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Prominent public relations firm Berg Muirhead transitioning to new name and ownership

The transition seemed almost instantaneous. Last week Berg Muirhead and Associates was one of Detroit's most recognizable boutique public relations agencies. This week it has a new name, Van Dyke Horn Public Relations, and new owners. But this change has been a longtime coming.

"It wasn't a quick turnover process," says Peter Van Dyke, CEO and co-owner of Van Dyke Horn Public Relations. "We have worked toward this slowly and carefully for the last five years."

Berg Muirhead and Associates is one of the household names in Detroit public relations. The company was founded in 1998 by Bob Berg, a public affairs adviser for former Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young, and Georgella Muirhead, a public relations administrator for the cities of Detroit, Southfield, and Ann Arbor. The company built an enviable client list that included everything from Detroit Future City to Strategic Staffing Solutions to the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

Successful businesses like this are often built on the shoulders of their founders, and too often live and die with them. But Berg Muirhead/Van Dyke Horn seems like it has a better shot than most of surviving because it's been preparing for this moment for a long time.

Van Dyke started as an account executive at Berg Muirhead a decade ago, becoming an account supervisor a year after that. Five years ago Van Dyke made the move to vice president. He became a partner in the firm about two years later. Marilyn Horn, the co-owner and president of Van Dyke Horn, has been working at the company for even longer as director of administration before becoming a vice president in 2013. All four people became practically interchangeable over the last few years in preparation of this transition.

"Bob, Georgella, Marilyn, and I work very close together," Van Dyke says. "If we can work closely together and leave each day as good business colleagues and friends, then we have something special going on."

That group of four will continue to work together. While Horn and Van Dyke are the new owners, Berg and Muirhead are staying on as "of counsel" senior staffers. The company's staff of nine will remain the same and continue to work in its offices in the Fisher Building in New Center. In fact, Van Dyke expects to hire another account executive or two before the year is over.

He and Horn have set a goal of raising the firm's annual revenue to $1 million this year. Van Dyke expects to announce new clients within a few months, and hints they many will come from developers building up the greater downtown area and the rest of Detroit.

"There will be a lot of growth in the next six months," Van Dyke says.

Big data in automotive industry fuels growth at NITS Solutions

NITS Solutions is experiencing a growth spurt thanks to a bump in big data usage by automotive firms.

The Novi-based firm provides data analytics marketing solutions that help customers better capture and understand data related to key performance indicators. It then helps the clients leverage that data to improve their marketing.

The 7-year-old firm has made its biggest inroads in the automotive industry in recent years. NITS Solutions grew its revenue by 200 percent last year, thanks primarily to growth in the automotive sector. When it started, it had one OEM as a client. Today it has three.

"There is a huge demand in automotive," says Neetu Seth, founder of NITS Solutions.

That’s enabling NITS Solutions to go on a hiring spree. The firm has hired 10 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 30 employees. It’s looking to hire another 15 right now in a variety of technical positions, such as business analyst, program manager, and project manager.

"We hope to be at 50 people by December," Seth says.

To make room for all of those new people, NITS Solutions is doubling its office space to 10,000 square feet.

"We are building out a new space for our marketing and product development teams," Seth says.

And Seth expects to keep growing. While there is still some headroom for growth in automotive NITS Solutions sees opportunities for more growth in other industries.

"We want to tap into retail and education," Seth says. "We want to bring them big data solutions they can use."

ContentOro scores 1st clients, $1M-plus in seed capital

Last year ContentOro had an employee, a customer and new marketing platform it was trying to get off the ground. This year, it has a number of clients and more than $1 million in seed capital with an eye on closing a multi-million-dollar Series A.

"A lot happens in a year for a startup," says Bob Chunn, founder & CEO of ContentOro.

The Ann Arbor-based startup sees a big problem in modern marketing: a lack of authoritative content. Its solution is providing marketeers with that authoritative content by making the information in books more easily accessible on the Internet.

Clients and publishers are starting to flock the idea. ContentOro currently has five paying customers and 30 publishers making content available to it. The company's goal was to recruit 20 publishers by the end of the year.

"The publishing community has been very receptive to our business model," Chunn says. "We have gotten a great response from them."

ContentOro has raised $1.5 million in pre-seed capital including a convertible note. The company wants to close on its Series A by October. ContentOro has also hired eight people this year, expanding its team to nine people.

