Hollywood shuffle

While working in Hollywood as a production assistant on music videos, television commercials and movies, Tracee McAfee-Gates shopped for a living.

For many young women, that’s a dream come true. But when you have $20,000 and only two days to spend it, a leisurely hobby can become a high-pressure job faster than you can say “Action!”

“You tend to develop your skills very quickly,” McAfee-Gates says. “I have a real quick mall shuffle. That really tuned my shopping skills. I was also fortunate enough that my mother was the queen of shopping.”

Hustle, fashion sense and a keen eye for the right item have helped McAfee’s marketing firm, Diversified Concepts, grow 965 percent and add eight employees since 1999. That’s earned her distinction as a Rising Star in the 2001 Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Innovation in Business awards.

McAfee-Gates’ niche is finding the unique or hard-to-find promotional item for a client’s product launch. Aside from her Hollywood experience, she was a marketing representative for a manufacturing firm that built banners, retail displays and metal signs for point-of-purchase advertising. So she has an idea about what grabs a consumers’ eye.

“We take everyday items and make them better,” she explains. “(We) put a twist on them to make them unique and make people want to buy that product that comes with the free gift.”

McAfee-Gates’ first project, for Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., was no exception. The company needed a natural all-linen shirt to use as a promotional item along with the release of a new line of cigarettes. After searching for two months, the company turned to Diversified Concepts to find somebody who made the shirts.

“I had the flu and I was lying on the couch and my company was about a week old,” McAfee-Gates says. “I thought, ‘Oh God, I’m going to go out of business the week that I open.’ I called my father at his company and he looked on the Web for me and we found some people and made lots of phone calls that day. But we found the shirt, Fed-Exed it to them and they had it the next day. They loved it.”

Located in a small office complex in Uniontown outside Akron, Diversified Concepts has no Web site and doesn’t even have a sign in front. Yet McAfee-Gates has landed clients including Warner Brothers, Frito-Lay, Blue Coral/Slick 50, Philip Morris and Honeywell without aggressive self-promotion. She says she won them by building on a network of contacts from her time in Hollywood and as a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

Another weapon in her arsenal is the environment she creates for unique pitch meetings, the secret of which is closely guarded.

“Let’s just say when we bring presentations into the client, we appeal to every one of their human senses,” she says. “A lot of firms just show them trinkets and trash. It’s not out-of-the-ordinary items. It’s not creative thinking. It’s just moving merchandise, and we’ve moved beyond that.”

It’s difficult to stay off the radar during rapid growth. McAfee-Gates recently opened an office in Houston, hired a quality control officer in China and plans to open an office in New York City. That kind of noise is rousing her slumbering competitors.

“We’re driving some of them crazy,” McAfee-Gates says. “They’re trying to find out who we are, but we’re keeping a low profile. The clients are coming to us by word of mouth; we don’t really go out and sell.” How to reach: Diversified Concepts, (330) 896-7600