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Meet Jennifer Fortney of Cascade Communications in Lincoln Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jennifer Fortney.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I thought that music would be my life. On scholarship at The University of Kansas I ran into a professor in the Journalism school – literally ran into him. Folders and papers everywhere. He liked my speaking voice and suggested I check out Journalism. I did and eventually majored in Journalism – Business Communications (PR & Marketing) with a minor in Vocal Performance. I knew that music would always remain a part of my life.

Story telling as a journalist really resonated with me and it is still the focus of all our strategies at Cascade Communications. I attribute it to my time in music theater and dance, which are other ways of storytelling.

After college, I held positions that allowed me to create truly integrated marketing strategies and tell the story of a business across several platforms. I soon came to Chicago to work at a corporate PR firm and then a smaller firm on the North Shore. The clients and experiences were very diverse – working with Fortune 500s to small businesses and innovative entrepreneurs. It was the latter where I found the meaningful stories that the journalist in me wanted to tell, so I launched my own company as an independent publicist and marketing communications professional in 2001.

Since that time, I’ve worked with all kinds of businesses from startups to growing small businesses of all kinds, several corporations and nonprofits, and really, truly have done it all. In my career, I’ve worked on the Got Milk? campaign, managed a 24-market Longest Kiss Challenge for Pucker Schnapps, introduced the country to the Appletini, managed red carpet celebrity and political events, worked with major recording artists, assisted in growing small businesses into $1M of revenue in under 18 months, helped startups launch in the market, helped a family-owned farm corn maze theme go viral across the country, and more. It’s been a lot of fun.

My goal has always been to help others realize their success as entrepreneurs. It is my driving force. A large part of a company’s success is their ability to effectively tell the story of their product or service across all platforms and make a connection with their audience. I am always thinking about the stories.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There is a quote I love: “Don’t let social media fool you. Entrepreneurship isn’t as glamorous as it seems. You will be broke, depressed & ready to quit at times…but don’t”.

Entrepreneurship is a lot of hard work. It requires a great deal of faith and determination to ride the waves. I personally say that entrepreneurship is ideal for those who are stubborn. If you’re not willing to give up when the storms hit, or until you feel you’ve tried absolutely everything to make it work, then you will come out the other side stronger and more prepared for growth.

I’ve definitely ridden through many storms, the past 16 years, from difficult clients to the Great Recession. I certainly learned a lot about myself and my personal strength.

There is one thing that people full of strong will and determination have to concede – you can’t control it all. Sometimes you have to be willing to let go, and have faith, to receive. I was absolutely ready to shut down and start over somewhere new in the midst of the Recession – just about everyone was. Even had a company very interested in hiring me, however the Universe had other plans. It wasn’t until I let go and stopped sweating the things I couldn’t control, like the economy, and accepted that I was willing to move and take a full-time position, did everything shift. I suddenly won a large international client. That company never called with a job offer when they said they would, and Cascade Communications continues to be of service to clients of all kinds.

The storms and bumpy roads build character. It’s easy to get scared. Just remember that fear is paralyzing, and it’s all in our minds.

Please tell us about Cascade Communications.
Cascade Communications really started off as a public relations agency in Chicago. As media and social media began to change the way we communicate, I saw an opportunity to create an agency that could affordably help small businesses with full integrated marketing strategies.

While PR is still our bread and butter, we take the stories we craft for the media and help clients tell them across multiple platforms from brand to website design and promotional marketing materials to social media. Our tagline is “It’s All About Your Story”, and today that is never more true. We are known for our nose for news and have earned respect from local and national media for our approach. I feel strongly that this is what sets us apart, along with our commitment to detail and client satisfaction.

Cascade Communications offers branding, PR, digital and traditional marketing, social media strategies and consulting. Our unique Communicate, Engage and Participate program allows clients to be part of the conversations that matter most to them.

Over the years I’ve essentially earned my MBA on the job and now offer an affordable, limited Mentorship Program for startups not yet ready to go to market. I consult on and help resolve every pain point – product, process, promotion and people. Even if you’re not in the Mentorship Program, this something offered to all clients. In the past, I noticed that companies wanted PR/media attention but were not sufficiently prepared for it internally – they failed to alert their vendors and manufacturer or ask family and friends to come in and help fill orders. Ultimately, frustrated customers began lashing out online, and overwhelmed entrepreneurs, sometimes, opted to give up. I want to ensure that the outcome of a successful marketing communications campaign is always productive, smooth and positive for everyone involved.

Cascade Communications is known as an affordable, accessible, virtual PR and marketing agency in Chicago that is truly dedicated to being of service to startups and small businesses.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
I have so many…. They say memories are created around the emotion you felt at that time. Like everyone, music creates a special emotion for me. I was about two years old in my parents’ bedroom listening to the radio when John Denver’s “Sunshine on My Shoulder” started playing. I sang at the top of my little lungs and danced around the room. I remember feeling so very content and happy in that moment. Music can still do that for me. A few months later, there was an incident with peanut butter and a screwdriver. Caught on film naturally, and for another time!

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Cascade Communications

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