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Independence in Independence Featured

9:32am EDT July 22, 2002

Only months after starting work as the director of marketing for a top Chicago software design firm, Mark Johnson received a phone call from a familiar voice.

It was Joel Goldstein, owner of Goldstein Group Communications Inc., a small, rapidly growing public relations and marketing firm in Independence. Goldstein asked Johnson if he wanted to join his firm. Johnson politely declined the offer, but the call sparked his interest.

Three months later, it was Goldstein on the phone again.

"I said, 'We're just continuing to grow and take on additional work and we really need you,'" says Goldstein. "After much persuading, he said yes. I'm a persistent salesperson when going after a client."

That kind of recruiting tenacity and the lure of a rapidly growing firm with an entrepreneurial spirit attracted Johnson, who joined in May as an account manager. The firm also attracted Jeff Kenyon, who joined Goldstein after serving as director of marketing communications for Keithley Instruments and director of corporate communications for Pioneer-Standard Electronics, a $2.6 billion, Fortune 600 company.

However, Kenyon's story is a little different. His former companies were clients of Goldstein's, so the two men had known each other for 10 years. After two years at Pioneer-Standard, Kenyon in May wrote a letter to Goldstein expressing interest in joining the firm, much to Goldstein's chagrin.

"I got the letter and thought, 'Oh, darnit.' Agencies like for their clients to stay where they are. Not move around," Goldstein says.

Later that month, the two men had lunch and Kenyon sold Goldstein on the idea of letting him come to work for him because Kenyon was attracted to the firm.

"To be honest, Jeff is a more senior person than we had ever hired before, and I didn't really know how to do that," Goldstein says. "We started talking about what it would mean if he came here, the effect it would have, and I started to get excited about it. He really showed me it was a great idea and a good thing to do."

For Kenyon and Johnson, who had never worked at agencies and were used to larger companies, Goldstein's firm offered advantages the corporate structure couldn't.

Life on the cutting edge

Because of its size, Goldstein can launch new marketing and advertising techniques faster than the bigger firms because he and his smaller team can make decisions faster than they could in a corporate environment. It doesn't take as long to put ideas into action.

"I really think he's going to be the hottest agency in town in the next few years," Kenyon says. "I had exposure to a lot of other agencies in those other jobs and I didn't see any doing the kind of focused work that he's doing."

Johnson, who had worked for a Chicago advertising firm in his career, wasn't eager to get back into the industry, but the environment at Goldstein's firm sold him.

"Having done this for a while, I know a lot of stuff, and I wanted to find a place to work where I could use those skills and that knowledge. I knew I could do it here."

A hands-off environment

Corporations can get bogged down in layers of management and disparate divisions. Employees working on a project often don't feel a sense of ownership or a sense of accomplishment when it's done.

Goldstein's firm offered a break from that culture for his most recent corporate recruits.

"I think at some point, you have that burning desire to have some entrepreneurial spirit," Kenyon says. "The opportunity to feel somewhat entrepreneurial, and some of the challenges that I can define and accomplish on my own is what I wanted."

Goldstein adds, "We allow our people to work autonomously. People like that."

Developing a better compensation package

Goldstein keeps an eye on what other agencies are offering in salary and benefits and tries to keep his packages above the average.

"Coming to work for a small organization, we have to have benefits that are competitive and maybe even better. We do have benefit provisions that I know are better than what's available (elsewhere)," he says.

Ultimately, it's not the financial benefits that helped build the team of experts Goldstein has put together.

"Joel's technique is not high pressure, it's showing enthusiasm and telling the person, 'I really want you to come work for me,'" Johnson says. "You don't hear that every day. You have a boss who complains about things or a boss who doesn't tell you what a great job you're doing, and here's a person who really wants you.

"That's an effective technique." How to reach: Goldstein Group Communications Inc., (216) 573-2300

Morgan Lewis Jr. (mlewis@sbnnet.com) is a reporter at SBN.