May 12, 2017
Ideas. Action. Results.
Fred and Melanie Clark were celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary in Hilton Head Island, a renowned resort town in South Carolina’s lowcountry. Over dinner, Fred delivered the most important pitch of his career – to start their own agency.
Melanie replied with a resounding yes.
At the time, Fred was a rising creative at a local ad agency; Melanie, editor-in-chief of Kids’ Magazine. And although both were deeply invested in their current positions, they also realized there was only one way to quench their entrepreneurial thirst: to take a leap of faith.
Upon returning to Omaha, Fred gave his notice of resignation and dove head first into their new endeavor. For the time being, Melanie remained at her current position during the day to supplement their income, and worked with Fred nights and weekends. With their first home, a new puppy and just enough savings, Fred and Melanie were eager to build something spectacular from the ground up.
This is the story of Clark Creative Group – a story that began in the sunroom of Fred and Melanie’s first home on Lafayette Avenue in Dundee.
Their mission was clear from the start – to deliver unique creative to clients with a high value on customer service. Fortunately, the drive and inspiration needed to do so was instilled in both Fred and Melanie at a young age. Both come from humble beginnings, where they watched hardworking, entrepreneurial parents build their own businesses from scratch.
With a concrete vision, a stockpile of inspiration and new opportunities emerging every day, Fred and Melanie hit the ground running with help from a handful of clients. In fact, two of them – Security National Bank and All Makes Office Equipment – sparked relationships that remain intact to this day.
Although a promising future loomed on the horizon, the freedom and flexibility of being your own boss doesn’t come easily or quickly. Remember, this is 1992 – the dark days of the digital age. Computers were simple word processors. Clark Creative Group’s current state-of-the-art video production suite was still years from conception. Thus, client communication was conducted over a landline and a fax machine. For production, Fred and Melanie sought out local vendors and editing houses. For a two-person operation to churn out this sheer volume of work, 14-hour days were the norm. From sun-up to sun-down, appropriately headquartered in the sunroom of their first home in Dundee.
Fred and Melanie began collaborating with Omaha designer Jeff Reiner – the brother of Clark Creative Group’s Head Video Editor, Kevin Reiner. Jeff was also interested in launching his own firm, so together they moved into an office. Given the size of each respective operation, they split the first floor of the charming three-story brick building at 514 South 13th Street down the middle to save money on rent.
Not long after, a flurry of new business in the retail and health sectors prompted Fred and Melanie to seek out their first full-time employee. After all, the grit and grind of those 14-hour days could only last so long. Little did they know they would strike gold with their first intern, Lisa Meehan. Lisa subsequently worked at a competing agency for a few years until Fred convinced her to join Clark Creative Group full-time. She now serves as Vice President of Media Services.
Fortunately, this textbook case of employee retention had little to do with chance and everything to do with discipline. Fred and Melanie have always taken a careful approach to hiring, only expanding their team when it aligns with business needs. This gradual yet steady rate of growth has yielded similar results for other longtime employees.
Like Roxzanne Feagan, who filled the need for a project manager. Not only did she possess the keen eye for detail and can-do attitude Fred and Melanie were looking for, but she also demonstrated a proclivity for emerging technologies that has helped keep Clark Creative Group on top of industry trends throughout the years. Roxzanne is responsible for all of the agency’s operational standards, such as the job flow process that keeps us all on time and in line to this day.
And Kevin Reiner. As Head Video Editor and the founding father of the agency’s state-of the-art in-house production suite, Kevin ushered in a new era of technical sophistication. Like Lisa, he also started out as an intern during college when the agency had very few technical capabilities. After being hired full-time, Kevin bought the proper equipment to make the tech tides turn for an agency that has now seen every iteration of Mac computer pass through its doors. Needless to say, Clark Creative Group has come a long way since their first electric typewriter.
In fact, the list of loyal team members goes on and on… and on, which is why we’ll be documenting the rest of the crew over the next couple of months in honor of Clark Creative Group’s 25th Anniversary – a commemorative campaign called CCGX25.
More Than Business
For many, success comes with a ceiling. But Fred and Melanie aren’t like many.
“Part of our mission in running a business is to be active in our community,” Fred said. “We have always maintained CCG as our guiding light to give back. We do a lot of work for nonprofits, which sometimes means volunteering to work for free. For us, it’s essential to do that. By growing our community, and contributing to the arts and culture, and to the betterment of children, women and education – it makes Omaha a stronger, more prosperous community.”
From Women’s Fund of Omaha and Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts to CASA for Douglas County and Building Healthy Futures, much of Clark Creative Group’s positive impact on the Omaha community lies in plain sight.
“We love Omaha and we want our kids to love it here, too, so we’ve always done what we can to help make our city great,” Melanie said. “Twenty-five years ago, young people would leave Omaha as fast as they could find a job elsewhere. Now you actually see people moving here because there are so many incredible opportunities.”
It’s no coincidence that this perspective on the value a small business brings to the community aligns with their favorite memories at Clark Creative Group.
Fred cites the moment he understood the value Clark Creative Group brings to lives of everyone involved.
“I think there is a point when you understand the value of working with a company of people,” Fred said. “We invest in our people, and by doing that the returns are better, the relationships are better and the work is certainly better.”
Building off of that, Melanie points to the annual holiday party they host at their home.
“Every year at our holiday party, I’m reminded of how much everybody means to each other. How much it means to people to have a great culture to work in, to do work that’s meaningful to them and to be fulfilled in their lives. And also to feel supported in their lives outside of work, because balance is very important to us,” Melanie said.
Ultimately, they agree that the beauty of owning a small business comes when investing in good-spirited, hardworking people produces measurable success.
With 25 years of business in the books, Clark Creative Group’s close-knit crew is as busy as ever. By maintaining a nimble team, everyone gets the opportunity to take on big roles and work hard on select clientele.
As mentioned earlier, CCGX25 is a commemorative campaign honoring the agency’s 25th anniversary, as well as the clients and employees who’ve made this adventure possible. It also champions Fred and Melanie’s stance that although they’re constantly moving forward, they will never forget where they came from and how it all started.
That is, those 14-hour days in the sunroom of their first home in Dundee, with a clear mission – to deliver unique creative solutions with first-rate customer service and to make the community a better place along the way.
It’s safe to say anyone who has ever worked with Fred, Melanie or anyone else from Clark Creative Group over the past 25 years can agree they’ve accomplished that and so much more.