Inside Track: Loving dogs isn’t a necessity at 834, but it helps
Kim Bode combines her passions and skills to create a multi-tasking communications firm.
Loving dogs may not be a prerequisite for working at 834 Design and Marketing, but it doesn’t hurt.
Jimmy, one of owner Kim Bode’s four rescue dogs, is a regular presence in the company’s west-side office space, 560 Fifth St. NW, often greeting guests with his wet nose or a head nudge.
Everyone in the office is a dog lover, Bode said — which also explains why the firm has taken on so many animal-related clients and projects, including Vicki’s Pet Connection, West Michigan Network of Animal Protection and the Humane Society of West Michigan’s Paws, Claws & Corks fundraiser.
It is also not a necessity that the company’s employees be women, but Bode said for some reason that’s how it’s worked out. She thinks it might have a lot to do with women being particularly good at multi-tasking and having the ability to switch gears quickly — both of which are important qualities for an integrated communications firm.
“I think that is what I love and what Adrienne (Wallace, project and digital director) loves, and what our staff enjoys too,” Bode said. “Every day is different. You might be thinking it’s going to be one way and by 10 a.m. your day has completely changed.”
Bode also thinks having a young staff is a great asset for the firm.
“We are a young staff, but they are so hungry and excited and just soaking in all this information and endless energy, which you need in this industry,” Bode said.
She noted the five-person firm has a robust internship program, thanks to Wallace, who has worked to establish the formalized program. The company regularly has five to seven interns at a time, and Bode said she wants them to gain practical experience they can utilize in their careers.
“We call them associates and they do actual work,” Bode said. “I remember when I was an intern (being told), ‘Here, write this note.’ I really want to give them some kind of real world skills.”
Bode began 834 while she was still in her 20s, after spending several years as marketing director for Grand Valley State University’s West Michigan Science and Technology Initiative.
WMSTI’s mission is to enhance innovation and support the commercialization of life science products and technologies in West Michigan.
“I had to do everything from the event planning to PR to design to strategy and fundraising,” she said. “I had to teach myself how to design. When we were starting out, there was no budget for marketing.
“That is where the whole concept of 834 came from. I felt like there was a need in the community for an integrated communications firm. A company could go to one agency and be helped with PR, marketing, creative and digital, etc.”
Bode said while she was working for WMSTI, she had the opportunity to rub elbows with several burgeoning entrepreneurs who were sharing space in GVSU’s Cook DeVos Center for Health Sciences.
“It was fun to be able to work with these entrepreneurs, and I think that might be why I woke up one day and I needed a change. I wanted to do something different,” she said.
Her company came to fruition in 2008, then went on hiatus in 2010 while Bode worked in-house for a client for a year, re-launching in its present form in 2011.
“Since then, it’s just been crazy,” she said. “We’ve had 200 percent growth in the last year.”
The growth has meant three moves for 834, and it’s now in the middle of an expansion into an adjoining office space.
The firm offers a full-service experience to clients.
“We really function as a marketing department for our clients,” Bode said. “We don’t just do the strategy; we also do the implementation because a lot of times that is really what they need.”
She gives a lot of credit for 834’s success to her staff.
“I surround myself with people who are smarter than me,” she said. “When I look for staff, I try and find those who are really well rounded or a good personality fit within our culture.
“I think one of the coolest things about 834 is that we are a flat leadership structure. We really do empower everyone to do the best — and if 834 does well, everyone does well.”
Bode said the firm has been involved in a lot of fun and exciting projects. A few of her favorites have been ArtPrize 2012’s “Lights in the Night” entry — handling the logistics and promoting the launch of hundreds of lanterns into the night sky from downtown; helping with the launch of the Urban Core Collective, a collaboration of six nonprofits engaged in supporting programs and services that increase capacity within communities of color in the Grand Rapids urban core; a Community Outreach Week project with the Humane Society of West Michigan that involved photographing animals up for adoption; and helping the Holland Museum market its exhibits.
“‘Lights in the Night’ — that was Adrienne and I. We pulled off that event with the two of us and six interns,” Bode said. “For a firm as small as we are to be able to do that — it’s a testament to how innovative we can be and how dedicated.
“One of the highlights for me professionally was when I got to meet Diet Eman. She is a surviving Dutch resistance member,” Bode said. She met Eman while doing communications work for Holland Museum’s current exhibition, Art and Propaganda in Nazi-Occupied Holland.
“Her fiancé, who was killed, was the leader of the Dutch resistance. When I heard her speak … you just think how hard, back then, it was to be a strong female and what she went through.
“You get to work on these projects that are so much bigger than you.”
The firm also does pro bono work; Bode said giving back has always been something she considers integral to being a member of the community. One of the ideas she had to help promote smaller organizations and events in the community that don’t have a lot of money to spend on marketing is the radio segment “Your Biz, Your Town,” featured on WGVU’s “Morning Show with Shelley Irwin.”
“I approached Shelley four or five years ago with the concept,” Bode explained. “Once a month (on 88.5 FM), we profile a small business, nonprofit or cool event that’s happening.”
Her company has received accolades for its work. It just earned three PRoof Awards from the West Michigan Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America for its work with the Urban Core Collective. It also received three PRoof Awards last year for its work on “Lights in the Night.”
Both Bode and Wallace have been Young Athena finalists, and Bode has been named to the Business Journal’s 40 Under Forty list.
Bode said her hope for the firm is to see it live on beyond her.
“834 is bigger than me and someday 834 will have a life beyond me — and that’s my vision for it,” she said.