Source: Bob Chunn, founder & CEO of ContentOro
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Your People expands 'kitchen table' with new team members

Your People has always been the boutique public relations agency that could. The Huntington Woods-based firm started from Lynne Golodner's kitchen table and has lived there for most of its nine years. Now it’s adding a few more kitchen tables.

Your People recently hired two people (an executive assistant and a marketing manager) to round its team out to five people. While many companies get offices to accommodate that sort of growth, Golodner is keeping it at the kitchen table to help ensure a better, more personal connection with clients. So the new hires will also work from kitchen tables.

"I still really like the kitchen-table model," Golodner says. "It's a special person that can work on their own and still be a part of the team."

Your People has carved out its niche by finding a way to offer public relations services on a cost-effective model. Their services range from helping build marketing strategies for small businesses to giving individuals pointers on how best to tell their story. The idea is to make such services more accessible to everyone.

"I have always believed that everybody needs PR, but not everyone can afford a PR agency," Golodner says.

The new hires will help Golodner and her team do everything from providing more marketing services to arranging and selling more seminars, retreats, and speaking gigs. 
 
"I needed some people on the team who are focused on this," Golodner says. "It's hard for just me to juggle five things at a time."

Clarity Quest Marketing capitalizes on patience, focus

For more than a decade, Christine Slocumb has been spreading the good word about her clients at Clarity Quest Marketing. And she has learned a thing or two about running a PR firm over that time.

"Don't worry about the first two years," Slocumb says. "The first two years are the most difficult. Also, over 15 years you will have a few years that are lean and mean."

Ann Arbor-based Clarity Quest is celebrating its 15th anniversary this month. The company has 20 employees and an intern between its home base in Ann Arbor and offices in Connecticut and Seattle. Its revenue is up 25 percent last year, and that's on top of a 23 percent increase the year before that. Slocumb wants to hit 30 percent revenue growth this year as her firm's work grows across the U.S.

"We have some of our first clients in Silicon Valley now," Slocumb says. "That's a region I always wanted to tap into."

Slocumb suggest other small companies focus on a handful of things to really grow and establish themselves: patience, perseverance, hard work and finding a niche. Clarity Quest Marketing has sharpened its focus in its later years to concentrate on work in healthcare IT firms. That specialization has really allowed the company to grow in recent years.

"That really paid off for us," Slocumb says.

Source: Christine Slocumb, president of Clarity Quest Marketing
Writer: Jon Zemke

Steve's Custom Signs opens newly expanded space in Ann Arbor

Steve Jedele is opening the newly expanded home for his business, Steve's Custom Signs, later this month. Its several thousand square feet of production space with lots of employees - a far cry from its humble beginnings.

Steve's Custom Signs got its start in Jedele's parent's home while he was still in college. He worked from their bonus room above their garage. "I started doing stickers and signs there," Jedele says. "I moved it to my house after college."

Jedele moved Steve's Custom Signs to its first commercial space at 4676 Freedom Drive on the south side of Ann Arbor around 2005. Back then the business was Jedele's full-time job and he employed a couple of high school kids on a part-time business.

The business has changed significantly since then. Today it offers a variety of services, including promotional products, custom apparel, vehicle graphics, many types of printing services, and custom made signs. Steve's Custom Signs currently employs 14 people after hiring five in production and sales over the last year.

"Now we have a full-time person who specializes in each department," Jedele says.

Steve's Custom Signs recently expanded its work space by 2,400 square feet. The additional space include more room for production, a larger showroom, and a new client consultation area. Jedele also brought on some new automated equipment, including a 8-color M&R Diamondback screen printing press, and a 6-head Tajima embroidery machine. The new equipment will allow for the company to up its production to 400 shirts an hour.

"All of that comes from customers demanding more of our products faster," Jedele says.

Steve's Custom Signs grew its revenue by 20 percent last year, and Jedele expects it will keep growing this year and in the near future. The currently expanded space has room for up to 20 employees, and Jedele could see another expansion in the company's not-too-distant future.

"Every six months to a year we end up adding more space for one reason or another," Jedele says.

