General / PRSSA

Company Tour 2014: Incredible Companies in Our Backyard

By: Maggie Noonan

As us students prepare for internships and jobs in the field of public relations, we often think of pursuing careers in cities such as Minneapolis, St. Louis and Chicago. However, there are many great public relations and marketing companies in our own backyard. On Friday, March 28, University of Iowa PRSSA students visited six dynamic companies in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa area:

Fusionfarm: “Brand development is creating a belief system.” fusion farm

Our first stop was Fusionfarm, a digital marketing and creative agency, owned by The Gazette Company. Shawn Reineke, the sales manager at Fusionfarm, was our guide for the hour. When we walked in, the creative atmosphere instantly impressed me. Stacey Stefani, the product manager, and Michael Zydzik, the creative director, shared information about their company’s client base, Fusionfarm’s collaborative meta team structure, and their holistic approach of looking at and solving clients’ problems.

Stacey specifically spoke about digital marketing, SEO and SEM, inbound marketing, content marketing and web development. “We have to learn a lot of different brand voices to represent the clients well,” Stacey said. When discussing digital marketing, she explained how social media, email marketing and reputation marketing all work together to effectively market a client. At Fusionfarm, they manage clients’ social media accounts, create custom email templates and use email marketing and reputation marketing to play well with the social aspect.

Next, Michael spoke about brand development, including a brand’s voice, effective research and the importance of a brand guide. “Brand development is creating a belief system,” Michael said, citing Apple as the perfect example. He also discussed the creative process of design and developing campaigns, showing us a newly developed brand image for TCR, Theatre Cedar Rapids.

economic allianceCedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance: “Smart. Innovative. Progressive.”

The moment we sa
t down with Pam Hinman, the communications manager at the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, she stressed their company’s three key words: “Smart, innovative and progressive.” The Metro Economic Alliance is a new company, founded in January of 2012, that “combines the economic and community development efforts of the former Cedar
Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Cedar Rapids Downtown District and Priority One.” 

Pam began her career as a reporter and worked in marketing before her position at the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance. Much like being a reporter, Pam’s days are different every day and she’s always on a deadline. She discussed media requests, including situations when you can’t comment and you must talk around the issue. She also shared challenges of being a new organization and how they’ve become a connector of people to prove their legitimacy. Lastly, Pam shared some of their innovative campaigns such as the two-year, $750,000 “Stay Here” campaign, aimed to encourage young graduates to stay in the Cedar Rapids, Creative Corridor area after graduation.

HRB: “Move the Needle.”

Henry Russell Bruce (HRB) has been a great friend to PRSSA throughout the years. After hearing HRB’s CEO, Jim Thebeau, and their social media specialist, Brando Hills, speak at PRSSA events, it was nice to visit their office and see the world they create in. 

On our company tour, we met with Jill Mast, account supervisor, and Brando Hills. Jill and Brando discussed rebranding for their recent merge with ME&V Advertising + Consulting, resulting in the brand new company Amperage Marketing. With the two companies joining forces, they have over 50 employees, offices in five Iowa cities and 200 clients across 10 states. The agency’s new tagline is “Move the Needle.”

Brando also shared the importance of measuring results and collecting data on social media. He discussed different channels and paid vs. organic reach, including which channels paid advertising makes the most sense for, such as Pinterest. Lastly, he discussed brands that manage their social media extremely well, pointing out GoPro’s creative use of Instagram.

The Gazette: Public Relations from a Journalist’s Perspective

A public relations company tour would not be complete without the inclusion of a news organization and the perspective of a journalist. Carly R. Weber, the features editor at The Gazette, focused on the relationships between the media and public relations professionals throughout her presentation. 

Her honest tips, from small technicalities to major relationship-building advice, gave us insight into a journalist’s world:

  • Don’t send journalists PDF press releases. It’s best to send your information in the body of an email. Attached PDFs create another step for the journalist and are difficult to copy and paste.
  • “You will make friends with the media if you find that sweet spot.” It’s all about timing. Don’t expect coverage if you send a journalist a press release six months early or call them the day before. For events, two weeks out is an appropriate time to contact journalists.
  • Cultivate your contact list. Do not send press releases to all journalists because they will either 1) delete it or 2) forward it to the relevant person, resulting in many forwarded messages for that person. 
  • Lastly, take the time to research an organization’s news cycle. It’s obvious if a PR professional doesn’t read the organization’s publication and expects something that simply doesn’t fit their news cycle.


WDG Communications: “Full services of a large firm, with the personal attention of a small company.”

When you walk through the doors of WDG Communications, there’s a very small town, refreshing feel. Although they’re small, WDG’s work is great quality and they’re able to build lasting relationships with clients, something Eric Johnson stressed throughout the tour. WDG offers some a la carte services, however they prefer to build a relationship and become a trusted, full-service source for their clients. This ensures clients’ materials and communication efforts are consistent.

With impressive logos and brand identities around the office, it’s evident WDG puts their clients first. WDG specializes in design and publishing. In addition to a few design pieces, Eric showed us beautiful books they’ve created including Harker’s Courthouses, One Week in June and a history book for Rockwell Collins, one of their long-lasting, greatest clients.

Metro Studios: Video Production, Marketing and Job Tips

Metro Studios was the perfect ending to our busy day of company tours. In 1985, Metro Studios was founded as a video production company. Since then, they’ve evolved with the times, adding services such as photography, graphic design, developers and writers. 

Keith Hindman led our tour through the Metro Studios building, introducing us to three video editors who showed us their current projects and the creative process behind each. After touring their audio and video recording studios, we walked upstairs to chat with their web team. Adrian Brambila, their SEO/SEM specialist, shared job tips for students and recent graduates:

  • Have a blog.
  • Use Klout. They share trending articles, which you can post on your social accounts to get ahead of the game.
  • Use Twitter Wisely… Follow industry people.
  • Understand analytics and become knowledgeable about trends. It’s also important to set Google Alerts for all clients. 
  • Read ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying’ by Ryan Holiday.

After touring their facility in Hiawatha, Iowa, hearing their stories and seeing their work it’s apparent they’re a complete marketing firm, with amazing quality at the forefront of all of their services.

These six companies truly encompassed the entrepreneurial, innovative mentality of the Creative Corridor. Cedar Rapids is a thriving area, where you have room to breath, create and connect with other professionals. There are so many wonderful people and companies to meet and become familiar with as students at the University of Iowa.