Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories featuring Region creative agencies who are supporting our communities by helping them tell their stories in meaningful ways.
High-profile agency expertise, local market knowledge, humility, respect, a sense of community, and the right people. These are the ingredients that set local creative collective Group 7even up for success. And they operate on the guiding principal that their success only exists when their clients succeed.
Group 7even was cofounded in 2009 as a collaboration between Michelle and Grant Andres. The two happen to be married but have a different professional focus that serves as the agency’s foundation. Michelle is the strategy expert with decades of expertise working for huge firms in New York, Detroit, and Chicago. Grant is the enterprise virtual infrastructure and software development expert. Together, they have more than 40 years of combined experience in the field.
Among their own professional goals, it all started because they wanted their kids to be able to climb trees.
“When we had kids,” Michelle said, “I went from ‘I’m always living in big cities’ to ‘I want my kids to be able to climb trees.” As a result, Grant and Michelle relocated to Valparaiso from Chicago to raise their family. The Andres boys are now ages 7, 13, and 15.
“The schools are great. The value systems are great. This is where we need to be,” Michelle said.
“We started Group 7even 10 years ago right in the middle of a financial crisis, but luckily it worked out for us,” Michelle said. “I was doing strategic consulting but wanted to fill a gap I noticed in the marketplace. We wanted to develop an agency that offered strategy, creative, and technology from one place. It’s wonderful for our clients, and we get to serve the community we love.”
Michelle and Grant were strategic in their company recruitment efforts. Only the best, they agreed.
Enter Rebecca Hanna – the company’s lead account executive who just happens to be Michelle’s sister. She, too, relocated to Valparaiso, but from Florida, for the same reasons as Michelle: community.
“When you live in a beach community where there are a lot of vacationers, there isn’t a strong community feel. Family is huge as well. Family is core to it. I wanted to be where my children and I could build a strong sense of community with our parents, siblings, and cousins nearby,” Hanna said.
What’s it like working with family? Michelle and Hanna agreed that their healthy dynamic helps them serve clients well.
“It’s great to be surrounded by the people you love – their work ethic, their values, their skills. When you pair that with an awesome employee team it just doesn’t get any better,” Michelle said.
“She is the absolute leader, and I choose carefully who I follow,” Hanna said. “I feel very confident in following her lead and helping her vision come to fruition. The relationship that we have outside of that is helpful – the trust we have, and our skillsets are complimentary.”
The Group 7even creative collective, also comprising Dan Patton as creative director and an entire team of account managers, technicians, and dynamic writers, is built on a foundation of collaboration, recognizing that all talents in the room are equally important.
“Integrity is everything. That trust factor within our team is huge. We have really creative people who will not say, ‘It can’t be done.’ We’re asking ourselves, ‘How can it be done?’ We’re trying to find the yes in every situation,” Michelle said.
“When we have brainstorming sessions – to me, that’s the pinnacle,” Hanna added. “At the end of the day, I don’t even know who came up with the amazing product because it was so collaborative. I remember Michelle saying, ‘You nailed it,’ and she didn’t even remember that she was the one who came up with the idea. It doesn’t matter who said it in the end. You could not have done it alone.”
Perhaps the most obvious sign of a strong leader: you don’t always have to be the smartest person in the room. “I’m keenly aware of my weaknesses. I’m not afraid of them. I hire around them,” Michelle said.
The team culture, dynamics, and strong leadership allow Group 7even to guide clients wholeheartedly to success from a strategic and storytelling standpoint.
“The ads that you see are the final 10% of the work we do with clients,” Michelle said. “Research, strategy, positioning, consumer behavior analysis – there’s a whole business and science behind what we do to get to that 10%.”
It starts with getting to know their clients and their strategic business plan well, rather than just producing what the client thinks they need.
“I think people naturally come with something in mind because they’ve already tried to start solving their problem. So, we can back that up and bring in the strategic strength,” Hanna said.
“If someone knew exactly what they needed, they likely wouldn’t be coming to us in the first place, which puts the responsibility on us to set them in the right direction. We’re not trying to sell billboards. It’s more about being a business partner. Clients stay with us for years because there’s a trust level there,” Michelle said.
“The other important thing to remember is that we are never comfortable knowing what we know,” Michelle added. “There is no pinnacle. Everything changes quickly. We are constantly learning. We are keenly aware of the importance of our jobs, but we are also keenly aware that we aren’t curing cancer or winning Nobel Peace Prizes. There’s a healthy perspective in knowing that we want to be the best in our craft, but there are always people who are doing smarter work.”
The strategy has worked well for Group 7even, as they’ve been able to reach global markets with their expertise – a huge notch for them from a business growth perspective.
“The first time we did a brochure in Chinese, I thought, ‘Wow, this is amazing,’” Michelle said.
For more information on how to tap into the services that Group 7even offers, visit them online at http://group7even.com/.