Source: Steve Jedele, owner of Steve’s Custom Signs
Writer: Jon Zemke

Three Lyons Creative aims for big third year in Corktown

Three Lyons Creative is in the middle of its small business evolution. The media production firm is in that dynamic stage where it’s no longer just a small group of friends trying to make a job for themselves, but not quite to the point where it's an established small business in the community.

"We're in the in-between stage where we are going from startup to a legitimate business," says Tony Eggert, co-founder of Three Lyons Creative.

Two years ago, Eggert, his brother Daniel, and his cousin Mike Williams, launched the company in Hamtramck. They quit their day jobs so they could work to support Detroit brands and businesses through video, web, audio, and graphic artwork creation. The first year was all about getting on their feet. Last year was about something more than that.

"We have grown substantially over the last year," Eggert says. "We have worked with a lot of clients in and around the city."

Three Lyons Creative added four people to its team this year, including a CFO out of Chicago, rounding it out to seven people. Its workload has grown exponentially with Mercy Education Project, which offers support for low-income women and girls in education, and the Sugar Law Center, a legal aid nonprofit based in Midtown. Three Lyons Creative is also working on its own projects with a focus on improving the quality of life in the city.

"We designed a zine that's all about the state of the parks in the city," Eggert says. "It should launch this spring."

Three Lyons Creative moved to a Bee Hive co-working space inside the St Peter Episcopal Church in Corktown last May. The space is a little bit smaller than its previous home, but it puts the firm at the center of its client base.

"We have really been lucky to work with some fabulous local businesses and organizations that are inline with us ethically," Eggert says.

Source: Tony Eggert, co-founder of Three Lyons Creative
Writer: Jon Zemke

Bundled finds success making gift baskets from Michiganís best products

Courtney Taylor and Chelsea Gheesling have been writing a blog called Chick in the Mitt for the past few years, covering food, fashion, and social life.

Chick in the Mitt became so popular that retailers and brands started sending them products to review on the blog. What started as a cool fringe benefit turned into a regular routine, and then it became a business idea last fall.

"We decided to put the products together and sell them," Taylor says.

Bundled finds the best products in Michigan and offers to bundle them into themed and customized gift boxes for men, women, and babies. The variety of bundle themes include housewarming goods and Michigan grab bags. The bundles cost between $35 to $50 (shipping included) and are filled with items that retail for roughly double that amount. The idea is to help introduce more of the great products made in the Great Lakes State to a broader audience.

"Customers can choose from a catalog of 30 items and ship them anywhere they want," Taylor says.

A special education teacher for her day job, Taylor employs young people with special needs to help package and ship the bundles. Bundled now ships an average of 50 bundles each month, but the three co-founders of the company plan to scale that number later this year.

Source: Courtney Taylor, co-founder of Bundled
Writer: Jon Zemke

Visual Compass expands into mobile app development

For most of its 17 years Visual Compass has been a side project for Vince Chmielewski. The technology firm started out of Chmielewski's University of Michigan dorm room in the 1990s where he put together websites for family and friends. It has incrementally grown since, going through a range of names, such as VC Web Designs, VC Web Services, Visual Compass Web Design, and now Visual Compass.

But it had always been a side project for Chmielewski while he worked a full-time job at U-M. Even when the tech firm was graduating from Ann Arbor SPARK's East Incubator, hiring a handful of people, and moving into new offices in Ypsilanti, Chmielewski still pulled double time, managing the firm and commuting to his job in Ann Arbor.

That changed about a year ago. Chmielewski finally left the security of his full-time job to focus on running Visual Compass the right way.

"Things were growing pretty quickly," Chmielewski says. "I needed to hire somebody to do the day-to-day management duties or do it myself. The time was right."

Visual Compass isn’t missing a beat. The company hired a new graphic designer a couple months ago and now has a staff of eight employees and handful of 1099s in its new office space in Depot Town. The company moved into the space a little more than a year ago to accommodate its growth and give it more room to do more creative things for digital marketing. It even has a photo studio that the company occasionally subleases out to freelance photographers.

"It's not full yet but some days it seems pretty crowded," Chmielewski says.

Visual Compass has traditionally stuck to website design but is now expanding into other areas of digital marketing and technology. It has started doing more custom mobile app creation for customers and is gearing up to release its own app later this year.

"It's a Pinterest recipe app," Chmielewski says.

