Whirlwind tours as one of Madonna's costumers and around-the-world performances in a punk band helped set the stage for Marcie Carson and Corey Baim when it came time to launch their own company. Not lacking any bravado, the husband-and-wife team stuck solidly to their credo, "Follow your instincts," and created their own graphic design company in 1995 with $3,000, an antiquated Mac, paper-thin connections and spotty design experience.
"I started IE Design + Communications because I knew I could do it," Carson says. "I had a picture in my head of how I wanted to do things and it was different than what I was experiencing at the time."
At the time, Carson had stopped working as a costumer and was employed at a graphic design company. Just two years later, the self-taught graphic designer knew she wanted to fly solo--well, sort of. Carson partnered with her husband Baim, who had been an off-and-on-again mortgage banker during his hiatus from touring as a bass player with Rhythm Collision.
"It's just a great partnership because we complement each other. I'm the creative. He's the business," Carson says. "The company was really created out of a talent and passion and this drive, and Corey kind of helped provide the stability to all of that."
The couple went from working long hours apart from each other, sometimes on different continents, to collaborating side-by-side, all day long. But working in a 1,200-square-foot apartment sans air conditioning sparked something phenomenal.
Today, the multimillion dollar company of eight boasts a plethora of prestigious awards, including being credited as one of the leading design firms in the U.S. by HOW magazine and Graphic Design USA. They specialize in myriad services--naming a company, designing a logo, customizing stationery and collateral material, and creating interactive materials like websites and e-blasts. Former clients include the Academy Awards, Dole and Honda. For the past few years, IE Design + Communications has continued to generate average annual revenues around $2.5 million.
Perhaps the company's biggest challenge has been to keep growth in check. For a company whose reputation is moored in the caliber of its designs, tipping the growth scale too high could bury its focus under managerial duties, and ultimately jeopardize the integrity of its work. The company artfully balanced the size of its client roster with the type of work that kept its creative engine stimulated without exploding. Sometimes this means turning potential clients away.
But maintaining a steady stream of clients did not mean idly sitting around. Word-of-mouth referrals drove the business from 1995 to 2001 until a watershed moment in 2001, when IE Design + Communications drastically changed its marketing strategy by highlighting its clients' needs instead of its own designs and achievements.
"We started doing more newsletters, educated them a bit, talking about the industries, pointers, things that were more geared toward their needs than our own," Carson says.
Even though it took over a year to reap the fruits of their labor, it was one of their most important moves, Baim says.
"Instead of being word of mouth or whatever just came in through the door, we could go after certain sectors or certain types of work."
IE Design + Communications pursued the health care, automotive and higher education industries with the kind of gusto found in superstar moguls, and attracted behemoths like BMW, UCLA and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
Within six months of launching, IE Design + Communications rolled out an impressive client list that also included ABC, Disney and Isuzu. How exactly did the fledgling company meet success so early on?
"Very talented," Baim says of his wife. "That helped a lot." But the talent would never have been discovered without word-of-mouth advertising, Carson says.
"When I decided to leave the firm I was at, anyone that I knew in the industry--printers, copy writers, you name it--I sent a little promotional letter and packet out that I was doing this," Carson says.
Their painstaking efforts to print and hand-mail the material--this was before the advent of e-mail--captured the attention of one of Carson's former clients. She auditioned for a project, landed the account and IE Design + Communications blossomed from there.
"One of the things I learned from [Madonna] was never taking no for an answer," Carson says. "You never wanted to go to Madonna and say you couldn't get something done."