Marketing group flourishes in fun, quirky atmosphereWritten by Patrick Timmis | | email@example.com
Joe Sharp, CEO of The Thread Marketing Group, always wanted to be a pilot. His father was a pilot. His son was a pilot. Sharp’s office is full of airplanes, dominated by large prints of World War II dogfights signed by the aces.
The same nod to personality characterizes the spaces of many of Thread’s team members.
System administrator Wanda Stuart has a bullwhip hanging in her office, given to her by a client who thought she was a tough boss — she has never actually used it, as it’s easier for her to press a button and disconnect a network card if anyone gets unruly.
The centerpiece of creative director Jacqueline Barchick’s wall is a vivid multicolored poster collage of graphics— “visual candy” to inspire ideas and conversation.
Production coordinator Nikki Hale’s desk is surrounded by calendar cutouts of ’50s-style couples with captions like, “I feel a sin coming on” and “She could hardly wait to regret this.”
And while Sharp’s office is pristine and orderly, its glass and leather softly lit by cool blue lamps, his sister Judy McFarland’s space is a charming disaster.
McFarland has a fireplace in the middle of her bright office — she’s always cold, even in summer — a chair made from a large rubber exercise ball at her desk and whirlwind stacks of papers scattered all over the room. A bauble by her desk reads “Chaos: Where brilliant dreams are born.” On second glance, the décor seems to be primarily dogs. Even the ringtone on her phone is a dog barking, which makes it especially startling when it goes off in meetings.
McFarland, the company’s president, is the right brain to Sharp’s left. When she graduated from Bowling Green State University, she assumed her big brother would hire her to work in his hip graphics company. But he turned her down, and she got a great job in corporate marketing.
Ten years later, Sharp, whose background was in Information Technology, needed to re-brand Image Source as having both technical proficiency in building websites and the marketing strategies of an ad agency. He called his little sister and asked her to join his team.
“I like to think that I’m his savior,” McFarland said.
Growth through combination
The marriage of technology and marketing in a relaxed, creative and familial team atmosphere is Thread’s crux. The company has seen annual growth in sales during the past five years, capped by a nearly 20 percent increase in 2010. It has also added five employees in the past 14 months in programming, account and creative services.
Thread has accomplished this growth with a unique combination of business strategy, technical expertise and creative graphics tailored — design, build, host and maintain websites from the company’s high-powered data centers.
“They really get it. I know that they have a track record, a long one, but I find that overall as an agency they’re very hip, they’re really with it,” said Susan Maxwell, director of marketing communications at Uckele Health and Nutrition. “However, they do apply the marketing fundamentals. You can feel that foundation.”
The company has the perfect subcontracting situation — two sister companies under Thread Corporation’s larger domain. VIS Alliance is a “logistics/communications business providing customer service support from project management to on-site staffing and administrative services,” according to Thread’s website, and eMerge specializes in electronic content management.
“They’ve taken the time to really understand what my business is and ask good questions. They’ve done some good research,” said Ryan Hacker, president of TruePoint Laser Scanning. “They’ve been able to work with me a lot after-hours and on weekends and stuff like that. I think that’s great that they understand small business and what needs to be done.”
Thread also helps manage companies’ social media presence. Kevin Cesarz is Thread’s director of social media. If consumers complain about a company’s products on sites like Facebook and Twitter, Cesarz said, that places a data point in the minds of all their friends or followers.
The companies need a chance to respond and interact with all the real-time processing and critiquing, so Cesarz monitors social media for posts — positive, neutral or negative — about Thread’s clients.
But although social media offers a significant relational opportunity for companies, Cesarz, who writes a social media column for Toledo Free Press, stressed it is not a storefront.
“You have an opportunity to share in the discussion,” he said. “You don’t want to sell products on social media. What you want to sell on social media is your reputation.”
The key to creativity is being bold, telling bad jokes and drinking wine in the middle of the day, McFarland and designer Rebecca Booth said.
It keeps the constantly hectic process — “Our normal is rush,” McFarland said — light, stress-free and respectful.
“We like to have fun,” McFarland said. “We play practical jokes a lot on each other.”
“Probably too much,” Sharp said.
That’s not to say creating the finished product is easy.
“It’s going to be very challenging and at times it’s going to be hard, but it should also be fun,” Sharp said.
Booth, Barchick and Jon Wittes are the design team at the center of the artistic process.
Barchick said their section of the hall has an energy unique even from the rest of the office. Especially after lunch, when the three get “soda buzzed,” each play a different radio station and yell ideas at each other through their open doors.
Barchick has an article titled “How to wear orange” taped to her wall. Thread recently did some marketing of its own, branding itself as “Team Orange,” a color Barchick said connotes quirkiness and energy. Even the name “Thread” is intended to create a visual of many strands of information, ideas and designs coming together to create a unified whole — a consolidated strategy for the client.
“It’s a two-way street,” McFarland said. She and Sharp realize that for their team to succeed, they must excel as bosses.
People farther down the street matter, too. McFarland said anyone may leave work early at Thread to serve the community. She is the board president of the Toledo Humane Society. Sharp is active in the Rotary Club of Toledo. Executive vice president Holly Goldstein gives her time to Toledo Children’s Hospital and Chicks for Charity among other organizations.
McFarland said she has even discovered the way to resolve any conflicts among Thread’s leaders.
“If something goes wrong,” she said, “I always have in my back pocket that I can just call Mom to tell on [Joe].”
On the Web: http://www.threadgroup.com/
Tags: Bowling Green State University, Chicks for Charity, Holly Goldsetin, Jacqueline Barchick, Joe Sharp, Jon Wittes, Judy McFarland, Kevin Cesarz, Patrick Timmis, Thred Marketing Group, Toledo Children's Hospital, TruePoint Laser Scanner, Uckele Health and Nutrition, Wanda Smart