NIVEA Global was looking to partner with a celebrity who could genuinely represent its skincare products in a worldwide marketing initiative celebrating its 100th year. Enlisting the services of Brand Synergy Group, a marketing firm with strong ties in the entertainment industry, NIVEA discovered a perfect match in singer Rihanna, who had been introduced to the brand by her grandmother.

BSG Partner and Vice President Laura Striese joined former Island Def Jam Music Group co-worker and current BSG CEO Jeff Straughn when he founded the firm two years ago, combining their experience in strategic marketing for the entertainment industry to build a marketing agency that pairs celebrities with corporations for advertising and promotional campaigns.

The five-person firm’s portfolio has grown to include partnerships across various industries between well-known names such as Cee Lo Green and Duracell.

“(We) create strategies, really take time with our clients to sit down and decide what it is they’re looking to accomplish and how we can partner them with artists to help them do so,” Striese says.

Identifying constituents’ needs and goals is the first step to facilitating a successful partnership. Begin by reviewing clients’ past methods and strategies, identifying failures as well as successes.

“You never want to spin your wheels and work on something that’s already been vetted, tried and executed, and failed,” Striese says.

This interaction should be direct and personal.

“It’s really important to maintain that level of face-to-face interpersonal communication,” Stirese says. “You have to spend plenty of time sitting down with the client and really getting an understanding of what they’re looking to achieve. And it’s not just a matter of sitting in one meeting; it’s a matter of spending a lot of time with them to understand their long-term goals. Work alongside their existing agencies. … All the information is out there – the goals of all their different silos, be it digital or sales, whatever.”

In addition to giving deeper insight, this personalized association fosters trust – a necessary element for collaboration.

“It’s a bit intimidating,” Striese says. “Where do you begin? How are we going to be able to work together? How do we even begin to have that conversation?”

“A lot of this comes down to word of mouth and the element of trust. … They feel comfortable sharing the information with us and letting us know where projects are going, because they too see the value in this partnership marketing.”

Maintain this personal level of interaction even when not face-to-face to strengthen the relationship, as well as bolster creative exchange.

“Pick up the phone and call people when you need to speak to them, and really work through ideas that way,” Striese says. “E-mails (you) can rely on to follow up and do the next-step-type stuff, but the conceptualizing and getting those ideas fleshed out, we need to really speak to one another.”

Direct communication also ensures clarity.

“When you can deal directly with the brands and with the artists, you understand what both agendas are – you don’t have other people weighing in about their cut of that.”

Once the needs and goals of your constituents have been identified, you can more accurately plan potential partnerships. Brand Synergy Group uses a methodology called Brand Alignment Matrix to evaluate artists’ and brands’ compatibility.

“On one axis we list all of the artists we’re considering for a campaign, and on the other we list all of the brand’s attributes,” Striese says. “We determine which artists are really going to fit for the brand and make sure they will resonate with the brand consumers.”

After taking the time to identify and align constituents’ needs, you then need to facilitate communication between the involved parties.

“Often times they probably feel as though they’re speaking different languages, but at the same time, ultimately, you can help decipher what they’re saying because at the end of the day, they’re both looking to achieve the same thing,” Striese says.

How to reach: Brand Synergy Group, (212) 584-8045 or

Direct approach

Personal communication is a key focus internally for Brand Synergy Group.

“Work really hard as a team to make sure that the team members have all the information that they need, that they’re well-informed, that they have the insight they need to be confident in their ability to create and execute a strategy,” says Laura Striese, co-founder and vice president.

Face-to-face interaction is integral to ensuring employees are well informed.

“Even though we’re in this digital age where e-mails are supposed to help keep businesses moving and flowing, I think a lot of times … that can slow you down,” Striese says. “Get up, get out of your chair and go talk to them.”

This will also push employees to be more independent.

