Faith is at the root of the more than 40-year friendship and 30-year business of two Edina natives.
A lot of people would advise against going into business with your best friends. Balancing personal and professional relationships—while also trying to keep a business afloat—can be more than many friendships can withstand. This isn’t the case for Edina natives Brian Dahl and Mike Dobies, two of the four partners at DKY, a Bloomington-based brand marketing, advertising and public relations agency.
We sat down with Dahl, the company’s president, and Dobies, the executive creative director, to hear how they balance business and friendship—and how their shared faith is the foundation on which both stand.
Dahl and Dobies both grew up primarily in Edina—but they didn’t meet until the summer after their freshman year of high school at a basketball camp. “Brian was more of a ‘Westie’ from Edina, and I was more of an ‘Eastie’ back in the day,” Dobies says with a laugh, explaining how Edina Public Schools used to be split up to serve the east and west side of the city. However, the school year following the basketball camp, their sophomore year, was the first year Edina High School (EHS) was combined under one roof.
Their friendship developed that year as Dobies began attending Grace Church with Dahl. “Brian was really instrumental in my faith journey,” Dobies says. “I was involved in a different church and a youth group. But … I became more interested in Grace Church and the youth ministry because of [Brian] and [his] walk with Jesus. So that relationship was really important at that time in my life, and as I decided to become a Christian and really make it my own decision to follow Jesus.”
Dahl and Dobies, along with a handful of other guys from their youth group, formed a tight-knit friend group that carried on long after graduating from EHS in 1984. Many of the young men in that friend group attended the University of Minnesota.
“We were in the youth group together, and we went to high school together and there was a lot of really strong faith formation in our friendship,” Dahl says. “That was the bond that we had that kept us together.”
After college, the group remained close. And whether it was coincidence, irony or Providence, all of them ended up in the marketing and advertising world. For years, the group talked about forming their own agency.
Then, in 1994, nearly a decade after graduating high school, a few of those friends—John Denn, Tom Kelby and Mark Yaeger, all Edina natives besides Yaeger—came together to form DKY. (Their last names are the namesake for DKY.) Dahl and Dobies each joined the team soon after and bought into the company as partners.
This is where things really could have fallen apart. Five friends in business together, managing decades-long interpersonal dynamics while bringing in new business and seeking to be profitable? It’s a lot to juggle. But nearly 30 years in, the friendships are still intact—and the business continues to grow.
A Mission-Driven Business
Today, DKY develops strategic creative marketing and advertising solutions for clients in four markets—outdoors, agriculture, business-to-business and faith.
But its faith-based clients weren’t always a primary focus. In 2008, the leaders of the agency faced one of the largest challenges of the company’s history. That year, DKY lost some significant client work and financing due to the recession. The loss of this financial stability rocked them. As the agency’s leaders were processing how to move forward and deal with such uncertainty, Dahl says they encountered a verse in the Bible, Proverbs 11:25, which says, “Those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.”
The leadership team decided that with the resources it had—a staff full of talented, creative people—it could help other businesses that were also facing uncertainty and hardship during the recession by donating services.
Recalling how that conclusion was reached, Dobies acknowledges that it felt crazy. Even so, the leaders moved forward, viewing the business as a way to be a blessing.
“Everybody got super excited about it,” Dahl says. “We just put our eyes on something other than our problems, and things started to turn.” DKY made it through the recession without laying off any employees, and, to this day, the team continues to donate its time to several faith-based organizations, having formalized it as one of the main markets the agency serves.
“Our mission says, ‘We help good people build brands of great impact.’ Whether it’s a Christian ministry or for-profit business, they have a job to do. We want to help them do it with excellence,” Dahl says, noting that the mindset of giving back “does strongly help to form our culture, our values … the kind of work that we choose to do, how we treat our clients and how we treat our employees.”
Reflecting on the past 40 years of friendship, Dahl says, “It’s pretty amazing to look back at it … [and] think of the four knuckleheads in 10th grade and how God has orchestrated our careers and the opportunity to serve.”