In this ongoing series, ColoradoBiz magazine sits down with a Best for Colorado company to learn all about the impact they have in our state. In this Q&A, we spoke to Stu Swineford, partner and founder of Relish Studio. Relish Studio is a Boulder-based digital marketing agency. They are in the verification process of the B certification and were one of the 2018 honorees of the Best for Colorado campaign. Click here to view the original article.
Best for Colorado: Tell us about Relish Studio.
Relish Studio: We typically serve leaders of purpose-driven businesses and organizations. Most of our clients have had previous success doing digital marketing themselves but recognize that it’s become far too complex to continue to go at alone. They’re looking for a trusted advisor to help fuel their growth through digital marketing so they can stay focused on the things they do best.
We are in our eleventh year now. What differentiates us from other firms is that we’re focused on creating successful campaigns for leaders of purpose-driven companies so they can provide the utmost value and contribute as effectively as possible to their mission. We also focus on data and help our clients make results-driven decisions. One of the things we pride ourselves on is we don’t do work just for work’s sake. We’re really trying to help our clients get a return not only on that investment, but on the relationship they’re building with their own clients. We try to build conversion-focused websites and digital properties that match our clients’ own specific sales processes.
BC: Talk about how corporate social responsibility is a function or priority within your organization. How did that emerge – was there a specific event or individual that inspired this action? Is it a separate function from the core business or is it built into the fabric of the operations, product, service, team, etc.?
RS: One of the things we’ve done over the last couple of years is to weave our corporate social responsibility into everything we do at Relish Studio.
This came about primarily in 2016. Personally, I was starting to have some challenges with what we were doing. I was getting a little frustrated with what digital marketing was becoming.
Being a business owner is hard. You’re always juggling too many things and one of the things I started to notice is that we hadn’t been taking the opportunity to weave our own personal belief structure into our business. My business partner and I sat down and started talking seriously about how we can structure our business in a way to try to do our best work for our clients in a more socially responsible way.
At that time, we started to look for entrepreneurial opportunities within the environmental space. We had done quite a bit of work in specifically the water space with a variety of nonprofits and water-focused companies. We also had a very strong opinion about environmental policy and environmental protection and how we, as business owners, could actually help foster that and help drive those types of activities.
BC: Can you define the specific programs, practices, priorities that fall within your organization’s CSR? How has this evolved or improved over time?
RS: The first thing we did in was join 1% for the Planet: at least 1 percent of our revenue goes toward environmental sustainability projects and nonprofits. We have always done pro-bono work here and there, donated to causes we were particularly passionate about, but this allowed us to formalize that giving. This was beneficial to me personally and I think to our business as well. It rejuvenated things to know that at least 1 percent of all the work we do, of all our earnings, goes towards environmental sustainability and stewardship projects.
We also set aside a portion of our activities to go towards doing a couple of pro-bono sites every year. Trying to focus on nonprofits in the environmental space, we joined the Colorado Outdoor Business Alliance. I’m on the steering committee for that organization which aligns Colorado businesses who are interested in helping promote environmental policy. We help both elevate and amplify that collective voice.
BC: What is most rewarding and challenging about this aspect of your organization’s work? What areas are your most concentrated on right now and why?
RS: It’s rewarding to know that we’re making some sort of positive effect on the environment. Like the saying goes, “what gets measured gets managed.” Just by formalizing this and having key performance indicators (KPIs) around it makes me more conscious about what I’m doing and allows us to align our personal and business values. One of the most challenging parts is the frustration that comes with not being able to focus one hundred percent of my efforts on that.
This business approach has affected what we can consider as our ideal client. We still do a lot of great work for companies that don’t have a similar giving-back policy, but we are encouraging all our partners to start to look into how they can transform their businesses and include a giving-back component. We are trying to do more and more work with companies who have a similar ethos, like B corps.
BC: What was the proudest achievement or specific challenge you faced and how did you overcome it?
RS: We had a big outdoor industry client wins in 2018 that were aligned with our philosophy. One was Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado. I believe our involvement in the 1% for the Planet program was a significant contributor to us being able to win that project because we were able to speak the same language. We helped them set up a new site (steppingupstweardship.org) which allowed the organization to expand their message to a wider audience and mobilize volunteer opportunities nationwide. We were really proud to have been part of that project!
BC: How you were connected to the Best for Colorado program?
RS: We were going through the B Corp certification process in early 2017 and went to an event where we had heard about Best for Colorado. It was there where I signed up and filled out a questionnaire expressing interest in the program. We started getting notices in February 2018 that we were going to be recognized as an honoree and I thought it was just spam. Finally, I got a message and I realized it was for real! It was such an honor and a surprise. That was a huge moment for us last year: it was just so aligned with everything we have been trying to do. It was the confirmation that we were moving things in the right direction.
I actually encourage a lot of people, anybody who asks about it, to just take the challenge, to see what they can do, and to perhaps be recognized as well. It was a huge deal last year for us and we were really proud to be recognized.
BC: Why is this umbrella organization/recognition program important for your organization’s corporate social responsibility efforts?
RS: The Best for Colorado recognition, I think, has done several things. First of all, it was just really neat to be recognized. Secondly, it gives us a great story to tell in terms of validation of what we’re doing. It’s not just a goofy thing that we happen to be doing, but there are actual tangible results that come out of it.
It enables us to really tap in to a bunch of new people who all have this similar focus and meet other business leaders who have a similar approach to doing business and giving back.
Today we are a small company, so we don’t currently have any full-time employees. However, when we do start to bring on new team members, it’s certainly a part of our story that is going to help with recruitment and retention. Most people love to make more money but they also want to be part of something that’s bigger than just doing work.
BC: Can you describe any eye-opening experienced that Best for Colorado presented?
RS: You never know what might come of participating in these types of activities. If I had not taken the time to do the Best for Colorado challenge, we wouldn’t have been recognized and we wouldn’t be talking today.
But for small businesses, it can be really kind of scary to put yourself out there. You just don’t know who you are potentially going to offend. Ultimately if we can be authentic and try to do the right thing, we will attract similar people with similar mindsets who do think it’s important. If there’s somebody that doesn’t appreciate our particular stance on environmental policy or our approach on business, that person will probably not be a fantastic match for us anyway and so, it’s really OK.
BC: Is there any advice that you might give a company who’s nervous to take that step?
RS: It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback. I just met with a client of ours and we talked about differentiation for his company and how difficult and challenging that can be when you’re a small business and you want to take every piece of work that comes your way, but how effective those big decisions can be in the long term.
It’s challenging and I can completely understand why businesses in certain areas may be more reluctant than others to take this particular effort, this “conscious capitalism” kind of approach just because their business may not be located in an area where that’s going to resonate with everybody. But personally, I think any or all potential short-term losses are far outweighed by what we see on a medium or long-term range achieved just by bringing authenticity to the table.
BC: What does success look like for you as it relates to the goals and expectations of Best for Colorado and your own corporate responsibility strategies?
RS: We’re mostly concerned with providing fantastic return on our client’s investment. In terms of the B Lab and Best for Colorado movement, we would like to help inspire other to take that plunge in that direction. I see a huge opportunity for things to just “snowball.” This is a viable movement and it’s so exciting to see how many companies out there are really going for it!