“If you can always reach somebody by e-mail, you can always ask somebody else what you think you should do,” Striese says. “It’s really about delegating and making sure there are great people on the team that are all responsible for different aspects of the business.

While we all work together to strategize and execute, ultimately one or two people are going to be closest to the project and be responsible to make those decisions. So they feel confident they don’t always have to check with everybody else - sometimes there are just moments where you have to make those decisions on the fly, and because they’re closest to it, it’s a well-educated decision.”

Published in National

If you think your business may need to use a staffing firm at some point in the future, you should start doing something about it now.

Waiting until you actually need those services could prove to be a huge mistake, says George Thomas, senior vice president at EverStaff.

“Obviously, it’s always best to think about it before you need it,” says Thomas. “Often, by the time you have a need, it’s already too late. Planning ahead by establishing a relationship with a staffing agency can ensure that you have a partner that will be properly prepared to fulfill your staffing and placement needs when they arise.”

Smart Business spoke with Thomas about how to develop a relationship with a staffing firm so it can stay ahead of your needs.

Where should a business owner start when considering a partnership with a staffing firm?

Before you begin, recognize that there could very well be a disconnect between your operations, human resources and finance departments. In many cases, the finance department is going to look at staffing (as they should) based on a cost savings proposition focusing on liability, overall exposure of work force and the staffing company markup. The HR and operations departments will also be looking at cost and exposure, but will be more focused on the quality/reliability of candidates and the impact on production. As the CEO, you want to align all three departments and ensure that you are taking into account the full impact of what the service offers, focusing on the total value proposition. This means getting HR, finance and operations all in one room together to figure out what your company expects to gain from the use of a contingent labor work force. Second, it is key to determine a healthy percentage of contingent work force to permanent work force. Once you have determined this, you are now prepared to consult with a contingent staffing service to best determine how you will move forward.

How do you determine the right firm for your needs?

If your company has any chance of using a staffing firm, your HR employees probably hear from staffing services several times a week so there is no need to look in a phone book. Start by asking them what they know about the local services, as they should know who is out there and have an opinion.

An important consideration when choosing a firm is determining whether the company is merely happy to be a subordinate vendor and order taker to you, or if it wants to be a trusted partner. It’s not a question you can ask directly, but you can ask about relationships and the expectation of those relationships during fact-finding meetings. Also, listen to the questions the recruiter asks. If the staffing firm wants to be a trusted partner with you, the recruiter is going to try to learn about your business and get into your operating reality. He or she will use effective questioning to get to the root of your needs and learn everything he or she can about your facility and specific operating style. Then the recruiter will use that information to form a proposal about how the staffing firm can improve your operations with contingent staff.

It’s a matching process, not just order filling, and a staffing firm can’t make a proper match unless it can get into your operating reality and understand your company’s culture. It is very easy to find candidates with the proper hard skills, but much more challenging to find someone who is going to fit in with your company culture and be a long-term match. The difference between a good and great staffing company is that the great ones can make the match.

If a prospect staffing company simply walks in with a pricing sheet without first doing a proper analysis and says, ‘Whoever you’re doing business with, I can do it cheaper,’ that’s a good indication that that company has no interest in being a partner and is happy to be a vendor. That relationship never lasts long.

How can developing a partnership benefit a business?

Too many CEOs look at the staffing industry as a necessary evil, because they can’t carry all of the liability that comes with hiring and their HR departments are normally too small to recruit all positions internally. Because of that, they see staffing firms as disposable, something they can replace tomorrow if need be. As a result, they often throw out a job to several firms, and the first one to find a worker wins.

You can do that, but it’s not doing you any good because you’re not developing a key partner relationship. You need to think of your staffing firm as the third arm of your HR department, as an external recruiting department. Have them at your meetings so they understand your business from an operational standpoint. Keep them engaged to keep them out in front of your needs.

How can partnering with a staffing firm help with retention?

