Metsker's Hallmark: Consistency

January 17, 2005
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EAST GRAND RAPIDS — Julie Metsker didn't seek out her role in the local communications field. Like so many stories of careers developing within successful and meaningful niches, she had no intention of becoming a central figure within the marketing and communications fields, and still doesn't today.

But whether her intention or not, Metsker's three-person firm has for many years been the backbone of some of the area's most visible trade associations, including until recently all of those within the communications field.

"If it has anything to do with professional communication in West Michigan, Julie Metsker is involved," said Tim Penning, West Michigan PRSA's immediate past president and a GrandValleyStateUniversity professor. "As president this past year, I really appreciated her consistent administrative support and her insightful comments and suggestions at board meetings. She's created dependency in all of us."

"It takes a special person to understand how to guide smart people who have great ideas but few dollars and precious little time," added Clare Wade of Clare Wade Communications, a board member of both Ad Club and PRSA. "She excels at helping her clients make good decisions based on a realistic picture of energy, dollars and resources."

Metsker founded Professional Administrative Resources in 1986 as a means of creating some extra income while raising three children. Armed with a self-taught knowledge of computer systems and database management and design at a time when many businesses were just beginning to adopt that technology, she began taking on a number of clients for basic administrative services.

She soon landed her first large client, Wondergem Consulting Inc., providing invoicing and media database design and management. While some of the work she did for Wondergem has been brought in house, the firm is still a client today.

Three years into her business venture, Metsker realized that there was room for her company to grow.

"I was thinking, 'This is working pretty well,' and so I sent out some letters," she recalled. "One landed on the desk of Rob Pocock, the outgoing president of Ad Club (now director of communications for Priority Health). They were looking for an executive secretary — somebody to do their bookkeeping, manage their database, take reservations for programs and that kind of thing.

"They'd never had anybody do any of that before. He took a chance on me and it's grown ever since."

Metsker is still the Ad Club's executive director, providing through her staff the same services she was initially contracted for, while now also acting as a trusted adviser to the board.

"With all the downsizing that has happened in all these organizations, people have less and less time to volunteer and less and less support at their corporations," she said. "So where people used to volunteer and hand off some of their clerical duties to secretaries, that kind of thing doesn't happen anymore. Everybody is busier just with work and it gets harder to do volunteer tasks.

"That's what has driven the growth of my business."

With some of its members also involved in Ad Club, PRSA contacted her in 1994 to perform the same role for its chapter. Not long after that the local American Marketing Association chapter requested the same services, while the young and rapidly growing Association for Corporate Growth chapter signed on in 2002.

This year she became the administrator for another new group, the West Michigan Economic Development Partnership.

Metsker said that the needs for her services come from the purpose of the associations themselves.

"When the boards are at these meetings, they are not there for Ad Club or PRSA or ACG; they are also there to network for their own business," she said. "When we're there, we're the ones who have the club on our minds. We're the only one whose job is to sell the organization."

Metsker warns her clients that historically organizations flounder when they take too much work away from volunteers, but while each board has been more than happy to follow that advice, many have found Metsker's decades-long involvement incredibly valuable.

"She supported me in my role with guidance and the energy to try new things," said outgoing Ad Club President Elizabeth Ratliff of the Highland Group. "I would describe her as the rock or foundation of the Ad Club. I have no idea what we would do if she ever retired."

"Nonprofit boards are a challenge," added Wade. "The dynamics change every 12 months with a new board, president and annual objectives. It's a new ballgame every year and no one knows what happened before they arrived on the scene."

Acting as a virtual historian, Metsker's perspective helps to prevent the boards from going down paths they have already trod and repeating the same mistakes. That experience also has provided many contacts necessary in a volunteer organization, through which she is able to facilitate member involvement and collaborations.

A strong example of this includes the three-year run of the West Michigan Communications Summit, a joint effort between Ad Club, AMA and PRSA.

While Metzger has proven an important piece of its success, she will likely not be a highly visible figure at this spring's ADDY Awards. She has watched it grow from a modest affair to one of Ad Club's largest in the nation, but credits that to the West Michigan community.    

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