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Yin and yang form AKC


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Jim Oglesby, 43, is a clean-cut creative guy, who spent the majority of his career in American Republic Insurance Co.’s creative services department and working as a freelance designer in off-work hours. Scott Clem, 35, is a hip-dressed account executive, who branched out on his own after a plane crash killed four of his colleagues, including his mentor, at Two Rivers Marketing.

These two “yin and yang” people have melded their talents and backgrounds to create AKC Marketing.

In two years, AKC has gone from no clients to about 10. It has five employees, including the owners, another person on the creative side, a public relations specialist and an intern. It has transitioned from handling quick projects, such as postcards and direct-mail pieces, to putting together full marketing plans, with clients mainly interested in business-to-business marketing and agriculture. And the firm has moved out of Clem’s basement into a business condominium off 86th Street in Johnston.

“It really started from scratch,” Clem said, “which was the dumbest thing we could have done, in hindsight.”

Especially in the midst of an economic downturn and with strong competition among advertising firms in Greater Des Moines, Clem and Oglesby feel they have been blessed with several opportunities that have allowed them to establish a company and keep it going.

“In this market,” Oglesby said, “there are probably too many printers. There are probably too many agencies. There are too many creatives in this town. But on the other hand, there are a lot of little pockets of business and clients that are dying to get what we provide.”

Finding humility

Yet Clem and Oglesby faced a reality check in how quickly they could build an advertising firm. They formed AKC with the hope that their diverse skill sets and years of experience would quickly lead to steady work.

“Talking about it still makes me laugh,” said Clem from the chic boardroom in front of their two-room office within the Johnston strip center. “It’s been very humbling.”

Clem’s first job out of college was as an account coordinator at Kragie/Newell Advertising Inc., now The Integer Group. There he met Tom Dunphy, who convinced Clem to go with him when he started Two Rivers Marketing in 2000. By fall 2005, Clem was made a partner in the firm. Then Dunphy, along with three other employees at Two Rivers, died in a plane crash while returning home from a business meeting in November 2006. Clem faced a major crossroads.

“Next to my family and my wife, he (Dunphy) had the most influence on me personally,” Clem said. “So when that person is no longer around, obviously you research your entire being.”

Three months later, he decided to cut ties with Two Rivers and start his own firm. “I had been under his wing, if you will, for 13 years, and I was ready to see what I could accomplish,” Clem said, who also noted he purposely did not try to take any Two Rivers clients with him.

Clem had met Oglesby a few years prior when Oglesby had done some freelance design work for his wife’s company and approached him with the idea of becoming business partners. Oglesby was manager of American Republic’s creative services department at the time but also running a freelance design company on the side, slowly transitioning into working on his own.

Still, Clem was so shocked ,when Oglesby accepted his offer to form AKC in September 2007 that he walked out of the meeting after Oglesby said yes.

“It scared the bejesus out of me. We didn’t really have the clientele,” Clem said.

A year later, they had enough business to move out of their home offices to a permanent location, which Clem and Ogelsby purchased for $222,000 with a Small Business Administration loan.

During this transition period, they started with one client, whom Clem met at a networking event. The client needed creative support after a freelancer left on maternity leave. Slowly, Clem and Oglesby have built up to having long-term relationships with a few clients and developing full marketing plans.

Patience and perseverance

The two owners believe their different skill sets and backgrounds – which they say pick one person up when the other is down and help them relate to clients’ various needs – has made the firm work. They also have made it a priority to map out their expectations for the firm from the beginning, including a vision of growing the firm to 10 to 15 employees and becoming an integrated part of their clients’ marketing team.

“I don’t think we were unique in it, but we really want to grow organically with our clients,” Clem said. “You can sell more in five minutes to a current client than you can in a lifetime.”

The advertising world is changing, they say, with technology speeding up the time it takes to put marketing materials together and in turn, increasing clients’ expectations for getting work done. Meanwhile, the economic downturn has slowed the time it takes clients to make marketing decisions.

AKC has tried to stay flexible and work closely with clients to develop marketing strategies that best meet their budgets and learn their message so that they can quickly turn over projects as needed.

Oglesby and Clem also have sought to hire experienced and well-rounded employees, which has forced them to offer benefits and a 401(k) plan competitive with bigger companies.

Just getting to this point, the owners say, has been a huge success.

“In my opinion, no matter where we go from here, what we’ve been able to accomplish in such a short time frame to me, you can’t take that away from us,” Clem said. “And whether we succeed or fail from here, we gave it one hell of a shot.”

“Check back in a year,” said Oglesby, laughing.

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