All of that work adds up to some solid growth for the firm. Its revenue has jumped 40 percent over the last year as it adds more customers and more work from existing customers.

"We are doing more stuff with the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University," Chmielewski says. "We also picked up some big industrial clients."

Source: Vince Chmielewski, president of Visual Compass
Writer: Jon Zemke

Electronic music legends Kraftwerk to headline 2016 Movement festival

 
It's the dead of winter (19 degrees Fahrenheit at the time of this writing), but we at Model D just got got really excited for Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial kickoff of summer. That's because local event production company Paxahau just announced that legendary German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk will be headlining this year's Movement Electronic Music Festival.
 
Kraftwerk has never played Movement, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this summer, though they've performed in Detroit sporadically over the last 35 years. Listen to their first ever Detroit concert, which took place on July 25, 1981 at Nitro, a now-defunct club that was located in a shopping mall at Telegraph and Schoolcraft on the city's west side:


 
By all accounts, Kraftwerk's most recent Detroit show, which took place Oct. 6 at the Masonic Temple, was a real crowd pleaser. The Detroit News's Adam Graham described the performance, which involved audience members wearing 3D glasses, as "eye popping." According to a press release by Paxahau, Kraftwerk's upcoming performance at Movement will also incorporate 3D elements.
 
Detroiters who attended the October show's after party at MOCAD were treated to DJ sets by Detroit techno legends Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins, and Eddie Fowlkes, as well as a surprise appearance by Kraftwerk members.
 
Kraftwerk has often been cited by the pioneers of Detroit techno as a critical musical influence since the group's music was first introduced to Motor City audiences by the Electrifying Mojo, a legend of local radio. Members of Kraftwerk, meanwhile, were recently quoted in Rolling Stone as saying that they feel a "spiritual connection" to Detroit.
 
Movement is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Other acts scheduled to perform at the 2016 festival, which will take place at Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit over Memorial Day weekend (May 28-30) include Caribou, For Tet, Carl Craig, Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins, and more. Visit movement.us for details.

Crafting high-quality stories propels Final5's growth

When Matt Dibble goes to his job each day, he isn't thinking about the work he has to do as much as the stories he gets to tell.

The founder of Final5 has learned a lot in the five years since launching his creative agency, first and foremost that the biggest successes come when his clients better connect with their community through stories.

"We realized that our unique ability is in the designing and crafting of stories," Dibble says. "For us it's a little bit more about the story."

Dibble launched his company, which was originally called Final Five Productions, as a video-production firm that made short videos for companies at a premium. The business model worked for a time, but Dibble found a way to create something bigger.

He moved his firm to the Green Garage and started to working with mentors there on how to grow it. They taught him to look beyond his narrow scope of work -- to stop focusing on making video and start telling stories.

"First we find and craft the story," Dibble says. "Then we build it according to the best medium for it. It has opened us up to a larger client base in Detroit"

Now Final5 produces a variety of content for a variety of clients, which includes for-profit companies, social entrepreneurs, and nonprofits. One of its most recent projects was to create an employee handbook for The Empowerment Plan, a social venture that hires previously homeless women to make sleeping bag coats for homeless people.

The diversification of clients and media has helped the firm grow its team (two new hires) and its revenue, setting up Final5 for its best year yet. Dibble and company recently opened up their own office in TechTown with the idea of helping more companies and nonprofits tell their stories.

"We do our best work and have the most fun when we are helping people," Dibble says.

Source: Matt Dibble, founder of Final5
Writer: Jon Zemke

Onset Marketing diversifies clientele to spur growth

Client diversification has been a key part of Onset Marketing's story since it got its start a dozen years ago. Back then it helped clients diversify to grow. Today client diversification is powering Onset Marketing's own growth.

The Wixom-based company's roots are in the automotive industry, and it used that base of support to grow into a solid boutique B2B marketing firm. It slowly began to adding other firms from different industries to its clientele in recent years.

"We are diversifying a bit," says Jim Graziano, president of Onset Marketing.

That's a bit of an understatement. Onset Marketing's automotive industry work made up two thirds of its bottom line. Today it's barely 50 percent. Its customers in other industries include firms in healthcare, finance, and education.

"We have always had this desire to go into different industries," Graziano says.

