50 Smartest Companies of the Year 2019

An Interview with Susan Lavenski, Charles Ryan Associates Co-owner and CEO: ‘Our Solutions are Smart, Backed by Years of Proven Experience and Fuelled by Endless Devotion to Our Clients’


“Our people make this agency exceptional by bringing years of experience and expertise to the table.”

Consumers’ changing habits are at the forefront of digital advertising and marketing trends and are driving a significant impact on the direction of the industry. It’s a marketer’s job to stay competitive and ahead of what’s circulating inside the revolving door of digital trends.

Marketing as it was originally intended, in its fullest, truest and greatest form, is more important today than ever before. The world today is awash in innovative products, services, technologies, solutions, business models, etc. These new offerings must be brought to market and commercialized in order to generate revenue and profit. Innovation alone cannot sustain a company; it must be paired with marketing communications, or smart brand communications, according to the leadership of Charles Ryan Associates.

In light of the foregoing, we’re thrilled to present Charles Ryan Associates (CRA).

CRA is a smart brand communications firm offering full-service advertising, public relations, digital, video, training services and social media strategies to its clients.

Named one of the nation’s Top Shop by AdWeek, CRA is one of the most experienced communications firms in the Mid-Atlantic Region with 45 years of experience helping some of the most recognizable brands in the U.S.

Working from four office locations – Richmond, Virginia; Charleston, West Virginia; Columbus, Ohio; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – CRA employs highly qualified and experienced account, creative, media, digital and video production teams that work together to create integrated and innovative projects and campaigns that garner multi-dimensional results.

Susan Lavenski, Charles Ryan Associates Owner and CEO, spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.

Q. Why was the company set up? And how did you expand your company and its offerings over the years?

Charlie Ryan started the company in 1974 as a one-man shop in a little office with a typewriter and a phone. Charlie had a vision to grow the business from a one-person public relations shop to a multi-disciplined agency, serving clients across the country.

We are proud to be part of that history. Now, 45 years later, we are the largest and oldest communications firm headquartered in West Virginia and one of the largest women-owned firms in our region.

Our people make this agency exceptional by bringing years of experience and expertise to the table. Former award-winning and veteran journalists with national media experience, creative experts with an impressive list of awards and a team of technical geniuses impress our clients every day—these are the professionals who comprise the CRA team.

We pull every available detail out of our research and use it to create the best strategy for our clients. We are committed to their success. Our team is intense. Our culture is creative, and our commitment to the clients is genuine.

Our core competencies include:

  • Account management & planning
  • Advertising
  • Branding
  • Communications
  • Crisis communications
  • Digital & graphic design services
  • Media buying
  • Media relations
  • Media training/message development
  • Public relations
  • Social media strategy & implementation
  • Video production
  • Website development

We have been very blessed to see our company grow significantly during the past three years. This growth has allowed us to make significant investments in new technology and upgrades to our office locations, as well as hire additional staff. We now have 40 employees, and a few of the new positions are ones we have never had before.

CRA is a certified women-owned small business through the Women-Owned Small Businesses (WOSB) Federal Contracting Program with the U.S. Small Business Administration and with the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). More information about us can be found at

Q. What challenges did you face in your initial years?

We have seen so many changes in the 21 years I have worked at CRA. Communication changes every year. When businesses need to present a message, no matter the situation, the appropriate communications tools need to be utilized in order to reach their targeted audience. In addition, technology has changed greatly over the past 10 years. People are inundated with messages. Understanding budgets and having the experience to develop and implement a targeted communications plan has always been important, but it is even more critical today. So, we immerse ourselves in the intricacies of our clients’ business practices, cultures, goals, relationships, and challenges to determine the most effective strategies for them.

Q. Is your company a leader or a follower? Do you formulate your own core values?

CRA is most definitely a leader in our industry. We have worked very hard to create our own core values. Our goal is for CRA to be a great place to work and do business. We are a service business. Clients hire CRA for our expertise and dedication, and so retaining the best talent is the lifeblood of an agency. I am privileged to work every day with smart, dedicated and hard-working individuals. Also, having a successful agency does not come without a demanding schedule – that has, by far, been the most challenging thing for me in my career, so we have tried to make it easier for our employees.

Q. Fostering a culture of feedback is crucial to the success of every organization. How is this true with your company?

At CRA, we always encourage our employees to come to the table with ideas and solutions – not just problems. We have a rule in our company: If you have a problem, bring it to your supervisor, but you need to think it through and bring a possible solution to the table before you walk through that door. We want our employees to be part of the strategy discussion as well as the implementation of our communications plans. We hire them for their knowledge and opinions, and we value their feedback.

Q. How do you stay relevant to the consumer interests and needs in this highly volatile market?

Our most important asset is our people. We must balance experienced communications professionals and young talent with the latest skillsets. If we provide the best service and the best product at a fair price, we will never have an issue getting new clients and retaining the ones we have had for years. We have been able to grow our business and work coast to coast for some of the country’s leading brands because we follow this simple rule.

Q. Where do you see your company a couple of years from now?

CRA will do what we have always done – we will adapt, change and excel. It’s the only way to grow a business in today’s challenging times of communication.

Leadership | Charles Ryan Associates

Alisha G. Maddox: Alisha G. Maddox, Co-owner, serves as the Chief Communications Officer of Charles Ryan Associates.

Susan Lavenski: Susan Lavenski, Co-owner, serves as the CEO of Charles Ryan Associates.

Matt Fidler: Matt Fidler, Co-owner, serves as the Chief Creative Officer of Charles Ryan Associates.

Matt Isner: Matt Isner, Co-owner serves as the Chief Strategy Officer of Charles Ryan Associates.

“We pull every available detail out of our research and use it to create the best strategy for you. We are committed to your success."