We had an opportunity to sit down with Shannon Morrison of IM Creative, an LGBT-owned company that is part of the event and meeting planning world.
First, tell us about your business. What does your company do? What markets does it serve?
IM Creative is an experience design and production agency. We create branded experiences for companies in technology, pharmaceuticals, financial services, consumer goods and more. We believe that Being Together Matters, and because of that belief, we are laser-focused on creating compelling meetings, events, conferences, activations, on-boarding, and culture-building experiences for audiences from 50-50.000.
Next, tell us a little about yourself. What inspired you to start your own business and/or head down this path within your own company?
My husband Scott and I both have a strong background in theater. He is the one with the entrepreneurial and managerial instinct while I am a big idea and branding. Between the two of us, we found a potent chemistry both personally and professionally that helped us transform Scott’s initial endeavor – Ihrig Productions – into IM Creative. We wanted to create a new kind of production company that was focused on ideas and creativity rather than gear. Our philosophy has always been when you own a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We would rather create a company where the great ideas come first, and THEN worry about the tools needed to realize it, rather than trying to shoehorn things you own into what you sell. The strategy has worked, taking us to #1326 on the INC 5000 and earning us numerous awards for outstanding work in corporate events, non-profit galas, sporting ceremonies, and more.
Do you have a project or goal you’re working on now in order to take your business to the next level?
We have recently implemented a new strategic plan titled our 10-10-2020 plan, where we aim for $10M in revenue with a 10% Profit margin. We have identified strategies to help us get there that include both business development goals as well as the streamlining and optimization of existing processes.
What have been some of the challenges in achieving this goal?
Ten million in revenue won’t be the challenge – it’ll really be in the 10% part of the goal, because it will be the accumulation of many many small efforts on the part of everyone at the company. That means that we must make sure everyone knows what they can do to help us reach that goal, regardless of job function. Everyone has a role to play, and we must work doubly hard to ensure people understand how their role can fit in to this strategy, whether working in a support function or facing clients.
Overall, what have been some of the challenges to get to where you’re at today?
Two major challenges have characterized our growth thus far. First, growing too fast. Once we hit the right positioning and marketing message and the economy recovered, business took off, and we weren’t as well prepared for it as we should have been. Talent was hard to find, so in many cases we made compromises that hurt us in the long run. We’ve had to slow our roll of growth by taking on only 3-5 new clients annually. Secondly, we have been challenged to distill what makes the partnership and value proposition of our founders translate to our entire organization and our culture such that clients know that even if they aren’t working with Scott or Shannon, they are still getting the IM Creative experience. We have met that challenge through intense culture building and a refined hiring process that helps us identify fits for both skills and culture.
How does your business differentiate itself from its competitors?
We provide value through our values of Maniacal Client Focus, Infectious Excellence, Refreshing Creative, Relentless Collaboration, and Fearless Authenticity. Additionally, we perform the work of a production company with the consultative and creative chops of an advertising agency. Finally, we are laser-focused on experiences. We don’t do social, we don’t do digital, we don’t do pure video – there are others who do it better. We aren’t jacks of all trades. We are specialists who do what we do better than anyone we know.
What is the biggest mistake, if any, that your customers are making
Our customers are used to working with traditional production companies, and often ask for “stuff” rather than “ideas”. For example, a client might ask for a show with 6 microphones and a sleek modern, minimalist set. A traditional production company might provide a price sheet for that and then deliver it. We, on the other hand, ask our clients “Why do you think you want that?”. We want clients to tell us the PROBLEM they are trying to solve, not the solution they think will get them there.
And finally, tell us anything about yourself, your business and/or the business environment you’re in that we may have missed in our questions above, and that you’d like to tell in your #LGBTBold story.
Mentorship has been extremely important to us. In particular, over the last few years we have targeted Pharmaceuticals as a key market that can benefit from our approach and help us grow. Through our involvement with the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, we achieved a mentorship with Novartis that included a full year (and now, informal on-going mentorship) with Sheri Shafir, their head of Supplier Diversity, as well as staff members in procurement and other departments. That mentorship, along with our Supplier Diversity Certification, has helped us refine our marketing strategy and also identify inroads to companies where we might not ever even have a shot at getting noticed. We can’t say enough about how Sheri Shafir and the team at Novartis – Todd Bittiger, Caitlin Mosco, Laura J Smith, and more, have helped. Mentoring is dramatically underrated, and will be a key part of the success story we tell years from now.