Work It Out

In an effort to help small and medium-sized businesses get into shape, Jessica Powell, owner of Emerge Interactive Media, has instituted what she calls a “marketing boot camp.”
For a fee — Powell would not disclose the cost but called it “affordable” — heads of companies can spend five hours with the Emerge’s staff to determine their companies’ goals and devise a marketing strategy that will best help them reach those goals.
Literature provided by Emerge about the boot camp said the program is for companies that are “ready to do business like you mean it.” Powell says the five-hour event can be grueling. She’ll ask questions of business owners like, “Where’s your money coming from? What’s the profitability of your business? What kinds of clients do you need to pursue more of, and which ones do you keep taking on that really aren’t as profitable?”
Powell also asks, “What are your ideas? What do you want to do? What are your dreams? What was your initial reason for starting this business?”
“It’s intense,” Powell said. “It requires the main decision-makers of that business. It pulls everybody together at one time to collect all the information and put it on the board. It’s a brain dump. We put it all out there, and then we make sense of it.”
Powell said she initiated the boot camp in 2008 after she realized that not all of her marketing clients had a good grasp of their businesses, or had a plan in place.
“Companies would come to me and say, ‘I need a brochure’ or ‘I need a video’ or ‘I need some commercials,’ but there was no plan in place,” Powell said.
She said she’d fill her clients’ requests, but, in talking to them and getting to know them better, she realized they weren’t following a plan. They had no marketing strategy.
“They (were) wasting money and time,” Powell said. “And, of course, I can keep doing these projects, and yeah, it’ll be profitable for me, but are these customers or are these businesses getting the best value for their money? And are there things they can do long-term to help them save money? Can they plan more appropriately?”
That’s when Powell began implementing the marketing boot camp. Any new client who comes to Emerge for his or her marketing and advertising needs will go through the boot camp, but it’s also available to businesses that are not or do not want to become Emerge’s clients, but that want some help defining and implementing a marketing strategy.
“As I’ve grown in the business, I’ve realized that companies need a full-blown analysis of what they’re doing, where they’ve been, where they are now and where they want to be,” said Powell. “That way, it gives us an idea of how we can be most effective for them and how they can be most effective with their dollars and time.”
Charlie Pilkington is co-owner of NorthStar Technologies, a debt recovery agency that is a little more than six years old and boasts 2,000 clients nationwide. His company serves the medical, financial and retail industries, among others.
About five weeks ago, he and the other three partners of his firm participated in Emerge’s marketing boot camp and are now in the process of implementing the marketing strategy developed therein.
Pilkington said that his company’s partners, who specialize in sales, operations, IT and Web development, were at a loss when it came to how to creatively market themselves, so they turned to Emerge. Pilkington had known Powell and Emerge’s vice president Diane White and knew that, what his partners lacked in creativity, those two women had.
Pilkington said Powell and White spent weeks gathering information on NorthStar and getting to know the company before locking its four partners in their conference room for five hours where, he said, “We were able to take our fortes and strengths and isolate them in a focused environment.”
Powell facilitated the discussion with the partners to determine what NorthStar’s goal was (to market the company to financial institutions) and how best to achieve that goal. Pilkington said Powell and the rest of Emerge’s staff helped his partners and him decide how best to achieve their goals within their budget.
“It takes a lot for us to say we really enjoyed something,” Pilkington said, “but all of us came out of that room and said it was a really good experience and that we’d like to continue to use (Emerge) as a marketing outsource. They really understand what we want and our budget.”
Following the boot camp, Pilkington said, Powell took all of the information presented in the five-hour session and compressed it into one three-ring binder that would act as a sort of marketing blueprint, keeping NorthStar on track and reminding its partners of the company’s goals, with milestones they can use to track their success. About three weeks after the boot camp, NorthStar’s partners met with Powell and White again for another three or four hours for a follow-up visit.
Using what they learned in the boot camp, NorthStar’s partners have devised a marketing campaign, with a budget, and have very particular expectations and goals they want to reach in the next 120 days, which include launching a marketing campaign to financial institutions in nine states.
When asked if he learned anything about his company or his partners in the boot camp, Pilkington said, “I learned that we were all thinking the same thing, but we had a hard time conveying that to each other. We were so focused on our independent areas, that we weren’t communicating very well with one another.”
Pilkington called the marketing boot camp a “turning point” in his company and said that it helped for him and his partners to get back to where they were when they first started their company.
“We needed to stand back and say, ‘This was a chapter in the life of NorthStar. How do we get to the next level?’”
While NorthStar’s partners emerged from the boot camp realizing they were all on the same page and just needed to communicate better with one another, Powell said some company owners come out of the session realizing they’re not on the same page at all or that their business is going in a different direction than they thought it was or wanted it to.
“We’ve had clients get into heated arguments because they’ve had very fundamentally different ideas about where the company should go,” Powell said.
“And beyond the marketing boot camp, what comes out of it is some infrastructure for their business. What are some things we need to do in order to support the growth of our business internally? And that has nothing to do with us; we just kind of help them along with that process, help them identify it and help them document it and give it to them and they work on it,” she said.
Some companies have gone through the boot camp and realized they weren’t yet ready to begin a marketing campaign because they don’t have a solid plan for their business.
For those who are ready to begin, Powell said, Emerge helps them, through the boot camp, set a marketing budget as well as a plan for the course they should take.
“A lot of businesses don’t even know how much they should be spending on marketing. Some are spending too much,” said Powell. “Some are not spending enough. We’ve taken clients, they’re existing budget, and reformulated it and doubled their business. It’s not always about spending more money — it’s about spending it in an effective and smart way.”
Fourteen companies in 2008 went through Emerge’s marketing boot camp, and Powell says she already has three lined up for sessions in January. The boot camp is geared toward both start-up and existing companies, and Powell said now, during a national economic downturn, is the best time for small and medium-sized companies to start and grow their businesses.
“It’s a less-crowded market right now,” she said. “So this is a really good time for a small or medium-sized company to emerge in the spotlight. And it doesn’t take a lot of money to get started. It takes a lot more planning than it does money.”
She advises business owners to have a plan, put it in lace and “make sure that you’re not cutting marketing (from your budget), you’re just spending your money wisely.”
“Be strategic,” she said. “Marketing is more than just a logo or a press release or an ad. Everything has to work together to be effective. And you can’t do that without a proper plan.”
She said it’s important for emerging companies to continue to market their companies because, in times of economic uncertainty, marketing is usually the first thing companies pull from their budgets because they’re not seeing instant results and so they think their marketing isn’t working.
“You can’t expect to put a commercial on the air or an ad in the paper tomorrow and your phone to ring off the hook. It’s a very long-term process and it’s a long-term commitment,” said Powell.
“It’s more than just putting an ad in the paper. What are you saying in your ad? Are you reaching the person you’re trying to reach? Are you communicating effectively?
“You can put an ad in the media that’s absolutely great and saying the right thing, but it’s not saying it to the right people. Or you could be talking to the right people and saying the wrong thing. And people don’t understand. They think, ‘Oh, that just didn’t work. Advertising doesn’t work for me.’ That’s not true. The advertising you were doing wasn’t working. But if you do it smart and effectively, it can work very quickly with very little investment.”

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