Small Business Spotlight of the Week: Geben Communication

Sometimes it seems like the world of entrepreneurs is approximately 5,000% male. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to turn into a lecture about institutionalized sexism (though, largely male tech community: don’t tempt me!).  Instead, I want this to be a celebration of women who go out, start their own businesses, and get exactly what they want.

Today’s spotlight is Geben Communication, a PR and communications firm located in Columbus, Ohio.  Don’t let their “fly-over” status fool you: these guys are pros and handle clients from across the globe. President Heather Whaling has truly taken the world by storm.  She’s been listed as one of the Top 30 PR Professionals to follow on Twitter and writes a monthly column on digital PR trends for American Express OpenForum.  If that’s not enough (seriously, I’m exhausted listing all this!), she co-moderates a Twitter chat every week called PR 2.0 Chat (#pr20chat).  There’s only one word for this woman: kick ass.

Heather talks more about taking over the PR business:

How would you explain what you do to somebody’s grandmother?

It seems like a new tool is being added to the communication toolbox every day. That can be
overwhelming for businesses who are trying to navigate this fast-paced, “always on, always
connected” world we live in. At Geben Communication, we help companies achieve their
business goals by incorporating the right mix of online and offline communication.

We deliver a wide range of services, depending on the client’s specific needs – anything from
media/blogger relations, online community building, and content marketing … to securing
speaking engagements, promoting events or managing crisis communication.

By combining traditional and digital PR, businesses can shape perceptions and influence
behaviors among key audiences – including customers, prospects, referral sources, industry
analysts, investors, and so on.

What are some industry specific challenges you faced?

Because social media gets so much attention, some companies think they can just launch a
Facebook page or a Twitter account, and the rest will take care of itself. It’s not quite that
simple. This isn’t Field of Dreams. If you build it, they won’t necessary come. Instead, truly
effective social media requires strategy, creativity and an investment of time and resources.
Plus, companies can amplify their message by using traditional PR and marketing to support
their online efforts. But, that requires planning and coordination. People see these free online
tools and sometimes don’t realize all the work and resources required to build a successful
online presence.

This isn’t an “either, or” situation. Instead of trying to choose between traditional PR or social media, figure out how they can work together.

What made you use crowdSPRING?

After spending a decade working for PR and marketing agencies, I understand the importance
of a strong, visual brand. First impressions matter. I needed a color palette, logo, and
stationery design that reflected the type of company I set out to build. Plus, I knew I’d be a
little picky, so I wanted options! The crowdSPRING process was really simple, and I appreciated
the willingness of the designers to listen to and incorporate my feedback.

What was your biggest learning curve/experience?

I learned two important lessons early on. First, not every prospect is right for my firm. When
people first start their businesses, the natural instinct is to work with whoever comes calling …
or is willing to write a check. Sometimes turning down work is the smarter business decision.
I know that our best clients are the ones who see us as a partner – an extension of their team
– and want to incorporate traditional and digital opportunities to achieve results. If a prospect
comes calling and doesn’t seem to align with our approach to PR, I’m not afraid to walk away
from the project.

Along those same lines, I also learned the importance of smart growth. I’m very loyal to our
clients and want to make sure we continue to exceed expectations by being responsive to their
needs and delivering high-quality work. If we grow too fast, that’s just not feasible. As a result,
I try to pace the growth. That starts by making sure we’re choosing to work with the right


What’s the craziest story you have from starting your own business?

I can trace at least 75% of Geben’s new business back to relationships that began via social
media – primarily Twitter. It’s crazy that relationships that began with 140 characters have
turned into long-term, retainer clients! I joke that Twitter keeps our lights on, but it’s also
somewhat true. Five years ago, I couldn’t have done what I’m doing today.

(PS If you’re on Twitter, let’s connect! You can find me at

 If you could go back, would you do anything differently? If so, what and why?

I’m really happy with where the company is currently, and what I anticipate us doing in
2012. Looking back, I don’t think I’d really change anything. Prior experiences and learning
opportunities helped get us where we are today. And, it’s a good place to be.

How do you see your company growing in the future?

We’ll continue to add clients and staff, but like I mentioned earlier, at a manageable pace. In
2011, we grew 150% over 2010. Is it realistic to do that again? We’ll see.

To help us continue to attract the right kind of clients, I think I need to do a better job
sharing case studies and results we’ve helped clients secure. Of course, I hope that means
more companies will want to hire us, but I also hope that people can see what we’ve done
and “remix” the ideas to fit their own brand’s goals. (If you’re interested, here are two
examples: A B2B case study, featuring Madison Electric Products, and one of 2011’s break-out
startups, Zaarly.)

Six words of advice to those looking to start their own company.

Plan smart. Implement smarter. Good luck!

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