It should have been strictly business, but Kristen Volkland and her team at Erbach Communications Group couldn't help but shed a few tears as they watched the fruits of their collaboration with a client come to fruition in a photo shoot.
“People say this, but we are a true partner beyond our day-to-day contact (and) we embrace our client’s challenges and goals as if they are our own,” Volkland, the company’s owner and president, said. “We often say we are not a tourist in this business; we immerse ourselves in our client’s world and not many can compete with us on that level.”
The shoot was for Erbach’s client, St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, with the aim of enhancing its fundraising efforts by telling the school’s story through its alumni publication.
The company, which is entirely multimedia-focused, with an output including Web and social media, video and print, has produced branded content for Holyoke Medical Center, Soundboard Consulting Group and the Independent College Fund of New Jersey.
Erbach also has professional relationships with several higher education institutions in the state, including Centenary College, Saint Peter’s University and the former University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
Still, it’s the personal touch the firm adds to its professional relationships that makes the firm it stand out, Volkland said.
“Very few people out there will cry at photo shoots because they see the culmination of effective branding coming to life,” she said. “It’s an incredible school with the values they teach and what they do for Newark, and it was a touching moment.”
The ability to feel good about their work is one of the driving forces for Volkland and her team. It’s one of the things that has remained a constant over Volkland’s 19 years at the company.
“What still remains the same is the type of clients we go after,” she said. “We’re predominantly health care, education, nonprofit or people that need help in telling a story or identifying a goal.
“It’s primarily people we feel have a real impact in other people’s lives — it makes our work rewarding.”
With a year at the helm behind her and a projected growth between 10 and 15 percent over last 2014, Kristen Volkland is excited for what’s in store for Erbach Communications Group.
“The future is great: We’re embracing the new opportunities that are out there and are being more aggressive in terms of the people that we want to go after,” she said.
One shift she has noticed is a growing recognition among other companies of the resources right here in the state.
“What we’re finding is that a lot of New Jersey companies think they need a New York company for credibility when, in fact, they wind up dissatisfied because they’re a small fish in a big pond,” she said. “For us, we’re trying to impress upon people that, in New Jersey, all our clients are big fish.”
And it’s more than emotionally rewarding: The company has seen growth in its portfolio and is on target to make $1.6 million in 2015, which is up roughly 15 percent over 2014.
“(It has) grown, but it’s almost the same amount of clients that we’ve had in-house at the same time,” Volkland said. “It’s being able to deliver more effectively and efficiently to clients that has helped us.”
To foster this growth, Volkland has taken steps over her first year as owner of the company to become accredited by the National Women Business Owners Corp.
“It allows more doors to be opened,” she said. “For instance, if you’re bidding against other companies and they see your value and have a need internally to help a minority- or women-owned business, that just helps us a little bit more; it gives us a little bit more credibility.”
That’s because accreditation is not as simple as entering an email address in a database, Volkland said.
“It’s not something you apply for and get it right away,” she said. “It takes about six months to fill out the paperwork, to show the strength of the company and what you’ve done, and we’re in our final stages of that.”
The company has also looked to join more organizations, such as the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools, as a means for business development.
“I think there are new opportunities out there for us,” she said. “And I think there are a lot of opportunities for women in our field, a male-dominated field.”
Biz in brief
COMPANY: Erbach Communications Group
ONE MORE THING: Owner Kristen Volkland says New Jersey is a part of her DNA, having grown up in Middletown and receiving her degree from Rider University in 1996.
There are also some challenges that are unique to being a woman business owner, which Volkland herself has navigated: She greets the particulars of her transfer to ownership of the company with enthusiastic laughter.
“There was a child involved: The day we were supposed to close was in the end of May and my daughter was being born in June,” she said. “What we thought was going to be a very nice six-month transition period turned into a little bit more, and it extended our purchase date by at least three months.”
Volkland said she finds herself in the perfect place to address those challenges that both she and her workers face.
“Because we’re a small company and because we can embrace our size, I have flexibility and so does our whole team here,” she said. “There’s no red tape here, so whether it’s me or one of my employees having a child, if a crisis arises, you take the day.”
That intimacy of a small business lends to accessibility, both internally and externally, Volkland said.
“The good thing about our company is that you have access to anyone in our company and our cell phones are on our business cards,” she said. “It’s not the case in a lot of the other agencies.”
It’s that attitude toward the business, the company and its clients that Volkland believes sets the company apart.
“We know some of the people we compete against for certain jobs, but I think our personal relationships and the fact that we’re committed to our clients is a big deal,” she said. “We often become their team or an external staff for them.”