Underground Promotions: Communication Alumna Builds Brands from Beneath the Surface

Lisa Strong has worked underground ever since going out on her own.

In 2006, the alumna of the MSU’s ComArtSci started her own promotional marketing company in the basement of her home. With solid grounding in business-to-business sales, Strong knew she was ready to pursue her entrepreneurial dream.

Now, more than a decade later, Strong is continuing to increase the depth of her expertise by offering clients marketing services from an office in Parkville Commercial Underground—an industrial park housed in an excavated limestone mine near Kansas City, Missouri. Operating 65 feet under, the seven-member staff of Strong Marketing provides a full line of business-to-business branding and marketing services. All of her clients are “above ground” with the exception of S.D. Distilling—a kindred cave dweller and distillery that Strong co-owns with her husband.

“I started with one client and grew from there,” said Strong, CEO and President of Strong Marketing. “We work with some great brands—everything from agricultural to consumers to restaurants. I guess I’m a jack of all trades.”

Beneath the Surface

Strong’s business roots weren’t always beneath the surface. Growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, she was inspired by her mom, a registered nurse who started her own nursing business at the age of 40.

“Both of my parents were very hard workers,” said Strong, mentioning how her dad worked long hours driving vans for the elderly and disabled. “It was what I saw role-modeled.”

Her parents also valued independence, and encouraged her to venture out of state for college. Strong began her studies at MSU in 1987 and obtained her Bachelor’s in Communication in 1991. Being far from home, she said, forced her to be self-sufficient, learn how to take care of herself, and make new friends.

“My communication classes always drove home the importance of listening to others,” she said. “Everyone has a different way of communicating. Understanding and keying in on my clients’ communication styles has always helped me succeed.”

Strong’s proudest moments include a promotion for a music company that went worldwide, and a catalog piece for UNICEF. She has a long-term restaurant client that she has serviced throughout the business' growth and expansion. Strong also shares her insights as a contributor to publications and blogs for communication industry giants like Cision.

Michael Norsworthy, the CEO of 54th Street Restaurant and Drafthouse, said that Strong Marketing has been their business partner since the company opened their sixth location. The casual dining chain now boasts 31 locations. “We’ve seen our share of things over the years,” said Norsworthy. “It’s fantastic when you can laugh about past challenges and continue to move forward in a fast-paced environment.”

Strong’s food and beverage portfolio also includes S.D. Distilling. While her husband Steve continues to be the face the small distillery, Strong works behind the scenes to promote and brand the cave-distilled, small-batch products that include vodka, gin, straight rye whisky and straight bourbon. The two built the distillery in 2012 and sold their first bottle of vodka in 2013. Today, the distillery’s expanded spirit line is sold in five states, including Missouri, Texas, Nebraska, Kansas and Illinois.

“We’re both creative people and we wanted to do something together,” Strong said. “Back when we started, there wasn’t a lot of craft distilleries around. We went to workshops, and it seemed like something we liked—and we still do.”

A Day in the Sun

Strong is looking to potentially grow her marketing company and run a second location above ground. She currently warehouses promotional and other items in her SubTropolis office. So, she said an expansion into warehousing is a natural fit.

Her venture into warehousing is still a work in progress. Part of her motivation, she said, is simply to give her staff a change of scenery now and again.

“We’ll always have this location,” Strong said. “But it can take a toll working underground all the time. This expansion will give people some flexibility to have some workdays with sunlight.”

By Ann Kammerer