Visual Media Group, a creative content provider based in Bellevue, Washington, is an industry-renowned company that boasts a multitude of clients and scads of awards. But the company’s tremendous success belies its modest beginnings.
Seattle Art Institute alum Kelly Sparks, who opted to create her own video production company after graduating with a degree in Television and Video Production, founded VMG in her garage in 2004. A few years later her husband Mark Sparks, a former journalist and professional writer with 40 years’ experience as a commercial and stage actor, quit his job and joined the business venture as president.
“We worked hard to keep the company going those first six months,” said Kelly, VMG CEO and self-described Queen Bee. “Four years later, those six months easily turned out to be the best investment of our lifetime.”
Since the company’s inception, VMG has blossomed from a one-woman endeavor into an award-winning team of employees whose services not only include video, but also animation and motion design production, audio production, Web sites, presentations and event services. During this time, Kelly and Mark moved the company out of their garage and relocated to a 2,600-square-foot facility in Bellevue.
But growing the business from scratch—and maintaining its growth over the years—wasn’t the company’s toughest challenge. That was yet to come.
In October of 2010, VMG was hit by a robbery that tested their personal and professional fortitude—and set the stage for a new chapter in the company’s history.
“The burglars got away with all our camera equipment and computers and servers,” said Mark, “but they couldn’t touch our drive and determination. While it was almost like starting the business over again, we had a solid foundation from which to rebuild.”
After making a few phone calls and shaking away the shock, the team quickly rallied and got back to work.
“It was a tough time,” said Kelly. “But everyone came together and supported each other through it.”
Added Mark, “We had people working 16-hour days to get us back on track. It took about eight months to replace everything and get back to business as usual. During that time we kept producing quality work for our clients on time and on budget—and we never missed a payroll. Looking back, that’s something we’re really proud about.”
Plus, the company was blessed with a silver lining: VMG’s insurance coverage allowed Kelly and Mark to replace their stolen merchandise with new state-of-the-art equipment. But the Sparks agree that it was their employees that really helped get the company going again—and they attribute VMG’s success to them.
“Our team understands each other and it shows in our work,” said Mark. “Every time we go on a shoot, we hear, ‘my gosh, your team is amazing.’”
VMG prides itself on hiring talented people, letting them develop, and then “getting out of their way,” he continued. “Sometimes Kelly or I provide input, sometimes we don’t. Our overriding concept is to establish clear guardrails and then give our people the freedom to show us what they can do.”
Added Kelly, “We allow them to develop and grow their skills, both in and outside of their job.”
For instance, when VMG was in the midst of rallying from the burglary, Kelly and Mark came up with a “passion project” concept that permitted their employees to hone their skills while the business recovered. They gave their team several paid days off and a production budget to focus on a cause they were passionate about outside of work, and then produce a video on it.
“We call ourselves the VMG family,” said Kelly. “We’re still a business, but we’re also a family. Sometimes everyone is in sync, sometimes we have our challenges, but—when it comes right down to it—we’re there for each other no matter what.”
Having such a tight-knit team of DPs, editors, producers, and designers—not to mention owning their equipment and studio at VMG headquarters—allows the company to produce 95 percent of their projects completely in-house, from concept to completion. Also, with everyone and everything on-site, VMG is able to increase its speed to market.
All of this adds up to a large and ever-expanding stable of happy clients. And as a result, VMG is gearing up for another move—this time to a 7,100-square-foot facility—to better service this growing client base.
After all, it is all about the client.
Though the company has won an exceptional number of awards—most recently five Tellys and an ADDY—the Sparks’ most gratifying accomplishments are when the team finishes a rewarding project and receives laudatory feedback.
“When we get an e-mail from a client that says ‘you guys rock’ or ‘you’re amazing,’ we forward it to the entire office,” said Kelly. “It’s rewarding when our clients are as passionate about our work as we are.
“At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”