How Fast… “Improvisation” has defined the Matthews Media Group since Molly Matthews first set up shop at her dining room table in 1987. Armed with just a laser printer and letterhead, Matthews launched her company with a project at the Pediatric Branch of the National Cancer Institute. That client sprouted more and more projects, like the National Library of Medicine exhibit that won design awards and publicized her new career. In 1994, MMG won three multi-year contracts with the National Institutes of Health, and subsequently grew from a handful of part-time workers and freelancers to about 20 employees. This year, the full-service communications firm expects to claim $10 million in revenues. And MMG is hungry for more.
To what do you contribute your success?
Besides hard work, it was recognizing a niche early on and sticking with it. Recruiting clients for clinical trials now accounts for more than half of our business. Since the 1980s, clinical trial volunteers have become increasingly harder to find because of changes in the health care delivery system. At the same time, the pharmaceutical industry has gotten more competitive, the racial and ethnic diversity of trial participants has become an issue, and pharmaceutical companies are under pressure to conduct more pediatric drug testing. These factors have set the stage for us to dive further into the patient recruitment market.
What are your company’s guiding principles?
Our work rests on a couple of basic principles: to serve our clients with integrity and excellence, to reward and recognize our staff, to contribute to our community, to make money, and to have fun by enjoying each other and our clients. Since the beginning, we have chosen to work with clients whose mission and objectives we admire and want to promote. Because we have the privilege of working in a field that is creative and helps people at the same time, MMG has developed communications campaigns that have educated millions of people on important health issues. Our staff has helped recruit diverse groups of participants to clinical studies in diabetes, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, mental health and other areas. And despite all the hard work it has taken to get where we are, I have never seen a staff that has as a better spirit of cooperation, dedication, and camaraderie than we have today.
What are some of MMG’s landmark accomplishments?
* In the early years, establishing a strong word-of-mouth reputation within the National Institutes of Health based on service and creative work that stood out.
* Winning several big design and production awards which boosted our talented graphic design and audiovisual department.
* Developing a model of working side-by-side with health care professionals in underserved communities to build trust and recruit hard to reach populations for clinical trials.
* Winning our first major government contracts in 1994.
* Breaking into the pharmaceutical industry by implementing clinical trial recruitment campaigns for our first major drug companies in 1997-1998.
What were some of the biggest challenges facing MMG in its initial fast growth spurt?
Our biggest challenge right now is controlling growth without compromising quality. Our most important asset is obviously our people and we don’t want to bring in business that we can’t staff with the appropriate people. Office space is a continual challenge. We are on our third address in five years and we’re gearing up to move to larger space again this fall!
How do you market yourself?
The majority of our work grows out of our existing work — either through additional projects for our current clients or through client recommendations to other organizations. As we take on more private sector work, our senior staff is getting our name out by speaking at industry conferences, serving on panels, and developing some media opportunities. We still submit about four proposals for large government contracts a year.
How do you build teamwork and strength?
For the past few years, we have had an organizational consultant lead team-building sessions and generally help us with the issues of a growing staff. One exercise that every employee goes through when they start is the Myers-Briggs inventory, developed in the 1920s to help understand individual work styles and differences. It has contributed to a better understanding of the skills and talents each team member brings to MMG.
Who are your mentors? Why?
Bill Novelli, who started Porter Novelli, the first public relations agency I worked for. He built his health communications firm on the principles of social marketing — a model based on commercial marketing practices that focuses on what people want and need rather than what good health practice directs that they “should” do. He grew it into a multi-million dollar enterprise with offices around the world. I admire him for his entrepreneurial spirit and vision.
My other mentor is my mother, who was always in my corner and believed I could do anything I attempted. She wasn’t always right (I’ve made more mistakes and could have done a lot of things better!) but I am not afraid to take risks because of the confidence she instilled in me.
What are your secrets to success?
Innovation, intensity and integrity.
What advice would you give to Fast Growth companies just beginning to blossom now?
Believe that you can do it. Start.
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