Indianapolis Agency Earns Obama Praise

Benefiting From President's Small Business Initiatives, TrendyMinds Gives Back

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Vicki Bohlson
Vicki Bohlsen
TrendyMinds' time in the spotlight began last week when we received a phone call from the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. The NGLCC was reaching out to TrendyMinds -- a full-service boutique agency in Indianapolis -- to submit information on its annual growth and efforts to give back to the community for possible inclusion in the president's State of the Union address.

It's true that TrendyMinds is a model of achievement for and by minority groups, including gays and women, but the story of our success is much more than that. Our success is a testament to the strength of and need for services that ad agencies provide and our desire to deliver just that in our community.

In the last year, despite tough economic times, TrendyMinds grew 200%, bringing in 15 new accounts and doubling its staff size, even renovating the entire office to accommodate the growth. Feeling blessed beyond means, and entering into TrendyMinds' 15th year in business, my business partner and I started wondering how we could give back to the community that helped to make us and our staff so successful. Not all businesses can afford the services we offer or have seen their enterprises grow like ours -- even with the president's small-business initiatives, from which we credit a lot of our success in the past year.

We have a longstanding tradition of donating our services to charitable organizations and nonprofits. In 2009, after years of informally donating services, we created an official pro-bono program that awarded $50,000 of in-kind services to eight local nonprofit organizations. We decided that our revenue growth was so explosive this year that we would award $150,000 of in-kind services to deserving organizations, tripling the previous year's amount.

More than 30 organizations applied for various work from our five divisions -- branding, advertising, promotions, public relations and interactive. Our staff rated them based on their interest level, and then we strategized how we could divide the work equally among the staff and departments. Ultimately, 12 deserving area nonprofits were awarded with TrendyMinds grants.

The ethnically diverse recipients run the gamut from arts and entertainment to healthcare-related organizations: Carmel Symphony Orchestra, Fishers Arts Council, IndyHub, International Kidney Stone Institute, Junior Achievement Intellectual Army, King Park Area Development Corp., La Plaza, Madame Walker Theatre Center, Planned Parenthood of Indiana, the Polis Center at IUPUI, School on Wheels and the Wellness Community.

TrendyMinds' staff, though small (seven, plus one intern), consists of seasoned, creative individuals. This means we're intimately connected with our pro-bono work; each member of the staff will contribute approximately 70 hours to the pro bono effort in 2010.

Although this is a large undertaking, the staff is excited and not unfamiliar with giving back to the community in their personal lives. Outside work, the staff is involved with many community organizations, including the ACLU, Indiana Equality, Kappa Alpha Theta, Planned Parenthood of Indiana, School on Wheels, Trusted Mentors and various religious groups.

It's easy for those of us in this industry to get caught up in the glamour and excitement of creating new campaigns that sell the next new product or tout a new startup. It's this thrill that initially lured me into public relations. But we should remember to use our talents for more than just advancing consumerism; we should use our skills as designers, strategists, writers, brand advocates and more to advance the greater good of humanity.

I encourage all agencies to identify nonprofits in their areas that they feel passionate about and to reach out to them to see how their expertise can benefit such causes. It's a fantastic way to get to know your community and feel good about creating positive changes in the world, but it's also an effective way to build an agency's portfolio and try out new techniques and applications that paying clients might be hesitant to utilize.

We've found that our pro-bono program has been a winner for everyone involved, and we look forward to continuing the program for many years to come. With the special recognition TrendyMinds has received from the White House this past week, we feel stronger than ever that giving back is the way to go.

Vicki Bohlsen is a principal of TrendyMinds, Indianapolis.
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