly, but in the most amazing way possible.”
Rothschild agreed. “We’re extremely passionate about what we do,” she said. “We have a lot of fun doing it and make sure our clients have a lot of fun doing it. If we’re just another stressor in their day, we’re not doing it right.”
Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]