Statistics show approximately 60 to 70 percent of turnover occurs in the first two to three weeks at a new manufacturing job. People are experiencing many different things and moving in ways they’re not used to, so they may be sore, or not used to specific odors, environment, etc. If there is someone coaching them through those weeks and letting them know that it’s going to get better, there is a higher likelihood that they will stay and your retention will improve.

Proper orientation is a key to retention in contingent staffing and you need to ensure that you work with your staffing partner on orientation. Improper orientation always leads to misunderstandings. In the staffing industry,  much of our turnover is based on misunderstanding. For example, if someone shows up on day one and doesn’t know where to go, doesn’t have a proper orientation, or took a break in the wrong space and is disciplined, then they are likely to not return the next day. By partnering with a trusted staffing firm, you get more than just warm bodies on the job. You get the correct candidate and the right match, which is critical to your company’s operating success.

George Thomas is senior vice president at EverStaff. Reach him at (216) 369-2599 or

Insights Recruiting & Staffing is brought to you by EverStaff

Published in Cleveland

A business partnership is like any relationship. You want to partner with someone who shares your long-term goals and complements you, someone who shares your work ethic, values and vision. Without this common ground, a marriage in business or in life is bound to unravel. And that can get ugly, says Tom Christy, an attorney at Garan Lucow Miller PC.

“What business owners often forget when they enter into a new partnership is that once you let someone into your business, it can be hard to get them out unless you have a proper buy-sell agreement in place,” says Christy.

Whether your reason for inviting a partner into the business is to infuse capital into the organization, to reward a longtime employee or to execute a succession plan, you need to proceed with caution and prepare formal documentation to protect the business.

Smart Business spoke with Christy about what to consider before bringing on a new partner in order to ensure a successful relationship that benefits all parties and the business.

Under what circumstances might an owner consider bringing in a new partner?

Some owners decide to reward employees with partnership if they are top performers or are part of a succession plan that is being executed over time. In other instances, equity partners are brought on to help infuse capital into a business. Also, you may take on new partners — and I’m using ‘partners’ loosely here, as the actual form of the business today is almost always a corporation or LLC — after a merger or acquisition; these arrangements are the product of the newly formed business structure.

Whether new partners are invited to join an existing firm, or owners decide to partner and launch a business together, the same rules apply: Be sure you truly know your partner, that you share common goals and a vision for the business and that your roles are complementary and defined. Go into the deal with your eyes wide open to your partner’s perspective.

What determinations should an owner carefully weigh before inviting a partner into the business?

It’s important to have those tough conversations about money and control before entering into a partnership. How much decision-making power will each partner have? How will disputes be resolved? Do not make the mistake of assuming that your 51 percent stock in the business means that the other partners must yield to your authority. Disputes can result in litigation in which a minority partner can argue shareholder oppression. So talk about how much power the new partner will have and what this means in the board room.

Be sure that you have the same goals for the company. Your opinions on how to reach those goals may differ, but successful partners work toward a shared vision for the company. Ask yourself, ‘Can I work with this person?’ The main reason partnerships eventually fail is because the partners failed to address the tough questions in advance.

Remember, a business partner is more than a manager or someone you hire to help run the company. This person shares in the decision making and the resulting profits, and this person can drive the success or cause the failure of a business. Take on new partners with caution, and always consult with an adviser who can provide a third-party perspective and challenge owners to dig deeper before entering into a formal arrangement.

What common mistakes do owners make when making an employee a partner?

In the case of making an employee a partner, first consider whether this is the best reward for that person. Giving an employee stake in the business is not the only way to financially reward him or her for top performance. Consider whether a profit-sharing plan would provide a more appropriate financial reward. Even if you do not want to meet the stringent requirements of a tax-advantaged profit-sharing plan, you can still create profit-based incentives.

Partners not only gain financial stake in the business, they also get a voice and some control. Decide if the employee you want to reward will be happy with a financial reward and if giving that person voice and control is truly beneficial for the organization.

