Allee Creative is celebrating 10 years in business and we are extending this milestone celebration throughout the year. To kick things off, I had a conversation with Melissa Harrison, Allee’s CEO and founder, to get her take on what this celebration means and where she sees the company in the future.
Q: How did you get started?
Although I always knew I wanted to start a business, I also knew that to be successful I would first need to learn from leaders in the community and form an idea of what I could do to help others. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, I worked at Dunwoody College in their development & alumni relations department for nearly 5 years. I was tasked with managing the majority of the college’s marketing and communications in addition to event management and wading through a large merger with another well-known college at the time.
In 2006, I had reached the cap of where I could grow. I wouldn’t say it was the “perfect” time to start a business (I had also just found out I was pregnant with my second child and we were all feeling what would later be known as the start of the Great Recession) but it was the best time for me and where I was in my career.
I started out as Harrison Communications (super creative, right?) and at the time, the primary focus was on content development and strategy from a traditional standpoint (social media wasn’t in the mix and we were still doing a lot of printed content for magazines, etc.) I quickly realized, however, that being a young, woman entrepreneur wasn’t easy. I ran into issues with being a woman in business and I don’t believe using my last name as the name of my company helped. I often felt that when I handed out my business cards I would get the, “Oh, that’s cute. You have your own business” reaction and that people didn’t really believe that I was legitimate. I wanted to be seen as more than a freelancer. So a few years into the start of the company, I solicited the help of a trusted colleague and her company to develop our new brand and change our name to Allee Creative.
Q: What does Allee mean and how do you say it?
Allée is French for “a path between trees” and creatively, it means that we are the guiding path for our clients, lined with expertise and support along the way. It’s easier to say than it looks; it is simply pronounced, “a-lay.”
Q: In addition to owning a successful company, you are also a mother of 4, largely involved in your community, act as a mentor to your employees and still find time to teach fitness classes and play in an adult kickball league. So, spill it! How do you stay sane?
I make lists. Tons of them. We use a lot of project management tools (and before that, we used spreadsheets…which did the job in the beginning but became cumbersome as we grew). It’s the same at home. We have meal calendars. I put every bill that is due into my phone as a reminder. We have an ongoing grocery list (and to-do list) on the bulletin board in our mudroom. And my husband and I have synced/shared calendars on our iPhones so we know where everyone is supposed to be.
Most of all, if I don’t get my workout in, I’m more stressed out. So at least 3 days a week I get up at 4:30 a.m. to hit up my 5:15 a.m. workout and then on the other days I either workout in the evening after work or with my husband in our basement. Boxing is my favorite. There is a lot of stress relief that happens when I box. 🙂 And I had a good mentor for that: My dad was a professional boxer when I was growing up. He’s also one of the hardest workers I know. I get much of my work ethic and always on-the-go attitude from both of my parents, actually.
Q: Your list-making personality suggests organization is one thing that sets Allee apart from the competition, but what other things make Allee unique?
We are a different kind of marketing agency. Our clients are not numbers. They aren’t just accounts that we are helping on one-off projects or to meet our revenue goals that month. They are family. They are our team members. We get to know them on personal levels; we understand their brands and business goals. You’ll never hear us say, “That’s not our job,” because marketing is full-circle. Everything must be worked on collaboratively. What we do for a social strategy affects what we do in print and what we design visually and what the sales team for our clients give to leads, etc.
Communication is key and we are kick-ass communicators. We are always looking out for the best interest of our clients and we provide them with so much “we’ve got this” attitude that they can allow us to take the lead and give themselves room to concentrate on what they are good at. Our job is to make their jobs easier. That’s exactly what we do.
Q: What are some of the successes that you’ve celebrated over the past 10 years?
From a business/financial perspective, it is pretty awesome that the company has seen continued growth year after year, even during tough times.
From a personal standpoint, I can’t pick just one favorite memory. It’s been such a fun ride, but there are things that stand out. I loved going through the process of our re-brand when we moved from Harrison Communications to Allee Creative. The storyboards and visual concepts were so fun to see. All of our various website versions and re-designs are also super fun. The first time I was interviewed for a newspaper article about the business was also a great highlight. I was also pretty stoked the year I was chosen to speak at Content Marketing World. And the people. I’ve met some outstanding people over the past 10 years whether through various speaking engagements, when I’ve hired new team members, when we bring on new clients…it’s been a great ride and I’m excited to see what the next 10 years will bring.
Q: All that success calls for a celebration! What is Allee Creative doing to celebrate turning 10?
Our anniversary celebration will be all year long with fun blog posts, social media content and maybe a few contests here and there. We’re also planning an anniversary party. I can’t give out too many details and we want everything to be a surprise! However, be sure to use #AlleeTurns10 as a way to follow along with anything we’re posting on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram during our celebratory year!
Q: Where do you see the company in 10 more years?
I try not to plan that far ahead, but I will say is this: I am very proud of what I have built and I am happy to have a great team backing me up. I want to provide opportunities for future employees, to be a company that they can be proud to work for, and to offer an environment that fosters growth as well as life balance. I see us growing, but I also want to be mindful of our size. We are able to provide personal services to our clients today because of the relationships we built and the trust they have in us. I don’t see myself being too far removed from the daily activities yet; I like to be a part of the process. And part of the fun is seeing where we will be in 10 years…I know it will be some place great.
To learn more about Allee Creative’s 10-year anniversary and company growth, check out the company’s feature article in Twin Cities Business’ Milestones publication.