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Published: Sunday, 5/19/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Marketing, ad firm traces growth in downtown Toledo

BY KRIS TURNER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
James Clark Rush, executive vice president of Communica, during a meeting Thursday, 05/16/13, in Toledo, Ohio. Communica is a Toledo-based agency that organizes media campaigns for companies all over the world. It has been in the downtown since the early 90s, and is doing well. James Clark Rush, executive vice president of Communica, during a meeting Thursday, 05/16/13, in Toledo, Ohio. Communica is a Toledo-based agency that organizes media campaigns for companies all over the world. It has been in the downtown since the early 90s, and is doing well.
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A trail of construction-dust footprints lines the upstairs hallway of Communica's headquarters in downtown Toledo.

Beyond the plastic sheeting taped to a nearby wall, the firm is expanding its ultra-modern office. The company, which orchestrates advertising, design, public relations, and other media campaigns for clients across the globe, has come a long way from operating in Chief Executive Officer Jeff Kimble's attic in Toledo.

The more than 30-person operation began as a design firm with a handful of employees in the late 1980s.

"I was just happy to be taking a paycheck and the intent was always to remain kind of small. Over the years, we realized that especially in this market, it was tough for a design studio to remain consistent in terms of everybody taking home a paycheck," Mr. Kimble said. "The only way we were going to grow the business was to offer more services and bring people on."

When the company grew and Mr. Kimble's wife tired of people popping in and out of their home, it was time to find an office. Mr. Kimble said there was only one place he wanted to locate: downtown Toledo.

Although the downtown was rundown in the 1990s -- Communica's main office at 31 N. Erie Street was vacant at the time -- it was home.

"I've always been attracted to the downtown. I've been working downtown since I was in high school," he said.

Debbie Monagan, president and chief operating officer of Communica, said the building was an absolute mess. The long-time friend and colleague of Mr. Kimble said she wasn't sure what would become of the dilapidated space.

"It was so rough in the beginning. I remember the first day that I walked in, we'd been working in Jeff's attic, literally. I walked in and there was standing water on the first floor and the roof had come down through, and he had a push broom and he was just moving piles of probably rat droppings and everything else. It was just really in bad shape.

"I looked at him and said, 'Are you serious?' And he said, 'Yup.' He just has such great vision."

Ashley Vetter of Communica works on a design. Ashley Vetter of Communica works on a design.
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Today, Communica has offices in Troy, Mich., Columbus, and Shanghai, China. Some of its major clients include BASF, a German chemical company, and Tuffy Auto Service Centers.

The growth, however, hasn't always been easy or steady. In the firm's infancy, its biggest client -- Spectrum Glass -- went bankrupt and it had to return a $70,000 check. The money already had been spent on payroll and bills.

"We were six people at the time, and it rocked us to our foundation. Jeff was on vacation, and I got the call," Ms. Monagan said.

Mr. Kimble laughs about the incident now. He and his wife returned from an excursion to find a frantic hotel manager.

"[Ms. Monagan] faxed the bankruptcy papers. It's like hundreds of pages, and it's an old-fashioned fax machine where it's all coming out as one piece of paper," he said.

Learning that lesson early allowed the company to build a portfolio of about 60 clients that possess a cornucopia of needs. Communica produces print campaigns, publicity photos, TV commercials, ads, online content, as well as social media. Its entryway features a slew of awards and commendations from clients.

Jim Rush, an executive vice president and partner, said the company is focused on developing close relationships with clients. It's one of the things that keeps the business moving forward and provides the foundation to bring in new work.

Left to right Katie Hoschak and Sara Fagerman work at Communica. Left to right Katie Hoschak and Sara Fagerman work at Communica.
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Mr. Rush was brought on a few years ago to foster relationships with new businesses, and said he's routinely impressed by the rapport Communica has with its long-term clients. In meetings with Judd Silverman, executive director of the LPGA golf tournament now known as the Marathon Classic presented by Owens Corning & O-I, it's like old friends getting together, he said.

"If you sat in a meeting, you couldn't tell if someone was working for the agency or for Judd," Mr. Rush said.

Mr. Silverman said Communica has created a number of digital and print products for the golf tournament over the years and has helped boost its notoriety.

"I totally respect the agency, and we have benefited from their creativity and dedication to always going the extra mile for us," he said. "They always meet our deadlines and exceed our expectations. I also admire their sense of community. They're very community-minded firm."

Communica doesn't want to be the biggest firm on the block, Ms. Monagan said, adding that its aim is to be one of the best.

It was born from the minds of native Toledoans and will remain in the heart of the downtown.

"We're Ma and Pa. We've had a good opportunity to hire good people," she said. "Everyone here has a good, solid Midwestern ethic and attitude. We always over-deliver."

Kris Turner can be reached at: kturner@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.



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