What steps can an owner take to protect the business when bringing in a new partner?

First, be sure that a partnership is the best arrangement. Would you be better served by setting up a profit-sharing plan to reward employees if that is your goal? Second, be sure that all terms of the partnership arrangement are on paper, and consult with a legal professional who can be sure there aren’t any issues in your agreement that could result in litigation down the road. Third, establish a buy-sell agreement to determine, before you get into a partnership, how you can get out.

Other ways to protect the business include setting up a probationary period for the new partner during which he or she earns a financial stake in the company after a determined period of time. Also, if you plan to bring in a partner who specializes in one area of your firm – for example, design — you may consider splitting your business and creating separate companies so this partner does not gain control over all operations.

Splitting up the company can preserve control and profit in areas where the new partner is not involved.

Tom Christy is an attorney at Garan Lucow Miller PC. Reach him at or (248) 641-7600.

Published in Detroit
Thursday, 27 October 2011 16:39

Educating future leaders

Christine Poon says the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University is at the heart of an inextricable relationship between the university and the economic health of Ohio. As dean, she has led the college in training students with a strong business program led by knowledgeable faculty.

In addition to turning out well-trained graduates, the college focuses on providing a vast array of resources to attract, retain and create new business in the area. Poon said the goal is to ultimately uplift the local economy through these efforts.

Because of her leadership in expanding the college’s resources to accommodate enrollment growth and attract new business, Smart Business, U.S. Bank and Blue Technologies named Poon to the 2011 class of Columbus Smart Leader honorees. She told us how the Fisher College of Business has worked to update its physical and educational assets and to form strong partnerships.

Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

As the reputation of Fisher College of Business grows, so does our need for space to accommodate the increasing number of students admitted into our academic programs. The students of today require far more than a book and a pencil — technology plays a central, continuously evolving role in the classroom. So, although Fisher campus is only a decade old, we needed to provide more modern spaces for learning, team building and collaboration.

An opportunity opened up to rethink our use of the Mason Hall building. We formed a task force to complete a needs assessment and identified a chair to shepherd blueprints and lead the construction project. A year later, we are preparing for the reopening of a building that truly mirrors the workspaces of today — open, interactive and wired.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

The competition to attract high-quality students is fierce. After graduation, students face equal competition in the job market. We recognize that as the academic quality of our undergraduate student body increases, so must our efforts to offer an ‘MBA-like’ educational experience. During the 2010-2011 academic year, Fisher launched two pilot industry clusters in health care and energy and sustainability. In concert with the business community and select alumni, we sought to deepen our students’ understanding of these specific industries in order to better position them for future careers.

Each cluster attracted high-achieving students. Among students participating in the industry cluster program, 85 percent secured summer internships. Of that number, 25 percent secured internships with companies participating in the program. During the next academic year, we will add a third cluster focusing on financial services. We believe that Fisher’s industry cluster program is a win-win for students and for the business community. Students receive a depth of industry knowledge unparalleled in the undergraduate experience, while businesses gain access to top students eager explore specific skills.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

One way in which Fisher makes a significant impact in the economy of our state and nation is through our Centers of Excellence. Fisher Centers facilitate a powerful connection with the business community through research, business to business collaboration, partnerships with government, student engagement and mentoring and knowledge creation.

Our areas of focus include entrepreneurship, operations strategy and management, among others. We are currently collaborating with GE to unveil a national center on middle market research — the first of its kind in the nation. Fisher Centers of Excellence link faculty expertise, student creativity, and the business community to provide critical insights that grow business and impact the economy.

How to reach: The Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University, (614) 292-8937 or

See all of the 2011 Columbus Smart Leaders on the next page.

Together with U.S. Bank and Blue Technologies, Smart Business named the following honorees to the 2011 class of Columbus Smart Leaders:

*Indicates Women Presidents’ Organization Breakthrough Business Leader

Published in Columbus