Expert Advice on Budgets, Marketing and More
In today’s uncertain economy, successful businesses are implementing strategies to ensure their long-term success. Whether it’s increasing budgets for growth or crafting effective marketing, I95 BUSINESS probed three business owners for ideas on how to position for success.
Positioning for Growth
Anita Brightman, president of A. Bright Idea Advertising & Public Relations, positions her 19-person firm for growth. With offices on both coasts, Brightman’s agency expansion is due to large federal contracts, small business brand development and environmental remediation projects. Brightman also deals with companies and clients who want to do more with shrinking budgets.
“Revenues are decreasing overall,” she recognizes. “Thankfully, businesses value what advertising and public relations do for an organization.”
Brightman explains that companies reduce overall budgets on the advertising front, as rates for radio and TV creep higher. “We have been able to take a client that is traditionally a print client and do online advertising, print and radio and get more value for their dollar,” she emphasizes.
Bob Titelman, president of Skylight Creative Ideas places his business among the top 15 percent of promotional products companies. He says Skylight carries 800,000 imprinted gifts and corporate apparel as well as items for marketing and employee recognition. Titelman says, “We don’t sell pens; we sell advertising on our pens.”
He explains that during boom times, people give away promotional items. During tough times, Titelman says companies cut the marketing budget, even though that’s when it appears [marketing] is needed the most.
“We realize clients don’t have the budgets they used to have, but we tell them: Don’t stop marketing,” Titelman encourages. “Companies really need to market themselves, get their names in front of customers to distinguish from their competition.”
Carol Koffinke, president and CEO of Beacon Associates, positions her business as human performance improvement and innovation for the federal and private sectors. Koffinke plans to lead the company down the strategic mergers and acquisition path to foster growth in her business. She keeps Beacon’s infrastructure and budgets in top shape to integrate new companies while ensuring Beacon’s culture attracts and retains key talent.
“As an organization, Beacon is a company of leaders committed to putting people at the center of winning solutions,” Koffinke explains. “We achieve these solutions through partnering with our clients using our thought leadership, exceptional people and vast experience.”
Increasing the Budget
Titelman explains that most of Skylight’s funds are spent using the company’s own promotional items. His company also plans to spend more to reach new customer on the web.
Skylight works with both small and large businesses that are concerned with recessionary times. “Even businesses that aren’t doing poorly are still concerned about budgets,” Titelman mentions.
Brightman says she has focused A. Bright Idea’s budget increases on reinvestment in the company’s long-term success. “In terms of a budget to support growth, we’ve taken on as a significant expense: another office building, more space and more utilities,” she reveals.
A. Bright Idea purchased a building adjacent to its headquarters in Bel Air and is renovating the space to add over 2,000 square feet. “It will allow us more space for our creative team and allows us to accommodate future growth,” she says. With the new building anticipated by the end of this year, Brightman stipulates that any hiring depends on award of potential government contracts. Her agency also focuses on marketing A. Bright Idea’s Sonoma, Calif., offices and new website, SomethingAboutSonoma.com. A. Bright Idea invests dollars on search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click advertising ventures.
Beacon Associates’ Koffinke concentrates funds to ensure a strong infrastructure to support rapid growth, and she says budget increases reflect the focus. “We are increasing our budget predominantly in two areas. The first is technology, which is critical if we are to scale properly and continue to be competitive. The second is support for our transition from being a small, mid-market company to a larger, mid-market company,” she says.
Koffinke characterizes this transition, including mergers and acquisitions, as new territory for her company as consultants, attorneys and investment bankers are hired to guide Beacon’s growth. The company also invests in infrastructure to include a performance management system and a VoIP phone system while expanding Washington, D.C., area operations offices to double the size.
Scaling Back the Budget
As companies grow some budgets, scaling back on other spending measures seems inevitable. Titelman says Skylight has maintained the administrative staff of four and six sales positions and plans to keep staffing steady. “We look at our expenses and try to see where we can tweak them,” Titelman notes.
Brightman says she is not decreasing A. Bright Idea’s budget in any particular area but acknowledges that some clients are decreasing overall marketing budgets. “We are always looking at ways to be more fiscally responsible running the day-to-day operations of the agency,” she says.
Beacon keeps a close eye on overhead, says Koffinke, balancing costs to support profitability. Koffinke says Beacon endeavors to deliver the best value to customers who are more cost conscious than ever.
Spending on Training
Titelman says Skylight employees attend industry shows that include training for administrative and sales staffers.
Brightman remarks that A. Bright Idea spends more on training sessions, including internal and external continuing education.
“We hold a regular monthly Lunch and Learn session with all employees where each department is responsible for researching and presenting a new trend or application related to our industry. This not only helps build morale, but also allows the staff to polish their presentation skills,” says Brightman.
Koffinke says Beacon invests more on both internal and external training, with leaders attending many conferences. “We are focusing on training people to better utilize our systems and processes and also team building training,” she adds.
Rising Costs of Benefits
Another area of increased budgetary concern is the rising cost of healthcare benefits. Skylight’s Titelman offers healthcare to employees at a shared cost. “I certainly don’t see [healthcare costs] going down,” he says.
Brightman says although healthcare costs at her company continue to rise, they will not compromise. “A. Bright Idea remains highly competitive in terms of providing a benefits package that includes medical, dental, vision and matching 401(k) for all full-time staff,” she says.
Koffinke says Beacon Associates continues to provide a benefit package to employees as they have for years. She says, “We hope to be able to continue that, but each year that must be evaluated based on benefit costs and the company’s financial health.”
How to Gain a Competitive Edge
Titelman says in his industry, it’s important to be aggressive to land new accounts. His business attends networking events and exhibits in tradeshows. “We find word of mouth as the best advertising that you can get. People like to buy from people they know and trust,” Titelman recognizes.
In the agency setting, Brightman says that remaining competitive begins with her team. As a family-owned business, A. Bright Idea goes that extra step for employees. “We subscribe to the philosophy that if employees are happy and love to come to work, then it will pay off for clients. This means creating a working environment that not only offers flexibility but in an atmosphere conducive for fostering creativity,” she states.
Koffinke says Beacon’s reputation with customers is the foundation of their competitive edge. “We take service to heart and this is evident to all of our customers,” she explains. “Most of our work is repeat business, referrals or other products of our strong relationships.” I95