Easy does it
|Stafford Kendall's digital communications company has charted an impressive course in a crowded, competitive field and a difficult economic climate.|
YOUNG BUSINESSPERSON OF THE YEAR
COMPANY: Covalent Logic
• Launched Covalent Logic in 2006; the company now has 17 full-time employees, and national and international clients in the digital space
• Ranked No. 155 among public relations agencies in 2011 by PR Week and showed a 107% increase in revenue from 2009-10
• Received a Stevie Award from the American Business Awards in 2011 for Best Online Press Room, designed for Hilton Hotels and Resorts
• Worked with the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation to promote free or affordable Web-based solutions for numerous community causes
Stafford Kendall was attending an event during Baton Rouge Entrepreneur Week in which Marlo Scott, the former New York marketing executive-turned-national cupcake guru shared startup tips with several hundred professional women.
Kendall, who helped organize the event, approached the microphone to introduce Scott. Characteristically disarming, Kendall commented on Scott's inspiring accomplishments, which dovetailed with her own perspective about starting a business.
Six years ago, she and business partner Bryan Murphy launched a digital communications firm, even when common sense dictated otherwise. They were the breadwinners for their respective families, Kendall says, and the company's initial expenses were carried on their personal credit cards. But they believed in their work, and sure enough, the projects rolled in.
Scott took the podium and likewise gave props to Kendall. The crowd learned that Kendall, a familiar local business owner, had spent the past year developing a powerful national reputation. Covalent Logic had designed Hilton Hotel and Resort's international Global Media Center, for which the chain had won numerous business awards.
Indeed, Covalent Logic has charted an impressive course in one of America's most difficult economic periods. From an initial staff of two, the company has grown to 17 full-time employees spread between offices in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lafayette. Gross income increased 107% between 2009 and 2010 and more than doubled again last year.
Branding and message development remain significant parts of Covalent Logic's work, Kendall says, but the firm's sweet spot lies in its ability to distill complex concepts and large amounts of data into simple, Web-based interactions. Hilton has expanded its relationship. Another international hotel has engaged the company. And local projects, including Woman's Hospital and the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, keep coming.
Kendall looks back on Covalent Logic's rapid rise and recalls the early operating principles on which it was based.
“Our approach was simple,” she says. “Answer the phone and say yes.”
Kendall might have been new to entrepreneurship in 2006, but she was already molding a reputation as a public relations innovator because of her facility with the burgeoning digital media space. She had worked on special projects at The Advocate, helping to push online advertising and creating training programs for employees about the Web's potential.
Later, at Ascension Parish communications company EATEL, she led the redesign of Gov. Kathleen Blanco's website, transforming its public face, an especially important role in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Kendall left EATEL and worked as an independent contractor for the governor's office to bring the website to its full potential.
Working as a contactor made Kendall consider for the first time what it might be like to run her own business. She reached out to Murphy, her former boss at EATEL, and asked if he wanted to join her.
Murphy agreed. He and Kendall had no business plan—they still don't—because they had no plans to finance their operation through banks or investors. After a month in business, they were able to pay off their personal loans and haven't stopped landing projects since. With more than 100 clients under their belts, many of them high profile, the firm maintains a simple modus operandi: Do good work.
“Everybody on this team has this incredible desire to succeed and constantly do better,” Kendall says.
Today, Covalent Logic works in a crowded, competitive field. But early on, the firm demonstrated a rare understanding of how powerful the digital space would become. Kendall seemed to breathe social media well before it became a ubiquitous component of life and business, and she was often asked to explain it to perplexed CEOs and colleagues. One of her strengths, BREC Communications Director Kristi Williams says, is her ability to translate technical concepts into understandable components.
“She can explain things in a way that doesn't offend people,” says Williams, who hired Covalent Logic to redesign BREC's website. “She's also about making the complex simple. For example, when you talk about what BREC means to the community, you get a thousand different needs. They were very good about pulling information together and making it easy to use and understand.”
John Forrest Ales, Hilton's senior director of global brands public relations, knew Kendall's work from Blanco's office. For Hilton, Covalent Logic designed a global media center in which reporters and travel writers find up-to-date news and information, graphic elements and data in one collection point. The Global Media Center translates information into multiple languages.
“It's been one of our greatest innovations,” he says. “It's completely transformed our ability to connect with reporters around the world.”
A married mother of two, Kendall seems outwardly relaxed, frequently cracking jokes and extolling Baton Rouge as a rare place that values life and leisure. But under the surface, she's a serious workaholic, weaving in breakfast, lunch and dinner engagements and frequently traveling to attract and foster clients. She swims religiously at 6 a.m. six days a week—later on Sundays—after which she reads several print newspapers and drinks coffee.
“If I miss that routine,” she says, “I am pretty much useless the rest of the day.”
Her professional perspective may be Web-focused, but Kendall reads the paper in traditional format because of the eye's ability to freely seek out stories and to stumble upon the unexpected.
“You are bound to learn things you didn't intend to learn,” says Kendall, a former political science and Eastern European studies major. “I still clip things out of the paper.”
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