Dear Anita,

It’s me, Anita, 25 years into the future.

It is August 2021, marking A. Bright Idea’s 25th anniversary. As I sit at home writing this letter, I can’t help but laugh thinking about our number one goal back in 1996: move the business out of the house and into an office. Spending this milestone back where the journey began certainly feels like a full circle moment and leaves me reflecting on the past 25 years with pride, gratitude and every other emotion under the sun.

Not to worry though, we did get out of the spare bedroom. In fact, we exceeded our goal by opening three locations from Maryland to California. Finding myself working back at home the majority of last year (don’t ask) truly showed me how far we’ve come. Gone are the days of individually doing all the client work during the day and all the billing, networking and proposals at night. While these temporary challenges made me uncomfortable in the moment, it’s what made me stronger and the businesswoman I am today.

Considering we thought this was just a temporary option before our next job, you may be surprised to know we reached our “silver” year. From having no one to bounce ideas off of, to achieving 10 employees to now collaborating with 35+ innovators and integrators within our full-service agency, I’m proud of the marks we’ve made and continue to make on the industry.

While enjoying the success, remember how lucky we are to reach this milestone and that it’s not just for us. Our success serves as its own little ecosystem supporting dozens of individuals and families. It really has supported our family too. That guy you met in high school and married; he’ll be joining you 10 years from now once the heavy lifting is over to share in the spotlight. It means a tremendous amount to see how your little idea now creates an opportunity for someone who is going to be a parent or an opportunity for someone to work closer to home so they can spend more time with their kids and family. These are the same things we wanted for our family. Speaking of family, it’s good you moved out of that guest bedroom because you’ll need it in a few years. Baby Madison gets a brother.

Knowing what I do today, here’s the biggest pieces of advice I can offer…

Who would have thought our little one-woman operation would go from the smallest ember of inspiration to bright ideas radiating out from sea to shining sea. Remember to take time to recognize your accomplishments and not get lost in the moment. Trust me, it all works out in the end.

Keep on shining,
Anita

The entrepreneurial spirit of this country amazes me, especially as A. Bright Idea reflects on 25 years in business. The women entrepreneurs who came before me, in many ways, helped me and this agency reach this milestone.

At age 26, I launched A. Bright Idea without any expectation it would last a quarter century. After all, longevity eludes most small businesses. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 25% of new businesses make it to their 15-year anniversary.

In our formative years, quite a few people were instrumental, offering their support or guidance on building this company. People like Micky Morales, George Heidelmaier, Beth Cohen, Tina Ripken and Jack Novak were some of my earliest friends and mentors. Many of them have retired and some of them have passed but they provided me invaluable wisdom on how to beat the odds as a small business — and a woman-owned small business at that.

I am not the first woman to start a business and succeed, and I can say, with all confidence, I won’t be the last. The U.S. Census Bureau recently reported the number of American woman-owned small businesses rose by 2.8% to over 1.1 million. That trend surely continues or may well accelerate as time goes on. I’m honored to be in a position to pay forward the wisdom I received to help them succeed.

As part of our Silver & Shine anniversary celebrations, I wanted to share some the lessons others taught me and that have worked well for A. Bright Idea over these past 25 years. Whether you’re a women-owned small business or not, I have a few thoughts for those of you on a similar journey.

First and foremost, build a network of resources. You don’t need to have all the answers, but have relationships with vendors, colleagues and friends that can point you in the right direction. Most of the relationships you build usually happen intentionally, but some of the best ones often occur accidentally. Take the time to get to know people in social and business settings and invite serendipity.

When it comes to client or customer relations, find a way to say ‘yes.’ Meaning, remain flexible because clients stay or return because of customer service.

Next, little is possible without good, talented people on your team. Focus on hiring the right people for the right jobs and treat them with care and respect. Success happens as a result of collective effort.

Set out creating a strong culture. Whether you act as a sole proprietor or have one or more employees, your company culture serves as a conduit between your brand and your clients and can help boost productivity.

Lastly, but far from least, focus on making sure your branding hits the mark. Yes, A. Bright Idea is a creative agency, so branding is our bread and butter, but I cannot stress the importance of this aspect of building your business enough. Make it a priority to seek a consultant, if your resources allow.

While I could write volumes about the company I poured my heart and soul into for half my life, I want to hear from you. What challenges do you face? How can my and my team’s experiences help you? Reach out to us at silver25@abrightideaonline.com

2021 marks A. Bright Idea’s silver anniversary. From this 25-year milestone, we look back on one incredible journey and toward blazing more trails and pushing ourselves and the creative communications industry to reach new heights.

