Our 15-Year Journey

When ACS President Lori McClung and Vice-President Scarlett Bouder met nearly 20 years ago, they found kindred spirits in each other. Even though they grew up states apart – McClung in the Midwest and Bouder on the East Coast – their parents instilled values of hard work, responsibility, and education, along with the knowledge that they had the power to change peoples’ lives. They were raised with the philosophy that you don’t get to complain about something unless you are willing to work to change the situation. Their passion to make a difference in others’ lives guided their professional journey as communicators and advocates in the fields of early childhood, youth development, public education, health, journalism, and politics. It eventually brought these dynamic women together as colleagues and business partners when they formed Advocacy & Communication Solutions in 2004.

McClung’s journey started as a reporter in elementary school, where she developed a deep curiosity about issues that affected her world and a sharp thirst for the truth before moving on to an early career in print journalism. But something wasn’t quite right.

“I wanted to do more than just write about the issues I saw. I wanted to change them,” she says.

So she left journalism to serve as press secretary for a congressman. From there, she ran several political campaigns before working as a communication staffer and lobbyist at nonprofits dedicated to child welfare, youth development, and early education. She also led government affairs at a large metropolitan public school district.

Bouder also began her career in politics working for a congressman from her native state of New York. She brought this experience into several government relations and communication positions, holding several administrative leadership positions for regional and statewide public agencies and nonprofits.

The two met in 1999, when McClung, then the Director of Government Affairs at Cleveland Metropolitan School District, hired Bouder to join her team. As the two worked together and discussed their past roles, they realized that they both had noticed an absence of conscientiousness and commitment to the issue when it came to securing outside consulting help.

“We realized that we could do a better job than many of the consultants out there, because we truly cared about the work, the people, and the outcome,” says Bouder. “And we actually understood or took the time to understand the issues,” says McClung.

They began to talk seriously about creating their own firm in 2000, and made that a reality in 2004, when Advocacy & Communication Solutions was born. Many earlier clients are still engaged with the firm, including Sisters of Charity Foundation, HMS, First Things First of Arizona, The George Gund Foundation, and Groundwork. In addition, ACS can point to many different policy-related “wins” as a result of their work — such as the creation of Cleveland’s nationally recognized preschool expansion plan (PRE4CLE); elevating the reputation of The Ohio 8 Coalition among legislators around K-12 issues; the increased awareness and support of early education in Arizona through First Things First; greater efficiencies in Medicaid with HMS; a new citywide plan for children, youth, and families in Little Rock, Arkansas; and improved capacity for nonprofits serving boys and young men of color as part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Forward Promise initiative.

As the firm’s work has grown, so has its staff. The team first expanded in 2007, and today represents more than 60 years of combined experience among full-time and adjunct consultants.

“We all come at our work with the same philosophy. We trust each other, and enjoy doing our work together and feeding off one another’s ideas and expertise,” says McClung. “We know some organizations prefer to keep their consultants focused in silos, but we serve a field where collaboration and partnerships are everything, and we know we can offer more to our clients because we keep our minds open and our approach adaptable.”

Fast-forward 15 years, and ACS is one of the only female- and minority-owned consulting firms in Ohio and has gained a national reputation for not only its communication and strategy development expertise but also its deep understanding of policy and advocacy. In 2011, ACS was named a “Ten Under 10” award winner by the northeast Ohio Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE), for its ability to innovate, grow, and reach ambitious goals. In 2015, ACS received a Platinum Award in the Communication Plan category of the MarCom Awards and was named a Weatherhead 100 Upstart Winner as one of the fastest-growing companies in Northeast Ohio. In 2018, ACS was awarded a bronze medal at the Stevie® Awards for Women in Business from more than 1,500 accomplished women-owned businesses from around the world for the Company of the Year, with 10 employees or less, for its Business Services.

In addition to creating lasting and productive relationships with their clients, ACS has created a wealth of free resources for nonprofits, businesses, and government agencies, all available on the ACS website. From developing and deploying winning messages to engaging community to meeting with policymakers, ACS has developed easy-to-use resources that help organizations become more effective and achieve greater impact.

ACS is now working on its first book, packed with tools, strategies, and advice for advocacy and communication work of all kinds. Look for it in 2019!