All of Dawn Ferencak's myriad efforts to build relationships and grow business for the Austin Weekly News contributed to her being named Sales Representative of the Year by the Illinois Press Association in 2011.

This story was written and published by Metro Creative Graphics, Inc. and was included in the November edition of Metro Plus Business.

Long before she signed on as a sales rep for the Austin Weekly News, a community newspaper on the west side of Chicago, Dawn Ferencak understood the importance of building good relationships with her customers. Having worked for the weekly’s parent company — the Oak Park, Illinois-based Wednesday Journal — for five years before moving over to the Austin Weekly News, Ferencak was well schooled in all aspects of advertising sales. But in 2010, when she took on her new assignment in Austin — one of Chicago’s largest neighborhoods and an area known for its high crime rate — Ferencak was both appreciative of the opportunity and apprehensive about how she would be received by the local business community.

“At first, I was pretty nervous,” she describes, “but then realized that the best way was to jump in full force. My first week on the job, there was an invitation to a bus tour of hair salons in Austin and I called and asked if my son — who was eight at the time — could come along with me. So we both ended up going and found the people on the bus were so welcoming and engaging. I knew then that the way to connect with the community was for people to know me and trust me.”

And that’s exactly what Ferencak has done. With her son, Paxton, now 10, by her side, she has become a fixture in the West Side community, building strong professional and personal relationships and growing her business along the way. Together, mother and son make weekly visits to a variety of West Side locales, meeting and greeting local residents, business owners and community leaders, then writing about their visits in “Out & About in Austin.”

Ferencak has also been instrumental in bringing together various sectors of the community for networking, socializing, and mutual support. In February of this year, she launched West Side Women, a group that meets once a month to explore common interests and community concerns as well as expand their professional networks.

A few months later, she formed a similar group for West Side Men. Notes Ferencak, “I always walk away from these gatherings with new business, but it’s a soft sell because people see me not as a salesperson, but as a leader who is dedicated to promoting business growth in the community.”

Most recently, Ferencak formed West Side Bridge, an alliance between business people in Austin and those in neighboring Oak Park, a more affluent suburban area just outside the city.

“When I started my new job, I thought I’d be successful in getting my suburban clients to advertise in the Austin paper, but there was a huge stigma because the economic environment on the West Side is so depressed,” she recalls. “For example, there are no major grocery stores and no book stores, so residents have to spend their money in the surrounding suburbs. I saw a need to raise these issues and bring people from these neighboring communities together — to connect the power of the suburbs with the needs of the West Side. And it has been a very productive partnership.”

All of Ferencak’s efforts have had an amazing impact on her, both personally and professionally. “From a business standpoint, this little struggling newspaper has become one of the most successful publications in the Wednesday Journal group because the advertising has grown so much due to relationshipbuilding,” she explains. “Advertising in the Austin Weekly News has quadrupled in the last three years because business people in the community want to do business with someone they know and trust.”

On a personal level, both Ferencak and 10-year-old Paxton wouldn’t turn back the clock for anything. “These experiences have been lifechanging for me and have enriched my son’s life in a way that will be with him forever,” sums up Ferencak. “It’s been amazing to have fallen in love with this neighborhood through discovering all that’s great about it — especially the incredible people we’ve met who we now call friends.”

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