So, we acknowledge this accomplishment, not to assign importance to an arbitrary number of years but instead reflect on what it took to reach this coming of age and our trajectory from here.

Like many small businesses across the country, the beginning of A. Bright Idea started with a simple vision — a person wanting to pioneer her own way. Anita A. Brightman found inspiration from within and with the support of her family, friends and mentors, to create her own agency in 1996 after feeling lost in the large corporate setting, yearning to not only write but create and ultimately lead. At the start of her journey, a former colleague doubted the 26-year-old’s choice but Anita used his lack of faith to fuel a path to success.

From our agency’s foundations, we grew methodically and expanded from a home-based business to a full-service agency with offices from coast to coast. Our process-oriented culture has in turn become the hallmark of our brand, a culture that’s methodical, imaginative and collaborative.

We’re excited to celebrate! Through 2021, we will mark this special year with Silver & Shine moments. Look for our new webinar series and participate in two trivia contests on Facebook and Instagram where we’re giving away some great ABI swag and other fun goodies while also sharing tons of great anecdotes from Anita and other employees. You’ll see photos and videos to inspire or make you laugh, and of course, help you get to know us a bit better!

In many, if not most ways, we owe a toast to you. We have little room in this one blog post to provide a full compilation of client success stories over a quarter-century but suffice it to say that each one helps chronicle our story. Thank you and let the party begin.

As a business owner, your list of to-do’s remains as endless as your email inbox. Dedicating time to marketing efforts like telling your brand story or reaching new audiences with advertising or social media just doesn’t feel like it’s in the cards. Maybe it’s not; don’t get overwhelmed or frustrated and give up. Instead, look to an agency to lend a hand, taking the marketing burden off your plate.

Agencies come in many forms. Some specialize in a few niche areas like graphic design and digital marketing, while others provide a full range of services. Regardless of their specialties, agencies want to help you meet your goals. Agencies work with businesses of all sizes, with just about all industries and can manage projects ranging from seasonal marketing needs to long term integrated marketing campaigns.

So, where do you start? While you may have started your search for your perfect agency, the guide below answers some of the biggest questions and concerns holding businesses back from looking for that much-needed support.

1. I don’t have a marketing budget.
You are spending resources on marketing, whether you realize it or not. The time to network, sponsor community events and organizations, and keep on top of social media all cost you something. An agency helps you prioritize and maximize your presence, allowing you to do what you do best — your business.

2. I don’t have time to explain my business to others.
Agencies ask the right questions and take advantage of experiences to understand your business, industry, market and competition. It’s the agency’s job to share insights and ideas aimed at accomplishing your business goals.

3. Marketing, social media, advertising…it all changes so fast I just can’t keep up.
So true. Robust agency teams keep up with trends and best practices, so you don’t have to. As experts, they constantly scan the horizon for new and emerging tools and techniques to get in front of your audience, build your brand and get that ROI.

4. Word of mouth works for me, why change?
Good. An agency will give you a menu of recommendations for how to leverage all the word of mouth referrals you’re getting into look alike customers and build on those. You will also receive recommendations based on the agency’s past experience supporting clients just like you, for advertising, social media, website design and more.

5. I’ve always been treated like a small fish when working with agencies.
Their loss. Clearly, those agencies just didn’t fit with your business. Now you know what you don’t want, you can seek out the type of agency you do want. The ideal agency treats you with respect, shows interest in your business and seeks to foster a collaborative relationship with you.

6. I’m only one person. I have a lot on my plate.
Copy that. A full-service agency can take all of the marketing, advertising, video, website, social media, public relations and, of course, design work off your plate. Great full-service agencies offer teams dedicated to overarching disciplines. And, within those teams exist project managers, copywriters, strategic planners, designers, website developers and others allowing more collaboration and a better, more integrated final product.

The bottom line
Marketing your business remains an important component to its success and a full- service agency can provide the guidance, strategy and creative solutions needed to help you be successful.

Are you ready to take your marketing and communications efforts to the next level? If you have any questions about your needs, say hello! We’d love to help you.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I reflect on my own journey. I feel our paths reveal themselves to us if we are open to any possibility. In 1996, I took a leap of faith and left my job with a large defense contractor, a comfortable position, to start A. Bright Idea. I took this risk because I wanted more control over my schedule and to advance my career at a quicker pace.

