Before you dive into her interview, take a moment to learn about Michelle D. Connley-Gore of MDC Marketing Group, LLC!
Michelle D. Connley-Gore grew up in the small college town of Carbondale, Illinois, the home of Southern Illinois University. After high school, she attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Advertising in 2000 and 2001, respectively.
During and after college, she did internships at advertising agencies in Chicago and New York City and developed a love for the advertising business – the energy and excitement of the agency environment, working with clients across various industries, and being a part of an industry that helps to shape American culture. After working as a Marketing Assistant at Reebok International for a year, she secured her first agency job at Leo Burnett USA, a global agency based in Chicago, working as an Account Executive on the U.S. Army business. After two and a half years of life-changing “trial by fire” and “go hard or go home” experiences, she decided to dive into a specific niche of the market by working at an African American, female-owned agency, Carol H. Williams Advertising (CHWA). While at CHWA, she was able to work on both the account management and event management sides of the business on the General Motors, Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola accounts, creating traditional and experiential marketing programs for consumers.
After working in the ad agency world for eight years, she chose to take that experience into the non-profit arena, and became the Senior Marketing Communications Manager for the KIPP Foundation, the organization that manages the growth and sustainability of the nation’s largest non-profit, public charter school network, KIPP Schools. While at KIPP, she also spent two years in program management as the College Connections Manager working with the national KIPP Through College program to support KIPP’s 6,000 alumni attending colleges throughout the nation.
In 2014, she moved to Charlotte with her husband after living in the San Francisco Bay Area for three years. After moving to Charlotte, she decided to leave KIPP to start her own consulting business, MDC Marketing Group, LLC.
She sounds pretty great, right? We had the opportunity to get the inside scoop on Michelle and her business. Keep reading!
Charlotte Business Resources (CBR): How did you become interested in this industry?
Michelle D. Connley-Gore (MDC): From a young age, I have always loved consumer packaging and TV ads, and would think about how these things resonated with consumers. I remember winning a cereal box design competition in junior high that gave me confidence that I was observant, talented and creative in terms of marketing and messaging.
CBR: What do you think are the benefits, and challenges, of opening a business in Charlotte? Are there any industry-specific benefits and challenges you’ve experienced?
MDC: Being new to Charlotte, I’m still learning the landscape, but what I have learned is there are many entrepreneurs here ranging from true start-ups to those with established businesses with rapid growth. As such, there are a number of organizations, including the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce, the SBA, CharlotteBusinessResources.com, and many others who are in place to support new businesses, connecting them to resources and people. Packard Place’s Meet Up Group is great for inspiration and learning opportunities along with Commissioner Vilma Leake’s Small Business Consortium, which I have joined. All of these resources are huge benefits to small businesses here in Charlotte.
A challenge of starting a business here, particularly being new to the area, is lack of connections and relationships. Being new to Charlotte, I had the large hurdle of building relationships from scratch –I didn’t know many people at all. I didn’t attend high school or college in North Carolina, nor do I have many family members here. So, I leveraged my friends and family who know people in Charlotte to connect me with their contacts, and then it was my job to follow up. To form my own connections, I joined both the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce right away. I also joined the leadership team of the National Black MBA Association Chapter here in Charlotte, as Director of Marketing. As a member of Delta Sigma Theta, Sorority, Inc., I got involved with the Charlotte Alumnae Chapter earlier this year. I am also planning to join a few other organizations like the Charlotte American Marketing Association (CAMA) and several entrepreneurial Meet Up groups in the near future.
An industry-specific benefit of being a marketing professional in Charlotte is that the market isn’t yet saturated. There are definitely reputable ad agencies and other marketing firms here, but there isn’t one firm that has a monopoly over the market. In addition, I have been told that there are not tons of people here who bring the diverse array of industry experiences I’ve had working across the country.
CBR: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received in starting and growing your business? Alternatively, what is the best piece of advice you can offer aspiring entrepreneurs?
MDC: One of my new mentors told me to “Be patient. You will get there.” For me, it’s just remembering that it takes time to cultivate relationships and that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I’m taking my time to build relationships and join organizations who are helping me spread the word about MDC. With that understanding that every connection won’t lead to a business deal, however, it could lead to another connection who DOES become a client.
The best piece of advice I can offer, other than passing on the advice above, is to know what you’re good at and stick to it! Don’t try to be everything to everyone with your business. Stay in your “sweet spot,” and people will see your value as an expert in that area.
CBR: How have you seen Charlotte’s business climate change over the years? How do you foresee it changing over the next 5 years?
MDC: Everyone I’ve met here tells me how much Charlotte has changed in the last five to ten years – there are more companies moving here, more restaurants & businesses, and new communities growing around the outskirts of the city that used to just be empty fields. As one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S., it’s important as business owners that we are always keeping up with all of these changes and adapting our businesses to that reality. Additionally, we should look outside of Charlotte, and outside of North Carolina, to stay abreast of broader business trends and to gain insight into what is/is not working in similar communities around the country.
