Going from an idea to a successful business is no easy feat. However with hard work, determination and an incredible concept anything is possible. Take it from Stacey Heuser and her business partner, Jackie Brockman, who in 2009, started The Narrative Group, a communications agency that focuses on creative storytelling. In just seven years, the company experienced a huge boom, landing an impressive roster of clients. Recently, they decided it was time to sell their business in order for it to truly grow. Read on to learn more about Stacey’s story and how she knew it was time to make this leap…
The Narrative Group is such a successful communications agency. Tell us how you started the company.
I started The Narrative Group in 2009 with my business partner Jackie Brockman. I could feel a shift happening in the communications space and I didn’t see many communications professionals providing thought leadership and guidance around how to navigate and stay ahead of the curve. I could see industries like health and wellness, direct to consumer and lifestyle-focused technology being innovative and disrupted. I had a vision of working with those types of brands. My partner and I took a leap of faith and started the company during one of the worst financial crises. Ultimately, we feel like this benefited us, as brands were searching for new ways to connect and communicate their message.
Do you have any tips for how to successfully work with a friend?
Jackie and I were actually business partners first and friends second. We were connected through our professional network. She is now family to me and I speak to her as much as I speak to my husband, maybe more. One of our best practices as partners is delegation of responsibility in the areas we are strongest. We also have complete trust in one another to manage those things. We communicate, practice kindness and understanding as a core value in our relationship. Luckily, we are equally driven and a great balance to one another’s strengths and weaknesses.
One of our best practices as partners is delegation of responsibility in the areas we are strongest and complete trust in one another to manage those things.
What does it mean to specialize in creative storytelling?
Storytelling has many platforms. As a communications agency, the ask from our clients always stems from creating some type of narrative. It is more than just a media outlet covering the brand, it is about how people are talking about them on social, how the consumer experience is in-store or at an event, etc. Sometimes, the story needs to be brought to life through an experience or needs an expert to help bolster the message. We specialize in figuring out how to get innovative with creating and executing that story and where it should live.
How has the landscape for digital marketing changed since you started?
Digital marketing is changing as we speak. It is essential to stay current on the tools, tips and tricks and it is a really difficult space to navigate and decide where to spend resources. The amazing thing about digital marketing is the ability for brands to make changes and be agile. Unlike print that lives forever with the decisions made in that moment by a small group of people, we can listen to the feedback and make changes quickly.
You’ve worked with an incredible roster of brands. How do you get them to share the heart of their mission?
We often help brands not only share the heart of their mission, but identify or create a new facet of their mission. In this landscape, communications is a moment to moment job. There is a lot of power in listening to what is happening in popular culture, politics, or the news and figuring out where the brand can leverage those opportunities for storytelling and impact. Consumers are listening and expect a lot from the brands they are choosing so it is essential to know who you are, what you’re offering and what you are asking of your customer.
Who would you say is your dream client?
A dream client for me is less about a specific brand and more about a shared ethos. I feel lucky to say I am currently working with numerous “dream clients.” There is always room for more, but we are pretty lucky at the moment.
After such a successful run, you decided to sell your business. What was that journey like for you?
Selling my company was always something that seemed like a far off dream. I think back to times when we worked out of my apartment or when we painted the walls in our first office ourselves and to imagine someone wanting to buy that company makes me incredibly proud. My partner and I had so much fun each step of the way from opening our offices, to building amazing teams, to traveling the world to pitch business and visit clients. Each milestone presented interesting challenges and opportunities for us to stretch ourselves. We had to do it all. When you are building a business you have to become proficient in each facet because often you cannot afford to outsource or if you can, you want to ensure the person you are hiring is the best use of funds. The journey, even at the hardest points has been one of my greatest joys.
At what point did you realize that you wanted to sell The Narrative Group?
We were really feeling the growing pains around year seven. We were starting to win larger clients who expected capabilities that we did not fully have in house. We also started to realize that employees needed a clear path to grow and solid reporting structure. It began to feel like we were not able to wrap our arms around the whole company. We also wanted to make sure it was not solely based on my partner and I, and we were fostering stars that could continue to grow the business alongside us. At this point we started to discuss solutions for this, one of which was looking for a larger partner.
How did you know that Citizen Relations was the right fit for you?
There was synergy from the very first conversation. We had collaborated with them in the past and had always admired their clients and company culture. It was a huge decision that took months of conference calls and many late night discussions with my business partner. We constantly weighed the pros and cons and ultimately found the pros column a lot longer.
How is your role different and/or the same since the acquisition?
My role is about 80% the same. Fortunately, the things I was not great at such as HR and IT have been taken off my plate and I am able to focus on growing the business and coming up with great ideas for clients.
The journey, even at the hardest points has been one of my greatest joys.
For the mamas out there that want to sell but don’t really know what it’s like, can you share more about what the selling process was like?
A year prior to Citizen approaching us, my partner and I made a list of the top qualities we wanted in a partner and all the important deal points that would need to be included in the contract for us to move forward. This was such a helpful tool for us to be able to evaluate the offer based on our already established vision. This is my best tip for planning major milestones in your business. Try to be proactive in your goal setting and as specific as possible. It is amazing to see how you are attracted to situations that align with your desires. It also makes it much easier to walk away from things that may not be perfectly suited for you.
The selling process was a lot like dating someone before you decide to get married. We talked openly about our hopes and dreams for the agency and they told us their vision for the collaboration. We asked hundreds of questions and had numerous in person meetings, dinners, and office visits before making it official.
What are some of your tried and true tips for balancing work and motherhood?
Mom guilt is real! Once I had my daughter, I started asking every working mom I met for tips and tricks and to share their thoughts on how to balance. I think perspective is my key to juggling. Being present, wherever I am, and giving that my full attention has allowed me to feel like my time with my daughter is 100% quality and meaningful as well as at the office. They both are so important to me and I am always reminding myself of how lucky I am to be in this position in my life.
One of my favorite things that my mom always told me is that children do not belong to you they belong to the world. I am so grateful for this piece of wisdom as I continually remind myself that my daughter is on the planet to accomplish her own dreams and leave her mark. I am just here to watch and be her best cheerleader.
Stay curious! In both business and motherhood there is so much we can learn from one another. Stay open minded to new and different ways of doing things.
Be honest about what you are feeling and ask for help.