Virginia Frederick Dodge, president of VA Productions Inc. in Cumru Township, has always approached business a bit differently than many of her peers. Some would even argue her mindset is incorrect, she concedes.
“Something that I always say, for better or worse, because not everybody agrees,” Dodge began. “In fact, a lot of people think the exact opposite.
“To me, business is personal.”
It’s a viewpoint that has always served Dodge well, though. VA Productions, was built from personal relationships 27 years ago. Quite often, relationships with clients — many of them nonprofit organizations — inspire her to volunteer or donate to their causes.
That personal touch has carried Dodge far in life. In April, her career and service were recognized with the ATHENA Award, an annual honor given by Women2Women, a program operated by Greater Reading Chamber Alliance.
The ATHENA Award is presented to a person who demonstrates professional excellence, community service and actively assists women in achieving their leadership potential.
“All the women that have come before, I know a lot of them and, whether they know it or not, they’ve been a mentor to me in one way or another,” Dodge said of the 36 previous honorees. “When I sat in the audience and heard their speeches, I gleaned things that made a difference to me.
“So to be named the ATHENA myself was just an amazing honor. It meant an awful, awful lot to me and to have been receiving it was very humbling.”
How VA Productions was formed
A graduate of Owen J. Roberts High School in Chester County, Dodge aspired to be a TV broadcaster in the mold of Barbara Walters.
But while attending West Chester University for communication and media, Dodge often found herself on the other side of the camera. She started her own business filming weddings and later did corporate video work as a freelancer before eventually landing at CCI Communications, a video production company in the Philadelphia suburbs.
“We did live sporting events, commercials and corporate work,” Dodge recalled of her time at CCI, describing it as her training ground. “I had the opportunity to learn every aspect of the business from the ground up.”
After earning her degree and working six years at CCI, Dodge was doing it all — producing, writing, directing, shooting, editing. The company downsized in 1993, however, and suddenly she was out of a job.
She wouldn’t need to look for a new one for very long.
“When clients found out I was let go, they started calling and asking, ‘Where are you at,'” Dodge said. “Basically, my clients started my company for me because I felt I needed to take care of them.”
VA Productions was founded in 1994. Her husband, Craig Dodge, joined the company a short time after and, one year later, they incorporated.
“I wasn’t a business major or business person,” Dodge said. “I had taken entrepreneurship as an elective in college. That’s about as good as I got in terms of a business background.
“It gave me a lot of discipline in the beginning, learning to do the books as a sole proprietorship and to treat it like that.”
Naturally, video production has changed dramatically since VA Productions launched. Until recently, the evolution of tape formats was hardest to keep up with, but the company invested wisely, Dodge said, not jumping on every new technology that came along.
With the prevalence of streaming video increasing dramatically over just the last few years, the business has seen experienced its greatest transition yet.
“I can remember racing like crazy to finish an edit and get to to FedEx so the client could get it the next day,” Dodge said. “Now, we send a link where they can not only download a finished video and send it around and have in any format they could possibly want it in, but we can post a video and they can type in comments in the exact time point in the video the changes they might want.”
The business also branched out in other ways. VA Productions does event planning for clients as well, leading Dodge to obtain a certificate in meeting management.
“That wasn’t my expertise, it was my husband’s, but being a producer and detail-oriented person, it led me to being involved in meetings early on,” Dodge said.
“It expanded our skills beyond just the equipment and personnel to run it. We started developing themed events and doing meeting planning as well.”
Some of the meetings VA Productions coordinates exceed 1,000 guests.
Today, VA Productions counts Penske and Teleflex among its largest commercial clients in Berks County. Yet, it’s the nonprofit clients where Dodge finds herself not only doing the work, but quite often getting involved.
More than a business
Among the nonprofits VA Productions counts among its clients are Alvernia University, the Caron Foundation and Safe Berks.
At the time of the interview, Dodge happened to be in the midst of helping the John Paul II Center for Special Learning prepare for its annual fundraising gala.
“These fundraising videos we do are really meaningful because we know they’re making a difference,” Dodge said, remarking that organizers were crying by the end of the piece. “We’re raising funds, but by telling their story visually and audibly in a way that you just wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.”
Dodge herself wasn’t just in it for the paycheck. She serves on the center’s board and is a volunteer.
“Honestly, a lot of times it ends up being our clients because we became immersed in their story and knew who they were and fell in love with them,” Dodge said. “We want to do more — be on their board, serve in their committees, help with their capital campaign — because we just fell in love with mission.”
Public service is in the DNA of VA Productions and all of the people who work there, Dodge said.
“We’ve done well as a business and, once we started doing well, we wanted to be able to give back and support those in need and those we saw were doing good work,” Dodge said.
It’s not a leap to connect Dodge’s mission to do good in the community back to her views on how she conducts her business and see a common thread.
“I take relationships I have with clients personal,” Dodge said. “I take the business that we get very personal.
“A lot of people say, ‘Business is business,’ don’t be friends with clients and don’t get emotional if things aren’t going right or you don’t get a job, but it’s very personal to me.”