Marketing and growth consultancy Bluedog Design forms ESOP

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Bluedog Design's plan is upholding company culture.

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“Clients trust us to be an extension of their team and to show up like owners," said Shannon Murphy, CEO of Bluedog Design. "The ESOP just makes it official.”

To reward its employees and preserve its award-winning culture, marketing and growth firm Bluedog Design formed an employee stock ownership plan that its trustee will hold as company stock. Bluedog Design, which ranked first on Crain’s Chicago Business Best Places to Work in 2021 and 2022, now joins nearly 6,500 other companies that are ESOPs according to the National Center for Employee Ownership.

“We’ve always had a great culture and worked intentionally to build it,” says Jeremy Anderson, a partner at Bluedog. “The ESOP program takes what we’re doing on the cultural front to the next level and rewards employees by making them owners.”

A 2000 study by Rutgers University found ESOPs increased sales, employment, and sales per employee by approximately 2.4 percent annually versus companies without such a plan.

Bluedog’s Founder Michelle Hayward feels the ESOP, more than any other financial structure, protects the employees’ opportunity to grow their stake in the future of the business. The freedom to do this is what Bluedog dubs its “growth universe.” In fact, Bluedog CEO Shannon Murphy is a beneficiary of the company’s enduring culture. She began her career with the firm 13 years ago and in January 2023 earned the role of chief executive. She’ll join Mark Koenig, Bluedog’s chief financial officer, in leading day-to-day operations at the company.

Adds Murphy, “Clients trust us to be an extension of their team and to show up like owners. The ESOP just makes it official.”

To punctuate her point, Murphy notes that in the last year Bluedog Design’s employees helped create and successfully launch 20 new products, many of them for the world’s best-known brands like Tik-Tok, M&Ms, Tropicana and Gillette.

“With the ESOP, we’re creating an intentional growth strategy to safeguard Bluedog Design’s culture,” says Hayward. “We have employees--a new generation--ready to take the firm to new levels as they grow the business.”

According to Hayward, other financial options the team considered couldn’t guarantee the culture would flourish in the Bluedog way that energizes clients and creates new leaders.

“Creating growth strategies for our clients requires having an agile culture,” remarks Anderson. “The ESOP gives our next generation of leaders the opportunity to keep reinventing our culture to deliver the work our clients demand.”

About Bluedog Design
Bluedog Design is a marketing and growth consultancy focused on shaping better decisions with its clients, while committing itself to sustainable growth through in-market value creation. As a certified B Corp, women-owned business, Bluedog creates strategies for its client’s growth that enhance the future for every stakeholder. In 2021 and 2022, Bluedog Design ranked first on Crain’s Chicago Business “Best Places to Work." Visit for more information.

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Bill Perry
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