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Breaking Up the Boys Club at Baker Creative

“I think that you’ve got to meet people halfway and if you don’t invest in them, how are you going to expect them to invest back?” says Michele Cuthbert.

Cuthbert is talking about the encouraging environment she strives to cultivate at Baker Creative, her successful brand strategy and marketing firm based in Groveport, OH. This is an especially important value to Cuthbert—not only because it actively cultivates a supportive culture for her employees, but intentionally defies the strategy of other firms in the sector.

An alumna of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses (National Cohort 2015), Cuthbert created her firm to be accessible to all potential employees, regardless of what stage of their lives and careers they are in.

“I worked at a lot of places before I started my business, and I saw a lot of really talented working moms that had to pick between their job full-time or their family,” she shared. “And when they would have kids, they would go to our employer and [ask to temporarily work part time], and every time they’d say no. It was like a revolving door at this place. I’d just sit there, and I’d watch all these people come and go and be like, ‘that person was awesome—but now she’s gone.’”

When a staff member would leave, Cuthbert remarked that the training their replacement would receive was either subpar or nonexistent.

“You have a job description, but [you’re thinking], ‘what am I supposed to be doing?’,” she says. “And I’ll never forget, I was sitting beside a copywriter, and she was just bawling. I asked what was wrong and she said, ‘I’ve been here for two months and I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. [And the boss said], ‘yeah, suck it up.’”

This management style is what Cuthbert referred to as a “boys club” kind of mentality. She follows up by stating, “there’s nothing wrong with guys, I just want to put that out there. You have to have empathy as part of your management skills. So when I say, ‘it was all men,’ I mean in that old way of [managing] that’s very ‘sink or swim’. And I don’t think anybody wins in that capacity because turnover is expensive – training is expensive too. Whether they stay or not, you’re still investing in someone. By just letting them flounder, it doesn’t make any business sense.”

Armed with all the knowledge of the business environment she did not want to perpetuate, Cuthbert founded Baker Creative in 2003. With years of experience working as a professor at several colleges in Ohio, Cuthbert notes that learning is at the forefront of her firm.

“Like I said, I’d seen too many people that were just passing out. Not only does it waste time, but they’re frustrated, the client’s frustrated, and nobody wins…[For any employee,] if they’re talented, if they have the drive, if they are professional, if they have a good attitude and a good work ethic, they’re reliable, and honest—why wouldn’t I hire them?”

Not only does Cuthbert prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) when hiring employees, DEI is also foundational to the content strategy and mission of Baker Creative.

“We write a blog for mommies called ‘The Office Mommy’, we have a blog that speaks to business in general, and we have a podcast that has over 26,000 views…Content is a strong suit for us,” she shares. We understand what people want. We’ve been able to win awards and campaigns trying to reach the elderly and the rest home experience, but then we’ve also done Highlights for children. You have to understand these different pockets and that’s one of the reasons why we have the mommy blog, which just got published in Columbus Parent this week.”

Through her efforts, Baker Creative’s content reaches over 5.5 million people a year in collaboration with some of the biggest corporations in the country. “I just got awarded ‘Market Like A Mother’ by Chief Marketer…And there were only six agencies and six brands that got selected. Del Taco was one of them and Pepsi was in it—we had the big brands,” says Cuthbert.

Cuthbert’s advice for those, most notably women, striving to reach the heights of Baker Creative?

“Staying open is my best advice. Stay open to possibilities. You may not operate in the way you think you used to and that’s okay. Give yourself permission for that. Because if you hold yourself to that line of what was before, you’re just going to keep mourning what you lost. So if you stay open to the possibility, it may not be what you expected, but if it still gets you where you want to be…” that’s what matters.

“There’s no playbook for any of this.”

ICIC is the proud national outreach and selection partner of Goldman Sachs on their innovative and influential 10,000 Small Businesses initiative. To learn more about the program, click here. We are also recruiting for our other Urban Business Intiatives for the 2022 program year. To find a tuition-free ICIC program that’s right for you, visit https://icic.org/urban-business-initiatives/.

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