Onset Marketing got its start providing similar services for automotive firms. It helped provide the marketing materials for automotive suppliers so they could add clients in other industries. It proved to be a nice, little niche to carve out in metro Detroit.

"We helped a lot of automotive suppliers that were only working with the Big Three," Graziano says. "We helped them become non-automotive suppliers. We helped them sell to heavy trucking industry, tractor industry, and defense industry."

That allowed Onset Marketing to grow to a staff of 10 employees and the occasional intern. It has hired three people in marketing over the last year.

Source: Jim Graziano, president of Onset Marketing
Writer: Jon Zemke

Motor City Muckraker shifts focus to education in 2016


If you don't already know who Steve Neavling is, it's time to start following Motor City Muckraker, the investigative news site he runs with co-founder Abigail Shaw. Last year, Neavling dedicated himself to tracking the Detroit Fire Department's struggles to deal with the city's 3,000-plus fires. His reporting revealed a mismanaged and under-resourced department, eventually leading to the ouster of Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins and his deputy Craig Dougherty.

This year Neavling, who was a reporter for the Detroit Free Press before striking out to launch his own site focused on "independent news dedicated to improving Detroit," is turning his attention to the issues of education and the mayor's administration.

If Neavling's reporting on the Detroit Fire Department in 2015 is any indication, you'll want to keep an eye on what the Muckraker turns up in 2016.

Follow Neavling's work at MotorCityMuckraker.com.

Tweddle Group opens up 30-person tech office above Fillmore

For a long time Tweddle Group's tech workforce worked everywhere. A few staffers were in its Clinton Township-based headquarters, while more worked here and there at other offices. They really didn't have one place to call their own until a few weeks ago.

That's when the automotive communications and publishing firm opened its newest office in downtown Detroit. Tweddle Group took over the 8th floor of the Palms Building, which is known as the home of The Fillmore Detroit theater. The 7,000-square-foot space will house 30 tech workers, with more to follow.

"Within a year we expect it will be up to 50 people," says Paul Wilbur, president & CEO of Tweddle Group. "If we keep growing we will add more."

The 65-year-old business specializes in information and publishing for automotive suppliers -- things like owner and user manuals. Tweddle Group has spent recent years moving these into different digital platforms, such as mobile apps or interactive systems in vehicles.

Tweddle Group currently employs 700 people, half of which work at its headquarters in Macomb County. The company also has offices around the world including in Italy, London and Tokyo. It recently closed its Novi office as part of the effort to consolidate its tech development team in downtown Detroit, choosing the Palms Building because of its location on Woodward Avenue near the concentration of tech startups on between Campus Martius Park and the stadiums.

"It feels like that is the tech hub that is just starting to boom right now," Wilbur says. "We want to be a part of that."

Source: Paul Wilbur, president & CEO of Tweddle Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

ContentOro provides marketeers with access to authoritative content

Bob Chunn sees a big problem in modern marketing, a lack of authoritative content. To him it's one thing to get consumers' attention but its quite another to get their respect for your product. That’s where having expert information comes in, and validated expertise is increasingly fewer and farther between on the Internet.

Solving that problem is at the heart of his new startup, ContentOro.The Ann Arbor-based company specializes in providing marketeers with access to authoritative content.

"There is a shortage of quality, authoritative content," Chunn says. "We are leveraging 130 million books to solve that problem."

Chunn ran into this problem often when he was the chief marketing officer for Pet Supplies Plus. People would often turn to the website for information. Having so-so information led to a pause in buying. Having a wealth of expertise on hand usually sealed the deal when it came to spending money.

"I was solving a problem I had run into myself as a chief marketing officer," Chunn says. "I was looking for authoritative content for the company I worked for."

What distinguishes authoritative content from the rest of the pack is complex, but Chunn sees a trend in books. While unsigned content written by freelancers can be persuasive, taking information from books written by respected authors goes much farther. However, the rub is there is a digital divide between the written word in books and what’s easily available online.

ContentOro's platform bridges that divide. It links marketing departments with the expert resources. ContentOro's team of five people launched the platform in August and have landed a couple of large customers. Chunn declined to name them, but did say two of the top three firms in the pet space are leveraging ContentOro.
 
"We're developing the world's first content marketplace," Chunn says.

Source: Bob Chunn, CEO of ContentOro
Writer: Jon Zemke
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