A native of Lansing, Anne Harcus began her writing career with The Kalamazoo Gazette. In her 17-year career as a news and feature reporter for the Gazette, and later the Passaic Herald-News and other metropolitan newspapers, Harcus covered such beats as health, education, government, social services and entertainment.
As part of her work, Harcus has interviewed people from all walks of life, including Google co-founder Larry Page, actor Charlton Heston, Broadway producer Joseph Papp, social scientist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the former CEOs of General Dynamics and Lockheed-Martin — and even Big Lug, the nonspeaking mascot of the Lansing Lugnuts minor-league baseball team.
In 1993, a year after returning to the Greater Lansing area from the East Coast, she and her partner, Mark Holoweiko, co-founded Stony Point Communications, a public relations and marketing firm specializing in strategic planning, media relations, branding, custom publications, crisis communication and event management for clients in health care, education, insurance, law and business.
Last June, Harcus was named president of Stony Point, and is responsible for agency operations, management and growth. She serves on the board of directors of the Library of Michigan Foundation, and was a founding member of the Lansing chapter of Inforum.
This week, Harcus will give readers a glimpse into what it's like to be a virtual business, a title that's lending itself to more and more businesses that are making it in the digital age. Harcus will also talk about how the Lansing of her childhood has transformed itself into the Lansing of today.
All Photographs © Dave Trumpie
As a Lansing native, I vividly recall this city’s Downtown as it once was, when both children and adults actually dressed up to shop in its stores, dine in its restaurants or go to one of its movie theaters.
By the time I was a teenager in 1969, construction on both the Lansing and Meridian Malls was underway, as it was on the I-496 interchange that, when completed, would offer a way for travelers to easily bypass Downtown Lansing.
Back then, the only time I ventured Downtown was to pick up my mother at the end of her night shift at the post office (it was the bargain we struck so I could use the car). I did land a job downtown at Knapp’s Department Store one summer between semesters in college. I still love that building’s facade.
I say all this as someone who remembers Lansing as it once was, how it changed over the years, and who’s been excited to witness its slow but steady rebirth.
For me, and I suspect for so many others, it’s not just about new development in the works, but a new energy that’s palpable and driven by people who have the vision, optimism and desire to help the area move forward.
And they’re ready, willing and able to help others find professional success here.
Any entrepreneur can tell you that starting a business requires a huge leap of faith. In retrospect, we can’t think of a place that would have been better for us to start a business in 1993 than in the Capital region.
This region has abundant resources available for any budding entrepreneur, starting with the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce. The plentiful networking opportunities it offers alone are well worth the price of membership. The area also has a wealth of service clubs, like Rotary, Kiwanis and Jaycees, that also offer a way to get together with other business professionals on a regular basis to network and to do good things for the broader community.
New entrepreneurs have even more potential pathways to success with the emergence in recent years of such organizations as Leap, Inc.and Prima Civitas, whose raison d’etre is to help guide the Capital region to greater economic prosperity.
Our firm has benefited immensely from our present and past association with professional organizations like the Central Michigan Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and the Mid-Michigan Creative Alliance. Organizations like these have afforded us the opportunity to get together with our peers, attend workshops and hear guest speakers on subjects relevant to our profession.
Participation in these organizations has enabled us to meet and work with so many talented and remarkably creative people—graphic designers, illustrators, writers, photographers, printers, Web developers and others—who’ve chosen to work right here, in the Capital region. Their creative talent has been instrumental to our success as a firm and its ability to deliver exceptional results for our clients.
When openings arise in firms like ours, we’ve had the good fortune to find gifted newcomers in the fields of public relations,advertising, marketing, Web development, graphic design and the like, thanks to stellar programs offered by Michigan State University (MSU), Lansing Community College (LCC) and other fine Michigan institutions of higher learning.
Some folks may think that real creative talent can be found only in big cities like Detroit, Chicago and New York.
It exists there, to be sure, but it would be a mistake to overlook all the creative talent that can be found right here in our own backyard.
Since I’m an avid Spartan basketball fan, one of the great perks of working in the virtual environment is my ability to schedule work in a way that guarantees I won’t miss any critical game of the annual NCAA college basketball tournament.
