BGC Helps Barb Cagley and SCK Set a Direction for Future Growth Case Studies
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SCK, a visual marketing services firm located in the historic Tremont area of Cleveland, has always been ahead of its time; in 1996, when the firm was founded to provide top-level graphic design for print and World Wide Web applications, most Americans didn’t even have email. Yet, SCK remained a traditional marketing firm in many ways. “We had a customer-driven model,” said Cagley, “in which most of our business came when clients called to request certain products.” This worked fine with brochures and logos but we needed to be more proactive with technology. After all, when the possibilities are “endless,” how many people even know what they include?
In 1996, Barb Cagley, Peg Krosschell, and Steven Schultz split off from their graphic design firm to create a new design firm capable of leveraging the power of the Internet with traditional, high-end print services. They had even heard of the World Wide Web in 1995 (according to an Advertising Age survey), by the time SCK was up and running, nearly 82% of Americans recognized the term, and some 35 million had gone online.
SCK profited from an explosion of interest in Internet applications on the part of U.S. businesses. “At that time, our competitors weren’t doing Web work,” Barb Cagley recalled. “There were some Web-only firms getting started, but they didn’t do high-end print work. We were the only company doing both.” The firm grew rapidly, doubling its staff of graphic designers and programmers every year or two. By the time its competitors started doing Web sites, SCK was creating custom software applications such as databases and intranets. Said Cagley, “When I needed navigation systems for a client, our programmers could do pretty much whatever our designers wanted.” In fact, SCK could do more than most of its clients could imagine.
Those clients included such names as The Cleveland Clinic, Oberlin College, National City Bank, The CASE Weatherhead School of Management, and International Steel Group. SCK thrived, but by its tenth year, the three partners had developed incompatible visions of the firm’s future. In an amicable parting, Cagley bought out the others. Suddenly the co-founder became sole owner. “I wondered if we were moving in the right direction,” she said. “There are endless possibilities with technology, but it’s hard to market ‘We can do anything.’ We needed to focus … but on what?”
THE BGC SOLUTION:
Barb Cagley first heard Andy Birol speak at a meeting of the National Association of Women Business Owners, and when the two talked, something clicked. “I was struck by how intuitive he was,” she recalled. “He just seemed to ‘get it.’”
Cagley hired Andy to take a close look at SCK. He began by interviewing staff and clients. Along with “many, many” strengths, Andy saw that graphics and programming—located on separate floors of the building—weren’t speaking to clients with a single voice, particularly in terms of scheduling. Upon his recommendation, Cagley promoted an employee to bridge the two departments and take over daily operations, including schedules and budgets. This gave Cagley time to focus on her personal Best and Highest Use. “It was important to get Barb out where she can build relationships and make sales,” said Andy. “Her spirit of providing value and opportunities for others is now focused in a way that is increasing her clients’ results along with her company’s performance.”
Andy also recommended a new direction for the firm that, as Cagley admitted, still saw itself as a “creator of Web sites and brochures.” Rather than building small Web sites—unprofitable for SCK unless the site was part of a larger project—Andy saw the firm’s potential as a provider of “affinity programs” designed to create deep dialogues and build relationships between clients and their own customers, clients, or constituents. “They have fantastic software capabilities for designing, maintaining, and organizing information,” Andy noted. “By using these capabilities to facilitate communication and feedback between clients and their customers, SCK becomes essential to their clients.” Cagley agreed, citing the recent example of an engineering firm that hired SCK to build a dialogue with its clients. “We assessed who the firm was,” she said, “and who their audience was. Then we determined the best way for them to convey what was pretty technical information in ways their audience can understand. Now they can receive the feedback they need.”
Barb Cagley sees “tremendous improvements” in the daily running of her firm—and in her own levels of conviction and confidence. SCK’s new vice president “is doing a terrific job,” Cagley said. “Andy has been coaching her, and I have seen improvement in our scheduling and communications between departments.”
The company has phased out unprofitable projects and actively seeks new accounts that leverage its strengths. Cagley described a recent meeting she had with a large corporation that needs to train dealers who buy their products. She suggested a few ideas only to be told that the firm already is working on them in-house. “They have their own designers and programmers,” she said, “so my old mindset would have been, well, then they don’t need us. But [Andy] broadened my understanding of what we do.” What the potential client was actually saying, she realized, is that although they have the pieces in place, they don’t know how to organize those pieces to deliver a coherent message. Thus, dealers are overwhelmed by too much disparate information. “There’s no dialogue,” she said, “and the company doesn’t get the feedback it wants. A year ago I would have walked out of that meeting and said ‘no opportunity.’ Today I walked out having recognized a huge opportunity for us to provide continuity and cohesiveness in how their audience is receiving information.”
Andy Birol wishes every owner would display Barb Cagley’s commitment. “She began with ambivalence about how her business would go ahead,” he recalled. “By outlining a clear direction with practical, affordable steps … she has taken an organization that was appreciated for tactics in terms of design and Web technology and turned it into an organization that helps companies maintain strong communication with their customers and clients.”
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