On June 17th, 2021, we celebrate ten years in business. Well, technically. We had an ill-fated acquisition around year six, causing us to start again from zero after 18 months operating inside another agency. I lovingly refer to the times before and after this disruption as Muse Part I and Muse Part II.
Muse Part I was all about execution. We were writers typing with high standards, telling stories like no one else could. As the market became saturated with storytellers, offering word count on the cheap (hello, Fiverr), we were commoditized by a flood of freelancers. We struggled to carve out a value proposition that elevated quality over cost savings.
We still write, of course, but Muse Part II is all about strategy and systems. We build brand and content roadmaps that lay the foundation for long-term growth. We guide decision-makers with best practices and lessons learned. There’s also a fair amount of intuition involved (but let’s keep that between us). Brand positioning and content strategy services tend to draw sophisticated clients who understand the value of a platform, a plan and the right tools to get it all done. We now have a client roster who invests in marketing improvements that sustain brand equity, not knee-jerk reactions to daily metrics.
The future Muse will lean into our talents as a team with more emphasis on design. Narrative is so much more impactful when presented with proper aesthetic flair. With the addition of our creative director, we now offer visual identity, packaging and website design in-house. Our multi-media Muse studio is fully stocked and ready for action. We’ve even forged a partnership with a local AR/VR studio for clients who are ready to level up communications with augmented or virtual reality.
The average lifespan of a small business is 8.5 years, proving that entrepreneurship is not for the average Joe/lene. It’s awkward. And expensive. It’s heart-wrenching and electrifying. But it’s especially gratifying when everyone has cause to celebrate. I’m in awe of our mighty Muse team, including our long-time contractors, who not only tolerate my drive, but also the extreme climate of early-stage business. We operate in a fickle industry with plenty of hiccups. It takes a strong constitution and smart stress management techniques (also: a well-stocked agency minibar) to keep calm and march on.
Along this journey, I’ve had the good fortune of working with entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes. There are significant differences between leaders who excel at the art of business – they could sell anything and scale often – and those who build businesses around other talents. I fall into the latter group, with the challenge of acquiring business acumen later in life, only after I mastered my craft. I have an affinity for others in this position, especially my husband, Ben, who’s transitioned from cook to chef to leader like a boss.
The rest of this article may read like an Oscar speech, but I want to express heartfelt gratitude to those who’ve shepherded my decisions in support of big dreams.
Empowered Women Who Empower Women
I believe that some of the best work in feminism is done behind the scenes, with women giving other women a well-heeled leg up in the world. This is especially true among the tenured female founders who I admire.
Rachel Downey & Caroline Barni, who engaged my firm and ultimately became two of my closest confidants, mentors and friends. I love you BABs.
Kelly Farrell, thanks for trusting Muse with your brand and your clients over the years, especially as I struggled to find my footing.
Christine Lobas & Deb Gabor who invited me to explore the depths of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, where I found a wellspring of inspiration in the voices and vulnerabilities of members around the world.
“Dr. Rachel” Talton, who could have spent 100% of her time with high-profile executives, but also chose to mentor me at a critical stage of my career. You’re right – work/life balance is not a journey or a destination. It’s the choices we make every day.
Sharon Toerek, friend and attorney, who graciously unstuck me from a handful of sticky situations...and also connected me to a game-changing contact or two. Drinks on me for life.
Big Brands Who Engage the Little Guy
I appreciate corporate visionaries who take risks on burgeoning firms. Hiring fresh talent can be tricky, but it’s oh-so-satisfying when that discovery blooms into a productive partnership where both parties grow.
Kathy McConaughy, formerly Chief Creative Officer at American Greetings, who saw me speak at a local event, then paired me with the legendary Brian Ellis Martin on a new brand launch. And the rest is history.
Julie Young, formerly of Director of Corporate Communications at Lubrizol, who hired Muse for one essential engagement that generated enough profit to furnish our first office with custom-built furniture from a maker in our neighborhood. Local dollars do go further.
Sanjay Singh, Executive Chairman of the Board at Mace® Brand who brought us in after seeing our story in the local paper. Thanks for continuing to be a wonderful referral source, even after we parted ways.
Fleur Veldhoven, VP of Marketing at Nestlé Professional, who calls on occasion for small projects of substance. We so enjoy working with you.
Advisors With Impact
There’s no shortage of unsolicited advice every time I open my inbox and my social feeds. I’m careful to tune out the noise and tune in to those with the experience to know better.
Kathy Lentner, former life coach and consultant, who helped me gather my wits after I checked all the career boxes, won the awards, got the promotions, started (and sold) the business and was ready to ride off to the sunset as a novelist, never to be seen again.
Joe Pulizzi, founder of Content Marketing Institute and die-hard Clevelander, who lit the lighthouse on an industry making waves. Thanks for helping us all keep our bearings.
Doug Moore, PhD, who introduced me to mindfulness meditation and the wisdom of the Enneagram. I wouldn’t be fully present without your reality checks and deep breaths.
Valerie Black, my current coach and change agent. The universe brought us together and magic transpired. I can’t wait to see where we go next!
Drew McClellan and my AMI peer group. Thanks for seeing the potential in a questionable start up and admitting me to the club. I’m honored to learn among greats.
It surprised me that, somewhere along the way, my passion for marketing transformed into a love of leadership. I’m more invested than ever in cultivating a culture that draws the very best team to work in the best intentions of our clients. My heart beams with pride every time I see our work in the wild – and the positive impact it’s had on the brands we serve. Looking ahead to the next decade, I’m confident it’s bright.
About the Author
Jackie Bebenroth is Founder and Chief Brand Advisor of Muse. She works alongside leading brands and executives to develop strategic positioning and messaging strategies that set the stage for long-term success. Her work, from local restaurant branding to six-figure global initiatives, has flown her around the country to speak on the art of content marketing. Jackie has earned a number of accolades, most notably a SXSW Interactive finalist award, the American Advertising Federation’s 40 under 40 award and Content Marketing Institute’s Content Marketing Leader of the Year.
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