Stephani Simon's vision of workplace utopia at Inprela Communications, her Minneapolis public relations firm, is to make employees and clients happy — even if it sacrifices profits.

The name, Inprela, is a contraction for industrial public relations. Simon said the company gives clients daily attention "from strategy to execution to measurement" at affordable rates.

It specializes in business-to-business public relations in manufacturing and health care. Its staff understands clients' industries "pretty much out of the gate, which cuts out the learning curve a lot of clients see when they bring in new agencies," Simon said.

Rewarding employees first

To attract experienced talent and keep them happy, Simon offers a flexible work environment that she said rewards employees first.

Most earn higher-than-market salaries and get profit-sharing bonuses and competitive benefits, including paid parental leave and unlimited sick days that don't count against paid time off, Simon said. Some prefer a part-time schedule to spend more time with family.

Everyone sets their own hours, as long as they put in 40 hours a week and "we're getting great results for our clients," said Simon, who launched Inprela in 2010 after 11 years at LaBreche, a former Minneapolis public relations firm.

"I'm willing to sacrifice profits," Simon said, noting that the firm's open, modern space is functional rather than flashy. "That's where the biggest part of it comes in. I'm not financially motivated. … I'm not asking people to put in long hours. That gives us a better quality of thinking for clients."

After four years, Simon said her effort to "put this little utopia I had in my mind into place" appears to be succeeding. Revenue at Inprela, which has seven employees, nearly doubled last year to $804,000. Turnover has been low among employees and a roster of clients that includes 3M, Stratasys' RedEye division, Stryker Corp., Daikin Applied and H.B. Fuller.

'Really fast growth'

"It's working, because we're not really chasing clients and we're attracting large global companies and it's all through word-of-mouth referrals," Simon said. "It's worked out so well that we've had really fast growth. I have to be honest, I wasn't expecting it."

The hardest part has been hiring additional talent, Simon said. Two recruiters have been looking since December. Senior account executive candidates face a selection process that includes a skills test, two rounds of interviews and a behavioral assessment.

Simon also said she is selective about clients, turning away half a dozen potential projects last year and two or three this year. She likes clients who are willing to try new things and want to partner on projects over time.

Lars Thording, vice president of marketing and public affairs at Intralign, a specialty health care services provider in Phoenix, said he has recommended Inprela to half a dozen companies.

'Disruptive strategies'

"It's a very creative agency that doesn't just go the normal routes," said Thording.

He said he appreciates having senior-level talent on every project. Inprela, he added, comes up with "disruptive strategies" that can help a pioneering company establish a market.

"The companies I work for in health care are trying to disrupt the status quo," he said.

Melissa Hanson, marketing manager at Stratasys' RedEye division, which offers rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing services, said Inprela's industry specialization and seasoned practitioners have made the agency a valuable partner.

"Inprela does a really good job up front at learning your business, your offerings, your customers and competitors," Hanson said. "You know the work you're going to get from them is top notch and there's always that higher level oversight on everything."

The expert says: Mike Porter, director of the master of business communication program at the University of St. Thomas' Opus College of Business, said Simon's approach — focusing on manufacturing and health care and hiring only experienced people — appears to have legitimate advantages.

"The luxury that you have as a small independent agency is to make those kinds of decisions and set very specific parameters about what it is you want to do and how you want to do it," Porter said. "Her turning away business is not just a choice but a statement of commitment."

Simon's reliance on word-of-mouth referrals can be effective, but is not a holistic marketing strategy, Porter said. "It may work at certain points in time but you have to continue to do things that are conducive to attracting business."

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is