From employer to client

From January 1991 through December 1995, Margie Flynn and Barbara Brown shared a corporate communications job at National City Corp.

Flynn worked Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; Brown worked 10-hour days on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Together, they played a vital role in the growth and development of National City’s corporate communications department, managing its 22-member team.

The two realized they had a good partnership, and in January 1996, branched off on their own. They founded BrownFlynn Communications and, not surprisingly, picked up National City as their first client. Since then, BrownFlynn has grown from a two-person firm supporting one financial service client to an eight-person firm serving clients in a variety of industries.

Brown and Flynn say they’ve built the firm on five guiding values: a devotion to clients, employees and the community; quality and integrity in work and life; innovation through teamwork; unparalleled service; and making a difference. In June 2000, the two realized another milestone, purchasing an office building in Highland Heights that offers a warm, conducive and creative environment for BrownFlynn employees.

SBN Magazine sat down with the duo to discuss the path they’ve taken.

What was the most difficult challenge you two have faced since founding the business?

There were several. The first was taking the best of our history as partners in the job-share and translating those qualities into a business partnership to advance BrownFlynn. Making the strategic decision to specialize and determining our position as community education and outreach communications specialists also was a significant move for the firm.

Another challenge was trying to find the right balance between serving our clients and developing business for BrownFlynn. Over time, we realized the importance of treating BrownFlynn as a client as well and investing the time, energy and dollars needed to elevate the firm’s position in this market. Finally, locating and purchasing an office building also was challenging because the purchase was a statement of belief that we were in this for the long haul.

Considering the difficulties most women entrepreneurs encounter raising initial financing, how have you persevered in the financing arena?

We started the business with some financial peace of mind — knowing we had our former employer as a client. Our consistently strong financial performance also has helped us in the financing arena.

We surround ourselves with outstanding advisers, from our National City small business-lending officer, Holly Rhoads, to our accountant, attorneys and industry peers. We always are fiscally minded and regularly analyze our profitability by reviewing our revenue and expense projections and updating our business plan.

Through timely bill payments, opening appropriate lines of credit and keeping our financiers advised of our growth, we have established and maintained good credit.

In your industry, maintaining and growing a strong customer base isn’t easy. Clients jump ship to competitors, taking large money accounts with them. What are some tips from your own experience to keep your clients happy so they remain part of your company’s portfolio?

We prequalify our clients to guarantee they understand and value our service. If you do this, both your client and you will be happy. Communicating the good and the bad so there are no surprises is essential to maintaining your client relationship.

We seek feedback from our clients on a regular basis. If you don’t ask, how can you know if a client is happy or unhappy?

By setting clear objectives and expectations with our clients up front, we have the opportunity to delight our customers by never overpromising and underdelivering. We also make sure our employees understand their role in meeting and exceeding client expectations.

What has been BrownFlynn’s greatest success and why?

Our firm has shown it is possible to create a successful and unique business environment based upon ideals. As the author Anna Quindlen wrote, ”All of us want to do well. But if we do not do good, too, then doing well will never be enough.”

The core of our business is based on this belief. We seek to do business with organizations that want to build goodwill in their communities.

Explain the company’s philosophy for growth and how, if applicable, it mirrors your clients’ own missions.

BrownFlynn’s vision is to be the strategic leader in community education and outreach communications in Northeast Ohio. We believe the potential for our services in this market is great.

Studies show consumers want corporate America to be a good community neighbor. While Greater Cleveland is one of the top 10 most philanthropic communities in the nation, many of its organizations do not see the correlation between social responsibility and business performance.

We actively seek clients who want to make a difference in our community, clients who understand our value and the strategic connection between corporate citizenship and good business.

How to reach: BrownFlynn Communications, (440) 484-0100