A new mother, I was scared to step out of my comfort zone, but knew I needed to do it.

Starting from scratch, I built ABI motivated by the voice in my head, saying, “I will not fail.”

First, I made a plan and followed it. I needed to build a clientele. When things clicked, I worked to replicate and improve processes. When I encountered challenges, I looked for ways to improve, such as building checklists and refining processes to avoid future obstacles. The lessons I learned outside the confines of my comfort zone created the foundation of the A. Bright Idea way and guides how I work to this day. I continue to stay the course, keep my head down and keep marching. Working day by day, I forge ahead and persevere, striving to maximize my potential and create opportunity for others.

I did not set out on this journey with the intent of growing A. Bright Idea into a coast-to-coast, multi-office agency. But by building up my team with brilliant, capable people, something enduring was created. In all endeavors, especially creative ones, collaboration is key. Every day with our combined talents, the ABI team pushes through challenges and identifies opportunities to create innovative ways to support our clients, engage audiences and change conversations.

The past and present power of the women in our industry, combined with collaboration and creativity, make a positive impact on our families, communities and workplaces. I look forward to all we can achieve and remain steadfast in my commitment to moving the industry forward, investing in the next generation as they create their paths and find their voices.

Anita A. Brightman, APR, Fellow PRSA

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No matter what our age or profession, there are no rules when it comes to creativity. Creativity is a form of self-expression that gives us the opportunity and freedom to explore crazy ideas that pop into our heads. Being creative opens our minds to new ways of thinking and problem-solving. As children, we were encouraged to turn off technology and play, whether we were coloring with crayons, molding with Play-Doh, building forts out of sticks or just spending the day outside, we were having experiences, building memories and developing our character.

One of our favorite hands-on, creative projects for A. Bright Idea currently is a series called “Today’s A.” Initially conceptualized by several members of the A. Bright Idea team, it was Graphic Design Specialist, Robyn Koenig, who has overseen the growth of the project. “Today’s A” is an example of one of the creative agency’s many bright ideas, allowing members of the Visual team to break from their creative pursuits with a computer and mouse and let their imagination run free to fuel productivity and creativity in the workplace. Team members take turns creating different “A’s,” exploring various forms of lowercase or uppercase A’s and using different materials and techniques to create something physical instead of digital.

History of “Today’s A”

Two of the most recognizable brand elements of A. Bright Idea are the lightbulb and the “A.” Over the years, a lot has been done with the lightbulb. When the team was looking for something fun and creative for future content, they chose to focus on the “A,” which stands for the first initial of Founder and CEO, Anita Brightman. “Today’s A” allows members of the Visual team to dig deep into their creative minds to conjure up beautiful, inspiring and fun creative interpretations of the agency’s “A” logo.

“We’re always looking for new ways to show off our creativity,” said Koenig. “At the time when this was started, we were looking to develop some new social media content. We went outside and picked a bunch of flowers and leaves and nature-type things, came back inside, sketched a very loose, kind of handwritten calligraphic “A” and just had fun with it. We laid the flowers and the leaves out on the outline of the “A,” and that was it! Everyone really loved it and now it’s a hanging print inside of our Burbank office.”

Making an A

The idea for a “Today’s A” usually comes from inspiration on social media, in an industry publication or just from brainstorming with our team of creatives. A select team meets monthly to discuss and plan upcoming content strictly for the agency. It’s from those meetings the “Today’s A” ideas flow.

“One of my favorites is the Pinata A,” Koenig said. “We built it like a real, miniature piñata, but without the candy inside. Then there’s the one we recently created for Halloween – the Jack-O-Lantern carved ‘A.’ We have made them out of Play-Doh, wine corks, marshmallow Peeps and various other materials.”

Benefits of Creative Play

While it may seem like the team just likes playing with Play Doh and craft materials, the team has identified some solid benefits to the “Today’s A” creative exercise.

  1. Exercise – Using different creative muscles to have the freedom to do something in your way instead of trying to fitting within the confines of a brand style.
  2. Tactile – Working with your hands is beneficial for the creative process. For Koenig and others at the agency, joy comes from creating by hand, without the use of a computer. It’s satisfying to create something physical and then share your creation with others.
  3. Practice – “Today’s A” isn’t just a fun, creative exercise, it’s practice for when it’s time to really think creatively to hit deadlines and make a big impact with client work. It also helps the teamwork through problems and grow as creators. One of the biggest skills needed for being a creative, whether it’s a designer or filmmaker or writer, is problem-solving and finding a good creative solution.

