By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
“What a difference 15 months makes,” Mary Beth West says with a smile on her face.
The Founder and Principal of the communications firm that bears her name was literally dealing with ashes in late 2012 when the Law’s Building in Downtown Maryville, where her company was based, burned. Electronic records were not affected, but client archives, office equipment and all furnishings were lost.
Fast forward 15 months, and Mary Beth West Communications has doubled in size. The expansion includes the recent addition of a mobile technology division to the firm that celebrates 11 years in business this month.
“It was a very difficult time,” West says of the fire that occurred on September 10, 2012. The firm was “beginning to gain traction” as its clients were recovering from the economic downturn.
“I felt a nice level of support from the local business community,” she said, citing the Blount Partnership among those that helped during the interim.
Today, her firm, which is now located in a building on the Airport Motor Mile in Alcoa, ended 2013 by expanding its in-house capabilities to better serve the growing technology needs of its customers.
“We are the largest public relations firm in East Tennessee with its own in-house digital and mobile technology expertise,” West said. “It’s a point of differentiation.”
The opportunity to add the new capabilities came as the result of a decision by a frequent partner of West’s –Efficience – to make some changes in its business model. Several of the latter’s Co-Founders, including Rich James, were looking for a new home.
“The reputation of Mary Beth was a major reason for joining,” he said. After all, West, James and Tori Rose, another Efficience alumnae, worked together for about a dozen shared clients.
James now serves as Director of Operations for Mary Beth West Communications.
“There is widespread general need across all sectors to manage information better and more strategically,” West says. The areas of opportunity range from general customer relationships to managing the client’s digital presence and helping clients push information out and pull information in.
The team is focused on customized solutions for its clients.
“We want to understand the business and the pain points,” West explains. “Our specialty is our ability to listen to a company’s challenge or opportunity and develop the right solution.”
James cited work for a current client – Waxie, a California-based sanitary supply company. One of the company’s challenges was keeping the janitorial supply closets filled in its client businesses.
“We developed an inventory management and ordering app using mobile devices,” he said.
Being able to move beyond strategic communications plans opens new opportunities for Mary Beth West Communications.
“Our target is the more established companies looking for new ways to do things,” James explained. “How do we use this technology to make a difference?”
Tim Wirtz, who joined the firm last summer as Director of Strategic Development, describes the technology addition as a capability “to supplement what they (clients) are already doing.”
“We are meeting with five to seven new business prospects every week,” West says. “We’ve come a long way from 15 months ago.”
The driven business executive sees even more opportunities ahead.
“I’m very interested in economic development,” she says. “I want to see jobs here . . . growth here.”