Much like the traditional media landscape, the marketing and advertising industry has gradually morphed into an arena where small, niche firms can really thrive.
For northern York County native Victoria Lindstrom, working with social service agencies and various health care clients opened her eyes to the specific needs of nonprofit and disability-related organizations.
"They are groups of people who really need the professional level of marketing that corporations usually benefit from, but unfortunately they don't always have the budgets or the resources to further their mission," said Lindstrom, who founded Dillsburg-based Suasion Marketing and Communications in 2008.
Lindstrom, an industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience, has made it her mission to understand the strategy of these organizations and find cost-effective ways to help them achieve their specific goals.
In addition, she has taken an activist role in the community through her efforts with Dillsburg-based New Hope Ministries Inc., where she is currently president of the board.
The Business Journal sat down Nov. 1 with Lindstrom to discuss the firm's growing pains, its niche services and how the industry has changed.
Q: What were the biggest challenges you faced starting out, and how have you grown this small business?
A: I made the decision to start Suasion at some of the worst economic conditions that existed for quite some time. Combined with that, I was going to focus on a nonprofit community (that was) probably the hardest hit by those economic scenarios.
So I had many people saying, "You're crazy, this is bad timing and a bad audience." But interestingly, we've been very successful. In fact, we've grown at the rate of 100 percent a year, except for one year.
We have a great team of people who are highly qualified and very passionate about the work they do. That's probably one of the biggest challenges that we have — creating that team. It's such a unique group of people and a unique group of characteristics that we want here to do the work we do.
Does it help having a specific niche in this industry?
Serving nonprofits, or any time you focus on a specific niche, it allows you to develop a level of expertise and depth that you can then apply to helping an organization achieve their mission.
In addition to serving the nonprofit community, we have quite a bit of expertise in the disability community. We have come to understand the nuances in communications in that particular community.
For example, if we are developing an event that's going to include people with a variety of disabilities, we understand all of the details that need to be looked at in pulling that together. For example, one that often surprises people is that it's really important to have straws that bend.
We also can develop communications in a variety of other formats, such as Braille. We understand when developing a video that the video needs to stand alone from an audio perspective as well.
Define your firm's approach in helping clients with strategies that fit their specific needs. What are the most common needs?
I think one of the common challenges for all nonprofits is working with very limited dollars. One of the things that we try to do is get very creative about how we help them maximize the use of those dollars to achieve that mission.
Nonprofits, while we categorize them together as one audience, they are as different as for-profits, in terms of their needs and the challenges that they face.
We really believe firmly in making sure that a strategy is in place. In a nonprofit environment, many times they have not yet thought about that. All of the nonprofits that we work with get some level of strategic planning, along with whatever specific communications vehicles they need.
How has the business of marketing and communications changed over the last five years? What should we expect to see moving forward?
I think the trends over the last five years have been a continuation of what's been happening over an even longer period of time. I think target audiences are becoming a lot more difficult to identify and reach.
Gone are the days of mass marketing. Every company now, whether it's a nonprofit or large corporation, really needs to get much better at defining who their target audience is and then marketing in a way that really resonates with that particular audience.
One of the challenges is that media has become so fragmented. It's becoming more and more difficult to reach that target audience, and that's going to continue to happen. Look at (all of) the options people have to gain news and information.
I think it is easier for smaller firms to be more flexible and to kind of have our finger on the pulse of things. We definitely have the ability to be closer to the client and be working in their environment more closely. I think it's easier for us to respond to them.
What is your strategy for growth?
I certainly feel strongly we're going to continue focusing on nonprofits and for-profits that are very mission-driven. While the economy can still be a little questionable, I think there is plenty of need out there, and we've certainly seen that expressed.
We'll continue to remain flexible. We've seen trends, particularly in nonprofit areas, that are moving a little more away from traditional advertising. We're seeing more and more public relations and a lot more grassroots marketing and outreach. I think that's going to grow. We are also seeing signs that there are additional services that are being looked at for nonprofits — more communications training, for example.
Why did you want to be involved with New Hope Ministries?
I felt New Hope Ministries was an organization that really — at the very grassroots level — provides a lot of very important basic needs to the communities in which I live as well as the employees here live. I thought it would be a very good place to give back.
New Hope is in a really interesting position right now, because the demands have increased so much for the types of services they provide. Again, based upon what's going on in the economy, they are really challenged to find a way to meet all of the extra demand that is being placed on them.
It's been an interesting perspective to really be able to see not only Suasion's side of things, but now being part of a nonprofit as well. I can better understand what nonprofit organizations are faced with and the specific challenges that they have to achieve their mission, whether it's in marketing or the bigger picture.
About Victoria Lindstrom
In 2008, Victoria Lindstrom founded Dillsburg-based Suasion Marketing and Communications, a firm that specializes in services to nonprofits as well as to health care and disability-related clients.
She has worked in the industry for more than 25 years.
Lindstrom, 50, attended George Mason University, where she majored in marketing. She is married with five children. The Carroll Township resident also has three grandchildren.
Since August, Lindstrom has been president of the board of directors for New Hope Ministries Inc., a Dillsburg-based nonprofit. New Hope has assistance centers in Dillsburg, Dover, Hanover and Mechanicsburg.