The “Today’s A” creative has allowed for creative expression, as well as personal and professional growth. While “Today’s A” is specific to A. Bright Idea, the concept is one any creative individual or organization can attempt to help build culture at a company, work through a creative block, spark new ideas and exercise known skills and tap into new ones.

Do you see a benefit in our “Today’s A” that we missed? Is this something you might try? Send us an email or DM on social. We’d love to hear from you.

—-

Don’t miss another Today’s A on the ‘gram at @abrightidea.

When I came across the above quote, I felt a strong connection to how much it relates to my working in a fast-paced creative agency. Every day you get thrown various situations, but how you choose to react to those situations serves as the catalyst for your success.

When approaching new tasks, we inherently seek guidance from others to layout step-by-step directions because creating a sense of familiarity makes us comfortable. The sense of accomplishment, however, feels much stronger when it stems from pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. Your ability to get comfortable starts with recognizing the point at which you transition from uncomfortable to stressed.

 

Many mistakenly identify feeling uncomfortable with feeling stressed. Stress, real stress, comes from situations beyond our control, often involving family, health or livelihood. When I experienced a significant earthquake while waiting for a plane in Los Angeles – that was real stress. Similar to what I witnessed during the 2017 California wildfires in Sonoma and the devastating fires in Los Angeles County, in a moment’s notice people became displaced, injured and left with a real sense of raw vulnerability. Despite practicing emergency preparedness drills and thinking I knew what to do in these situations, I realized I was far less in control than imagined.

While stressful situations reach beyond our control, everyone can take ownership of an uncomfortable situation and set their own path forward. Stay focused on the big picture and tackle the project one step at a time to easily identify where you feel most uncomfortable, so you can move toward a stronger level of comfort for future tasks. Tackling uncomfortable situations brings personal/professional growth to help you become comfortable with the uncomfortable.

I knew I wanted to explore the concept of “getting comfortable being uncomfortable” with the rest of the ABI team, so I made it the theme of our annual employee summit. Each team member wrote down one thing that makes them comfortable at work and one that makes them uncomfortable. Through an open group discussion, we found similarities among our answers, and in a few instances, discovered what one person identifies as comfortable, another found uncomfortable. Some answers on both ends of the spectrum included public speaking, multitasking and working under pressure.

 
During our discussions, I shared another story of feeling uncomfortable – when A. Bright Idea received its first government contract as prime contractor. For many years prior, we executed public affairs support for our commercial clients and got comfortable serving as a sub-contractor for larger government accounts. Our hesitation to apply as a prime contractor stemmed from a feeling of uncertainty in not knowing all of the answers and we did not feel fully prepared to navigate the entire process ourselves. Though we faced many new and uncomfortable tasks to take on this new challenge, we pulled our resources, asked a lot of questions and figured it out. The risk was worth the reward.

That singular experience allowed A. Bright Idea to evolve into the 23-year-old, full-service agency we are today with over 45 employees serving clients coast to coast.

Life brings unknown obstacles to navigate, but how you choose to move forward determines the confidence and knowledge you’ll bring to future tasks. Change can be uncomfortable, but real opportunities for transformation rise from the unknown.

Creativity doesn’t have to be elaborate or flashy, and it doesn’t have to be reserved for the “creatives” alone. Low-key creativity is the effortless, no-pressure strategy to get your brain working in an imaginative way with others.

Creativity doesn’t start in an email
Get those creative juices flowing with face-to-face interaction! The key to a collaborative environment is getting to know your coworkers on a personal level, away from the computer screen. Try kicking off a meeting with a quick creative exercise and have everyone share their piece with the team. Not only will this bring everyone some laughs, but it will start the meeting with high energy, ready to jump into a productive meeting.

Here’s an exercise our team tried in a recent meeting:
Each participant has a piece of paper with 30 blank circles on it and a pencil. Team members are challenged to fill in as many circles as possible in only three minutes. The aim being quantity, not quality.

Culture of creativity
Give every team member every creative opportunity and constantly promote a positive work environment and culture. Providing a creative and unique work space can improve company morale, and science shows that positive moods tend to promote those “a-ha” moments. So, bring a whiteboard and handful of candy to your next meeting (this always works for us).

