Small Business Spotlight

Baker Creative knows firsthand the art of re-branding

From the September 2014 issue of Columbus CEO

Michele Cuthbert knows well the challenges of re-branding a business, having gone through the process herself.

When Cuthbert launched marketing-communications firm Baker Creative in 2003, she says the concept was “more of a traditional brand strategy agency.” The Groveport-based firm has since expanded to include a menu of specialized services, from business strategy and HR training to social media and reputation management.

“We outgrew our brand and we had to re-strategize ourselves,” says Cuthbert, who owns Baker Creative and also serves as creative director. “That’s always a challenge.”

Cuthbert met the challenge head on, assembling a team of employees now focused on helping other companies work through communications challenges to grow business.

The firm still specializes in branding, but delves deeper to create engaging messaging for clients that’s both personalized and consumer-centric.

“I just think that in my philosophy, the brand is the nucleus—the heart of the business,” Cuthbert says.

She and her team have served clients across the globe, but primarily work in the U.S. collaborating with companies and organizations in a range of industries, from retail (Gap, Gordon Food Service and Pet People, among others) to nonprofits (California Greenworks and the Virginia Oil & Gas Association).

Baker Creative’s full-service approach allows clients to pick and choose which marketing services they might need at a given time. Research is key to each project—the firm has its own strategists who specialize in different areas of business. A strong brand strategy helps companies to differentiate themselves in today’s ever-changing marketplace, Cuthbert says.

“Customers define who you are and expect transparency along with real online engagement,” she adds. “Finding your true brand voice and footprint is beyond a logo or a tagline.”

Cuthbert’s methods are rooted in more than 20 years of industry experience. The central Ohio native studied at the Columbus College of Art & Design, earning a degree in advertising design with a minor in photography. She worked as a designer for publications and agencies, large and small, and also taught at Columbus State Community College and CCAD before eventually branching out on her own.

She was inspired to find a better way to run a firm or business.

“I saw how they treated clients and how upset they were with leadership,” Cuthbert says of prior agency experiences. “When I worked at a firm, they didn’t offer any direction or training for the new folks. They were difficult with new moms and very inflexible. These methods resulted in a culture of a high turnover when I would watch great talent walk out the door. I thought there could be a better, more compassionate manner to build a culture that centered on the brand rather than office politics or ‘this is the way we have always done this.’”

Cuthbert maintains a hands-on role within her own company today as owner and creative director and fully embraces her responsibilities as a coach and leader.

“I believe that I learn every day,” she says, “so as I evolve, the brand evolves.”

Baker Creative isn’t a typical agency, says Kylie Kochert, the firm’s public relations specialist.

The firm’s location in a turn-of-the century house situated on a certified wildlife habitat in Groveport creates a relaxed atmosphere for clients as well as employees. The office—which earned a Columbus GreenSpot designation—has pets, garden views and unique meeting spaces, such as an outdoor conference room.

“Communication is very open,” Kochert says. “Because it’s a Victorian home, it’s more of a family-type atmosphere. It’s a lot easier to talk and approach people.”

The setting reflects Cuthbert’s down-to-earth style.

“She’s always very friendly with clients and joking around in a good way and also keeps it professional,” Kochert says.

Though the firm serves a wide variety of clients, several of its projects are closely aligned with Cuthbert’s interests, particularly pets and green efforts, Kochert adds.

The firm was recently honored by California Senator Holly J. Mitchell for its partnership with California Greenworks, a nonprofit dedicated to improving urban communities in South Los Angeles. Baker Creative’s new approach and relevant messaging for EarthFest Los Angeles led to doubled attendance at the event from the previous year.

“We just did that project pro bono,” Cuthbert says.

Closer to home, the firm recently developed an app for longtime client Kingy’s Pizza in Canal Winchester and also oversees social media communications for owner Bert Reynolds.

Cuthbert does it all, Reynolds says. “She’s helped me out with all kinds of different things—menus, social media, Facebook, Twitter, and then, of course, everything else involved. She does press releases for me, definitely keeps me up to date on what’s going on.”

Cuthbert’s expertise has helped to focus Reynolds on what he does best, he says.

“I’m her client and she tries to make me better. She tries to make me number one.”

Dana Wilson is a freelance writer.