It’s hard to say where Charlotte will be in five years, but I’d predict it will become even more modernized and equipped for a steadily growing population with sufficient public transportation and infrastructure, and that more businesses in all industries (hospitality, healthcare, technology, banking, consulting, marketing, construction, etc.) will move or start here due to the low cost of living, limited competition, great weather and awesome people!
CBR: As an expert in marketing, what do you see as the biggest challenge facing local businesses in marketing their brand? How would you advise them to overcome these challenges?
MDC: One thing I’ve noticed is that some businesses aren’t really sure who their target audience is or should be. I work with my clients to go back to their key business objectives (What results do they need to reach their goals?) and then match their communication objectives to those. In this process, you also determine who your primary, secondary, and sometimes tertiary audiences are by answering the questions: “Who most needs/wants my product or service, and are they a viable group to purchase my offerings? Who are they? Where do they work/live/hang out/shop? What are their online habits?” It’s also important to seek feedback from your current consumers through surveys, one-on-one conversations, focus groups, and third-party research of key demographics in your area. You can also seek feedback from potential customers through surveys on your website or via social media. After doing this exploration and data collection, based on the company’s goals, understanding their target audiences, feedback from current and potential consumers, knowing the competition, and other market data, I then work with my clients to determine what marketing strategies and tactics they should implement. Strategy first!
CBR: Tell us about more about your business. What types of services do you offer? What types of businesses benefit most from your services?
MDC: MDC is a strategic marketing and communications firm focused on ensuring that businesses, government entities, and non-profit organizations thrive. Our services include marketing & brand strategy, copywriting & message development, graphic design management, video production development & management, print production management, online and social media planning & execution, community relations & PR strategy, event design & management, media planning, and casting.
MDC’s target audiences are: small- to mid-sized businesses, government entities and non-profit organizations. Ideally, we are looking to reach those organizations with either limited capacity or no marketing staff who are looking to contract out for marketing and branding expertise.
CBR: Your personal mission is “to ensure that great brands, no matter how large or small, achieve the awareness and support they need to thrive and to positively impact people.” What inspired this mission, and how is it reflected in your work?
MDC: Although I spent most of my career working with very large businesses and non-profits, I have always had a passion for ensuring that smaller businesses get “a piece of the pie” as well. And being an entrepreneur myself, I know how it is to be a small business with limited resources and a need for exposure. So, I want to be there for both large and small brands to help them thrive equally. You can see on my website that MDC has worked with larger and smaller businesses and truly works alongside our clients as partners every step of the way.
CBR: Tell us a little bit more about MDC’s marketing approach.
MDC: MDC takes a personal interest in each of our clients’ brands. We approach each client’s work with a clean slate, as each client and every project is different. We aim to deeply understand our clients’ needs and goals as well as their target audiences. We work at the pace that is comfortable for each client. We use information from our clients, market data and insights, as well as our experience to guide us in our recommendations and execution strategies. Ultimately, we aim for every client to be satisfied and successful in meeting his or her goals.
CBR: Tell us about your team. Who helps you on a day-to-day basis?
MDC: MDC is led by me, and I work with a team of independent designers, videographers, web developers and more to serve our clients.
CBR: What has been your proudest moment to date?
MDC: A very proud moment was when I won my first piece of business here in Charlotte – YOUniversity Drive. I’m working with this client on a series of projects to enhance their online/offline presence and to better tell the story of this powerful company that creates and curates career curriculum that prepares students and professionals for success in the work world. The first project with this client is a website refresh.
CBR: Let’s flash-forward 5 years from now–It’s 2020. What does your business look like? What’s different?
MDC: By 2020, MDC will be a thriving firm in Charlotte with a host of clients including the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, and many for-profit and non-profit organizations both in Charlotte and across the country. There will be so much demand for our services that we will hire 2 full-time employees to support the business, including an account manager and a graphic designer. We will also have a preferred list of top vendors that we work with to support video production and web development on a consistent basis.
CBR: Have you experienced any roadblocks on your journey to entrepreneurship? Tell us about them, as well as how you overcame.
MDC: The largest roadblock I have encountered during my journey so far (that almost prevented me from doing it) was the fear of not knowing how much of a salary I would bring in on a regular basis. Leaving my 9-5 job after working for companies for 14 years, it is difficult to lose the consistency of a paycheck every two weeks, paid vacation, etc. I had to take a leap of faith that I could do this – and believe that I had the talent and drive to make it happen – and that I could grow it to something beyond my own imagination. I constantly look to that North Star, that long-term goal for what my business could be, for encouragement. The successes I’ve had in my life have happened ONLY WHEN I was fully committed to the goal. And I’m fully committed.
CBR: What’s the one thing about MDC that you’d like for people to know that they don’t know now?
MDC: That no client is too big or too small to work with us. We are flexible to the needs of our client and customize each project as needed. Also, we do not charge for an initial consultation, so please reach out!
Want to learn more? Visit MDC Marketing Group, LLC online, Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. Have a question for us? Tweet it to @CBRBiz, and be sure to share this interview with your friends!