There’s no need for me to take vacation or personal time off to watch the games, nor do I have to rapidly minimize the broadcast on my computer screen to avoid the disapproving eyes of others.
Of course, I’m available if a client suddenly finds him or herself in need of crisis communications counsel or simply wants to send a press release right away (thank you, TiVo).
In my virtual working world I meet my project deadlines, work with clients and put the time and effort into helping my company grow. But I also determine my own schedule for when that all gets done.
As a former newspaper reporter, my company’s setup suits me just fine. I like the sense of freedom—that I’m not “chained” to my desk in a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. world with a couple of breaks and an hour for lunch. In my environment, I can concentrate fully on the work before me without the distraction of co-workers popping by my office.
What’s been an advantage for us since we first started our company back in 1993 is that ability to work at any time—well into the night, or on weekends—because our office is located in the place where we live.
However, the technology that’s come along in the 15 years since we started our business has blurred the distinction between where and when I do my work, and how it’s done by peers who work in an office setting.
There are so many more of us, nowadays, who aren’t really locked into a Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. world anymore. We can be reached anywhere, anytime.
If you’ve got a laptop, a BlackBerry, or a home computer, you’re probably tied to your office in your “off” hours, too—early morning, at night, on weekends. How many of us check our business e-mail and are available to the office by cell phone in off hours? Or bring our laptops along with us on our vacations?
In an office or virtual work setting, there’s got to be balance. One of the key things I had to learn early on was to walk away from my “office” and enjoy my home. Just because the work is always there doesn’t mean I have to always be working.
If an opportunity arose for you to work in a virtual environment, you’d really have to know yourself. Would you be too easily distracted by things that need to be done at work, and things that need doing at home? Would you miss the stimulation of interacting with co-workers in an office setting? Are you prone to procrastination? Do you work best only when you’re answerable to someone on a day-to-day basis? Are you such a workaholic that it would be hard to call it quits for the day?
If so, working in a virtual environment may not be for you.
According to P.C. Magazine’s definition, a “virtual company” or corporation is an “organization that uses computers and telecommunications technologies to extend its capabilities by working routinely with employees or contractors located through the country or the world.”
Wikipedia says that the advent of computer technology created the opportunity to “build the environment for virtual work in teams, with members who may never meet each other in person. Communicating by telephone and e-mail, with work products shared electronically, virtual teams produce results without being co-located.”
This pretty much defines how we operate at Stony Point Communications, the public relations and marketing firm that my partner, Mark Holoweiko, and I founded in 1993.
Although we don’t routinely work with employees or contractors located throughout the world, in all other aspects we’re a virtual corporation that’s also set up on a network model of operation.
In a nutshell, that means the staff of Stony Point works in home offices on computers that are connected to a central server. We work in teams, communicate by telephone, e-mail and instant message, share work products electronically and produce results without being co-located.
The network model we’ve established enables us to choose from a wide array of highly talented, creative partners for work on large-scale projects for clients. Besides us, these “virtual teams” can include writers, editors, opinion and market researchers, newswire services, graphic designers, illustrators, photographers, web developers, printers, mail houses, media buyers . . . you get the picture.
And while there are some team members in our extended network of talent that we’ve never met in person—but who help us on behalf of clients—our core staff members absolutely know each other. We meet regularly as a staff to strategize on behalf of our clients, keep each other up-to-date, and to simply enjoy some time together.
Quite honestly, 15 years ago we didn’t really promote the virtual aspect of our company.
There was a concern about folks greeting the news with a dismissive, “Oh, you work from home?” as if we weren’t serious public relations professionals with the education, credentials and years of experience to back that claim up.
Or, that we were somehow not quite legitimate unless we did business in an expensive and well-appointed office building.
Yet 15 years, a solid body of work, and countless clients later, no one bats an eye anymore about Stony Point’s set-up. Our clients and peers know we’re for real—not public relations avatars operating in a “Second Life” type of virtual world.
Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for us to encounter a kind of “virtual” envy from those who are new to working with our firm; who wonder aloud how much more productive they might be without the daily distractions that occur in an office setting, and how they might really enjoy it.
The difference between when we started in 1993 and how it is today, is that how we operate isn’t that unusual anymore. Countless others do it, too.
Yet working in a virtual environment isn’t for everyone. And that’s a story for another day.