Designing Woman: Pam Akins has built a successful graphics design firm

Pam Akins, at her ad agency in New London, looks over some of the more recent projects her agency has generated.
Pam Akins, at her ad agency in New London, looks over some of the more recent projects her agency has generated. Jeff Evans/The Day

By her own admission, Pam Akins' agency isn't a high-end design firm. Nor is it on the low end.

Akins Marketing & Design does, however, have a strong foothold in corporate and institutional promotion. The firm, now in its second decade, has served as a stepping stone for several designers while attracting bigname national and regional clients.

"I like the business of doing business," Akins says."I have a huge curiosity. I like to know stuff about the world. With this job, I have to learn about the products or service in order to write copy and market it. So I get to learn a bit about a whole lot of things, and that's what I enjoy. I get to fulfill my curiosity."

Akins, a Texas native, is married to Barry Levinson, owner of Roberts Audio-Video on Bank Street. Soon after moving to Connecticut with her husband, she began working as an editor at Prentice Hall, where she wrote and edited monthly business and employee training newsletters.

A few years later at Analysis & Technology, Akins found her niche in corporate marketing.

"I liked taking technical stuff and writing it so the average person can understand it," she explains.

She wrote proposals for government contracts and handled all the company's marketing material. Akins also wrote the annual report that took the company public.

"I did some training material and wrote the scripts for multi-projector slide shows. We didn't have videos or DVDs then," she recalls.

For a while after her daughter was born, Akins did some freelance work but soon began working full time for Messina Advertising, where she served as vice president of marketing and operations. While there she created real estate and healthcare campaigns, and wrote ads and brochures for Sennheiser Electronics and the Bank of Southeastern Connecticut.

At Messina, Akins had her first contact with Block Island Ferry. She left the advertising firm in 1988.

"I wanted to continue working, but with my daughter in kindergarten, I didn't want to commute an hour to New Haven, Providence or Hartford to do what I love," she says.

"So I decided to do it myself. I thought 'I'm a Texan and I'm married to an entrepreneur.' I wanted to see if I could do it. And now here we are 20 years later."

The design firm opened in 1989 in a third-floor walk-up on the former Captain's Walk. The one-room agency quickly expanded, so after five years in the downtown area, Akins moved to a historic house on Fremont Street.

She continued her working relationship with Block Island Ferry, one of the largest transportation providers in the region. Akins says she was particularly proud when she rode the ferry and heard passengers reciting the tune from the commercial.

"Sail away on..." she sings, as she bobs her head to the catchy jingle playing in her head."We branded it."

She's created the annual GiftTalk development newsletter for Lawrence & Memorial Hospital and done PR work for the Mystic Art Association and the Connecticut Sports Foundation. Last year, Akins oversaw an oral health campaign for the state's Department of Public Health.

The campaign was geared toward promoting dental visits for children by age 1. A poster in Akins' office shows a smiling mom and her son, with text written in both English and Spanish.

The marketing and design firm is again paired with the state this year to educate the public on the H1N1 virus. Last month, Akins shot a television ad with Gov. M. Jodi Rell and an actress from the Eugene O'Neill Theatre that shows infected residents how to cough into their sleeves. The ad also encourages them to wash their hands frequently and stay home if they are sick.

"For the most part, I have the freedom to do what I want. I get to work with creative people. I'm not the best at being creative, but I'm a real good manager, so this is a good place for me," Akins says.

Along with being close to her daughter during her school years, running her own business has also given Akins the opportunity to serve on numerous boards, committees and commissions. In 1987, the first year that women were allowed, she joined the Rotary Club of New London, District 7980. She put the decision off for three months, however, because she wanted to be sure it was the right move.

"I kept a low profile at first," she says.

But that didn't last long.

In 1996 she served as club president. During her tenure, the club won the District International Service Award and twice won the district's Charles W. Pettengill Award.

She decided to run for the district's Centennial Governor during Rotary's 100year anniversary.

"I put my name in once before and I wasn't selected, and that was fine. But for the centennial I wanted to be in a position where I could market the organization," she says. "So when I interviewed in the 2004-2005 calendar year, I told them what I could bring to the table."

As Centennial Governor, Akins visited all 63 clubs in the district. During the centennial year, every club -- there are 31,000 in 169 countries -- had to complete a project in their region. The local Rotary's choice was the playground at Toby May Field.

At the same time, she also encouraged the "Centennial Twin Clubs," an initiative that required a national club to pair with an international club. She promoted The Rotary Foundation, the gift-giving arm of the club, and also international service, which raised $30,000 for tsunami relief.

She now serves as District Foundation Chairman.

Some Rotary members may initially join the club to forge business contacts, but the majority stay on because of their commitment to hunger, literacy and healthcare, says Akins, all issues that affect our neighbors.

"The humanitarian nature is not only felt in the local community, but worldwide," she explains. "That's why I got involved; that's why I stay involved."

AKINS MARKETING & DESIGN, LLC

54 Fremont St., New London, CT

860.440.2625

www.akinsmarketing.com

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