Dane County Small Business Awards: The Creative Company


June 28, 2022 by Joe Vanden Plas, In Business magazine

Laura Gallagher might have redefined the term “perfect storm” in the spring of 2020.

Gallagher, president of The Creative Company, had moved into a temporary space for 15 months after her old building was torn down and while a new building was under construction. Shelter in place happened two weeks after the move and then, like so many others, the company had its worst quarter in years.

But like other business owners, she immediately decided to transition and start giving. The Creative Company, a multidisciplinary marketing communications firm, began offering free crisis communication webinars, bringing to the table whatever it could to help people communicate difficult things both internally and externally. Founded in 1989, its formula for survival was part attitude, commitment, and vision, but experience helped too.

“We’ve been through the Gulf War, Y2K, and a couple of recessions, and I knew we would see the other side of the pandemic too,” Gallagher says. “We focus on what we have control over — ourselves, our performance, and promises. We were present and focused on the future. My mother, who passed away a few years ago, would always say, ‘This too will pass.’”

The Creative Company is one of five companies to win a 2022 Dane County Small Business Award. To select this year’s DCSBA class, IB convened a judging panel of past award winners to evaluate each nominee on company growth since inception; the benefit package provided to employees; and contributions and their impact in the community.

Values proposition

Fortunately, the difficult times did pass for The Creative Company. Revenues for the first two months of 2022 are almost three times the levels achieved in 2021, which has allowed the company to add to its workforce, pay down debt, and improve its benefits package.

The new building has added a creative dimension to the company in the form of a fifth-floor rooftop patio that overlooks downtown Madison. The ability of staff to work from that patio is a nice perk, but the fresh air and picturesque view pays creative dividends as well. “They [employees] love the space but even more than that, everyone here is mission focused. My employees wake up ready to use their talent and expertise for good in community with other people who have similar values. We’re here to make the world a better place.

“Employers don’t talk enough about their values, what drives them, and what is their ‘why,’” Gallagher adds. “That’s what matters most, especially to the current workforce.”

In Gallagher’s view, this sense of purpose means more than items such as an on-site gym (which they also have) — at least to the people Creative Company attracts. Since everyone understands that profitability is a shared responsibility and that this is where benefits come from, employees have a role in putting together the company’s benefits package. “It’s because of them that we’re able to offer benefits at all so, yes, they are co-creators,” Gallagher explains. “This is a fairly flat organization. Our shared conversations include wins and learning opportunities, debriefs, and redirects. All of that creates a culture of innovation and honesty.”

In the community, the company provides a lot of pro bono services to nonprofits, which is not really a labor of love for employees. According to Gallagher, it’s an act of love. “Even taking out the garbage or answering a call can be an act of service,” she explains. “Caring people are invested and committed in all that they do. We’re in charge of bringing the most important stories to life.”

Gallagher’s involvement in the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Movement — she served as an ambassador for Wisconsin and held well-attended conferences at Monona Terrace in consecutive years — offered both satisfaction and lessons. “This was the riskiest move I’ve ever made,” she notes. “However, it is deeply satisfying to know that I played a role in shaping the economic future of women in business and leadership in Wisconsin. We made history together. Wisconsin women came together like never before as our events were the largest all-day events in North America for the movement.”

Valuable validation

The 2022 Dane County Small Business Award judges included Jon Konarske, publisher of In Business magazine, and previous winners Jeanne Carpenter, owner of Firefly Coffeehouse; Fatou Ceesay, owner and manager of Cairasu Home Care; and Jason Potter, CEO of Farwell. “It is validating to be seen as one of the best businesses in Dane County,” Gallagher states. “It helps all of us at Creative Company to know that others recognize and see we’re doing our best to be a contributing factor to the overall success of the people of Dane County and the state of Wisconsin.”

Editor’s noteThe public can network with this year’s winners at an award program and reception on Thursday, July 21, from 4 to 6:30 p.m., at the Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State St., Madison.

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