Up a Notch
Principals at Next Level aim to lift up clients

Doug Campbell
The Business Journal Serving the Greater Triad Area

WINSTON-SALEM — Not long after getting downsized on Halloween day, 2002, Rachel Barron grabbed her cell phone. Within 48 hours, she had two clients — and public relations firm Next Level Communications had begun.   To Barron, that early success is a direct product of her approach to doing business: treat all customers well and cultivate strong relationships.

“When we went into business for ourselves, our clients already knew that about us,” she says.

Barron has survived almost two years of running their own business, finding it to be at once more excruciating and exhilarating than they had imagined.

They have tackled harrowing bookkeeping chores, opened up an office in Five Points in Winston-Salem and all the while built up a solid roster of clients from the area’s base of small and midsize companies.

Clients include janitorial and security firm The Budd Group, retailer Space Savers Inc. and even economic development group Piedmont Triad Partnership.

“At first, not knowing how much money is going to come in each month is worrisome,” Barron says. Adds Barron: “When everything goes well, there’s nothing quite so satisfying as owning your own business.”

In Next Level, Barron likes being able to tell prospects that there’s no chance a junior staffer will be assigned to their account. Except for a small cadre of on-call free lancers, Barron is it.

Barron had the name “Next Level” all picked out even before she decided to start the business. She didn’t want her own name up in lights, and she didn’t want a “nonsense” name that didn’t convey what the firm was all about.

“Clients used to come in and say, ‘We want you to take us to the next level,'” Barron says. “I wanted a name that means something to people, and Next Level is something that people understand intuitively when they hear it.”

Straight up and simple

Clients like The Budd Group started off using Next Level for press releases. Nowadays, the firm also produces the employee newsletter and an online customer newsletter, says Teddy Burriss, vice president with The Budd Group.

“Rachel does things straight up, simple, and make it happen in a reasonable amount of time for me,”
Burriss says. “We don’t have a big marketing or PR department, so I rely on people like her to do that work for us, and they’re a great group.”

Barron started her career as a reporter at the Winston-Salem Journal before taking on PR duties at Salem Academy, then moving to Fyock.

Helping get the word out

As for goals, they wouldn’t mind hiring another employee, or outsourcing more of their bookkeeping. For now, while Next Level is in its infancy, they are satisfied to keep it the way it is, confident that running their own business is preferable to doing it somebody else’s way.

“It’s still competitive out there, especially for the bigger accounts,” Barron says. “But the economy is picking up. We feel like we’ve been through the worst.”

Barron considers media relations one of her strengths. She takes time to get familiar with each publication or broadcaster’s product and the people who are producing the content. When she pitches stories, she does so with the backing of research that helps her avoid wasting a reporter’s time.

Their niche tends to be smaller businesses, the likes of which want to get their name out but lack the in-house expertise to make it happen. With so many larger organizations trimming PR and marketing expenses, the growing small business market has been a boon to Next Level’s success.

“At Fyock, we noticed that a lot of large companies were cutting back on their PR spending, but we were getting a lot of inquiries from small business,” Barron says. “A lot of people are displaced and have gone out on their own to start a business, and they need PR help to get going. We’ve seen a lot of opportunity in that market.”

Reach Doug Campbell at (336) 725-1163 or

© 2004 American City Business Journals Inc.