In 2011 I asked my friend and former co-worker, Chris Jackson, to come in and assess our creative team. CJ, as she is known to, well, everyone, wasn’t just anyone. She had more than 30 years of experience in our industry, serving most of it as a creative director at one of the most well-known and most well-respected agencies in Northeast Ohio, Malone Advertising. She was also someone who I always wanted to impress with my writing because I was so envious of hers. But, alas, one of us was a copywriter…and one of us wasn’t, no matter how hard he tried.

So CJ came in and spent a week with our four person creative team. I asked her to look for strengths, weaknesses and to basically tell me what she thought we needed to do to take our creative offering to the next level. We were beginning to grow and we needed to expand our creative team, both by personnel and by experience. But rather than guess what we needed I wanted her to tell me what she thought we needed—having gone through several growth spurts herself while at Malone.

We met over drinks so she could share what she had learned with me and Jan (our CEO). CJ sipped her Bud Light while providing us with a thorough assessment. Her take? There was a lot to like, a lot to build on…and a lot of work to do if we were going to offer creative our clients needed, wanted…and eventually craved.

Now this is where AKHIA History 101 gets a little fuzzy. CJ will tell you I tricked her into coming here. I will tell you she made my year by offering herself up, but either way as part of her assessment she identified who could come in and lead our creative team: CJ herself.

Soooo…maybe deep down I wanted her to do that, but I wasn’t sure how we would be able to make it work. But we did, so she did. And over the next four years—filled with lots of Polar Pops, Bud Light, purple sharpies, angry typing, some tears, two guys named Nick and Mike, new briefs, big ideas, new thinking and kick-ass creative—we rebuilt our creative capabilities. Our four person department grew to 16. We hired full time copywriters. Illustrators. Multimedia strategists. And big thinkers. We challenged clients’ views of us and themselves when it came to the role creative could play in strategy. We looked at everything through a creative lens, including PR. (Which, as it turns out, is a perfect mate for creative.)

I continue to challenge our creative team to raise our bar and our clients’ expectations of us. And they continue to deliver, time after time. So this year, when I was convinced to enter the Akron Addys, it was with both nervousness and excitement that I awaited the results. It was our first time entering. I didn’t need the validation—our growth and happy clients were all the proof I needed. But at the same time I wanted that validation from our peers. That acceptance. Yes, you, AKHIA, formerly known as Akhia Public Relations, are one of us. Creative. You are as good as you tell yourselves and your clients.

So when the news came in—AKHIA wins a gold—I felt so much the pride and excitement for our creative team. Not because of everything they had done to earn it. But because of everything they had done to meet one of our agency goals identified in our five year plan: for creative to drive the growth of the agency and shift perception of how people view us. To continue giving our clients a reason to believe and trust in us. To build on the equity we had already built by delivering in so many other ways.

Success breeds success. I expect everyone—employees and clients alike—to continue pushing our creative boundaries and comfort zones. Our first Addy—gold, no less—is the result of that. Bud Lights all around.