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Jim Hickey of Arras Keathley

Meet Jim Hickey, founder of Arras Keathley, a strategic brand development and marketing communications firm in Cleveland with 23 employees. The firm helps customers and consumers find the perfect products and services quickly and easily to satisfy their needs and wants.
Did you always know you wanted to go into business for yourself?
I began thinking that I wanted to be an entrepreneur in my teens. My father was a dedicated company man, but always talked about his desire to start an independent venture as I grew up. Eventually, his dream became mine. Like many entrepreneurs, I had an idealized vision of running your own business. Even after realizing how difficult it can be, and recognizing that it offered more independence but less freedom, I would still do it again.
Who was your first client?
We opened the doors with a few already-loyal clients -- American Greetings, Glidden and Society Bank, now KeyBank. They gave us their confidence and support. We are eternally grateful, and a bit puzzled as to why they did go with us, given how little we really knew at the time.   
How has marketing and brand innovation changed over the past 20 years?
The basic rules are still the same: Understand the needs of the customer and understand how you can uniquely meet those needs, then deliver the right message in the right place at the right time to help them understand that you can help.  
What has changed dramatically is the set of tools we have to deliver the message, driven by new technologies. We've seen more change in the past three years than in the prior 30, and it's not slowing down.
What has been the most challenging project you’ve had to tackle?
Reinventing the company after we lost our two largest clients in a 90-day window to acquisition. We did such great work that both companies more than tripled in value while we worked with them. But the new ownership wanted change, and we were out.
After more than a decade of steady growth, we were ill-equipped to handle sudden shrink, and stumbled through a very difficult transition. But we learned an awful lot, and we made it through.
How do you encourage collaboration among your team members?
Most importantly, we practice RICH Communication:  we talk to the Right person, Immediately, sharing our thoughts and concerns Completely, openly and Honestly. And we demand that everyone speaks with the person who has either the information they need, or the power to change things.
What advice would you give to someone starting a company in Cleveland?
Make sure the market wants what you are going to offer, and be brutally honest with yourself if they don't. Share your vision and your energy relentlessly. Listen, relentlessly. And be quick to change when you get good advice. Ask for help, early and often. This is especially true in Cleveland, which is a "two degrees of separation" town.
What is it like working on a barge on Lake Erie?

It's Über cool. The water is therapeutic, the view second-to-none. Our space is designed to facilitate collaboration and creative thinking. We demonstrate to our staff and our clients that we are willing to take risks and color outside the lines. We're hoping to provide a spark on the lakefront, and draw more free-thinkers to our creative community.

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