MessageMakers Celebrates 40 Years

A red glow peeks through the cracks of an old photographer’s darkroom fifty-some years ago. Just west of Detroit, a young boy helps his father as he patiently dips and slowly swishes a tray of chemicals, and brings memories to life as he develops a picture.

“Those hours spent with my father in a darkroom sparked a dream inside me,” said Terry Terry, now president of the creative firm MessageMakers, celebrating its 40th year. “Visual storytelling was part of how I learned to understand the world. I remember when he gave me a copy of ‘Around the World in 1,000 Pictures’ by Milton Runyon and Vilma Bergane, I knew it was my dream to tell stories.”

Terry started with freelance work while teaching at Michigan State University, helping people with video and photography. He fell in love with the idea of being able to help people tell their stories and communicate their ideas, but wasn’t sure how to start a business.

“When you love what you do, things have a way of working themselves out.” said Terry. “My bank account was empty when I landed my first contract. That was a problem, because I was supposed to fly around the world to produce videos for international schools in Central and South America, then Europe, Africa, and Asia. But that first client – specifically a gentleman named Burt Fox – paid me cash on the on the spot for my future travel expenses.”

Four decades and 50 countries later, MessageMakers has worked around the globe telling stories and producing programs in twelve languages. That body of work has included the Governor’s Economic and Education Summit, a rebranding campaign for the City of Berkley, Michigan, graphic recording to communicate the nature and purpose of major change initiatives at General Motors, as well as work for Harley-Davidson, GreenStone Farm Credit Services, Herman Miller, Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross, Michigan Virtual, and a wide range of other businesses government agencies, associations, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations.

Non-profit involvement has been an important part of the story of both Terry and MessageMakers. In 1984, Terry founded a non-profit that would evolve into the Michigan Institute for Contemporary Art. MICA was first focused on local impact in the Lansing, Michigan’s “Old Town” – producing music and art festivals that would grow to attract thousands to the downtown neighborhood.

In 2014, MessageMakers collaborated with the MICA to produce the feature documentary “Second Shift: From Crisis to Collaboration.” The film was recognized with an Emmy nomination.

Over the past 40 years, MessageMakers has earned over 100 awards for quality. Terry was named Small Business Advocate of the Year Award in 1999 and Outstanding Small Business Award in 2008 by the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce. In 2015, Terry was presented with the Distinguished Alumni award from James Madison College. During his acceptance remarks, Terry encouraged students to “be tenacious in pursuit of your dreams. The notion of being fully responsible and accountable is my definition of freedom.”

Today, the work of the MessageMakers team is in many ways the realization of Terry’s childhood dreams. “I’m very happy to be working with good, smart people who want to make a better world.” said Terry.

“It’s hard to predict the future, but I know that in another 40 years we’ll still be storytellers,” said Terry. “The form of those stories may change dramatically as technology and society evolve, but narrative will continue to connect the many facets of our creative work as MessageMakers, and also in turn connect that work to the world. Regardless of the medium, we’ll push to tell stories that are category-defining, and based on strong relationships with our clients and our community. We’ll help people to learn and connect with purpose, hopefully making some kind of social impact. That’s who we are today, and that’s who MessageMakers will be for years to come.”