Encouraging creativity doesn’t stop with our Bright Lights – we challenge you to complete the 30 circles exercise with your team and tag us on Facebook or Twitter with the photos. We can’t wait to see where their imagination takes them!

I sat down at my desk in my ergonomically correct desk chair with my laptop perched on top of its stand to begin writing this post. My fingers positioned on the keys, I stared at my computer screen. The words just weren’t coming.

My setting felt too formal for this particular task. So, I picked up my laptop and ran over to our beanbag room, repositioning myself in a comfy Dalmatian-print blob. The ideas started circulating as my mind entered a more relaxed domain. After some time, I landed on “the one” and began feverishly hashing it out.

But instead of hashing, I decided I needed to dribble. I stepped into the hallway and picked up our purple basketball, my idea transitioning from concept to concrete with every shot I took at the net hanging on the wall.

Our offices include various spots where team members can temporarily relocate, including our chill area with leather couches and punctuation mark pillows, our outdoor bar stool picnic table and our purple Adirondack chairs on the porch. Our MacBooks, Wi-Fi and Tervis Tumblers of coffee create the basis of the magic “Bright Light” solution for success, allowing us to create anywhere.

Enjoying a beautiful spring day on the ABI front porch.

Flexibility in our physical settings offers creative workspaces, which translate to the work we produce at A. Bright Idea. When we can physically change scenery, we’re much more likely to mentally readjust.

As a full-service agency, we support many different types of clients and varying projects. Sometimes we develop technical content, like descriptions of how a piece of technology works to destroy chemical weapons. Other times, we emulate Stephen King and make up a horror story for a haunted trail hosted by a nonprofit organization.

Based on the vibe or mood of the project, we prepare our minds to generate the appropriate ideas. Adapting our work space to the task at hand supports this preparation and acts as a green flag waving at the front of our brains, as if indicating approval for the ideas at the gate to set off.

We’re fortunate to have access to several buildings in our creative campus at our home base in Bel Air, while a second location sits on the edge of the tranquil Sonoma Valley Regional Park in Glen Ellen, California. Our surroundings set us up for success with inspiration galore!
Now that we’ve shared some of our flexible secrets, let us in on yours! What kinds of spaces do you find inspiration for your work?

With another spectacular Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Best in Maryland event in the history books, we continue to bask in the glory of achieving top honors for two of our creative campaigns.

The PRSA Maryland Chapter awarded our agency “Best in Show” for our work with the U.S. Army National Guard’s Action Events Program – a national, integrated communications campaign developed to share the National Guard’s core values with high school students across the country and increase leads for local recruiters. To support the effort, we provided oversight and coordination for the Bring Your ‘A Game’ to School program, which included more than 350 BMX shows at high schools across the United States throughout the 2015-16 school year.IMG_0559

The program provided local recruiters with direct access and engagement with school leadership, as well as students with a potential interest in enlistment. The Bring Your ‘A Game’ to School BMX performances featured high-flying stunts from professional talent, custom designed materials and promotional items geared towards collecting student leads.

The highest honor presented by the PRSA Maryland Chapter, the “Best in Show” recognition acknowledges the campaign with the highest total number of points from the judges in all submission categories. Just to recap, that means, our campaign scored the most amount of points of any submission this year.

PRSA_Awards_Anita_Brightman_December_8_2016-1The elite award came just after a special recognition of our Brightest Light Anita A. Brightman, for her innumerable contributions to the Maryland PRSA chapter throughout her career. The presentation set the tone for a night of success for our lights.
In addition to “Best in Show,” the National Guard Bring Your ‘A Game’ to School campaign also received the Best in Maryland Award for the Integrated Communications category. We received the Award of Excellence for the development and execution of a television commercial for Stella Maris – a nonprofit, long-term care facility located in Timonium, Maryland. The 30-second video, developed by our talented in-house audio/visual production team for Stella Maris’ Simply Loving Life campaign, captures the spirit of life at the facility.
We couldn’t think of a better way to round out our 20th year of serving a unique client base on the local, regional and national level. These awards are a true reflection of our team’s diverse expertise, coupled with their unending passion, from the design of a logo to the execution of events nationwide, making our agency a valuable asset to our clients. The real honor for our team comes from helping our clients achieve their goals and realize their dreams.

As one chapter closes on A. Bright Idea’s first 20 years of service, we welcome with open arms the next two decades – full of opportunity, promise and challenges for our team to conquer, together.PRSA_Awards_December_8_2016-3