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VP of Business Development Rob Blakely talks about Echo Communicate's transition to a cross media provider

Published on May 9, 2011

Vice President of Business Development for Echo Communicate, Rob Blakely shares with Cary Sherburne their experience as they transitioned their business model from a forms distributor, to augmenting their business to include fulfillment and comercial print services, to their recent change as a cross media provider while trying to stay ahead of the curve.

Cary Sherburne: Hi, I’m Cary Sherburne, Senior Editor at WhatTheyThink.com and I am here with Rob Blakely who’s from Echo in Baltimore, Maryland. How are you today?

Rob Blakely: I am fine. Thanks for having me.

Cary: We’re glad to have you. So, I understand that you guys have been through an interesting transition in your business. Maybe you can tell me a little bit about the history and where you are now.

Rob: Sure, so about… our business started about 35 years ago and we were originally a forms distributor. And it was…

Cary: Okay, and that business has changed a little bit.

Rob: It’s not only changed, it’s disappearing at a rapid rate. It was a good business when we got into it in the’70’s, but of course the PC pretty much spelled the demise of the forms business. So our CEO, who really has been visionary throughout the entire life of the business, realized years ago that we need to change our business mode. So the first transition was moving, I won’t’ say away from, but augmenting our business with other commercial print items and warehousing and online fulfillment

And about seven years ago, again, he’s always looking at the edge of the horizon; saw that, what I’ll call operational print. The operational print world was condensing, and he realized that in order to not just to survive, but to thrive, eh had to go into a different direction. And at that point, going back again, a few years, the concept of cross media, variable data publishing was new and he realized that that’s a direction we need to go into. And we went from a business that for most of our life up to that point have never actually physically produced anything, to actually bringing production in house, to bringing technology people in house, to bringing marketing talent in house and transformed our business into where we are today which is a cross-media marketing firm

Cary: Well, that’s great, so you have… you have the print resources, print and finishing, mail probably

Rob: Yes, so we have digital production in our building. We still partner with outside firms for offset, but the digital production, the finishing, the mail housing, and what have you, as well as all of the technology infrastructure. The web hosting, the email deployment and what have you is actually now all within our four walls

Cary: And so do you also do creative for your clients?

Rob: We do. So the best examples I think of the campaigns where we helped our clients be the most successful, which is really more important at the end of the day than us being successful…

Cary: Well, if they’re successful, you’ll be successful.

Rob: Exactly, they go hand-in-glove… are the ones where our first conversations with a client begin at a strategic level. What are your goals? Who’s your audience? And then all items to the campaign are created in tandem with the clients, so our in house creative, our marketing consultant’s design concepts and then it goes on to creative, actually builds the various channels, the printer, the email or the web and then it goes to our internal IT people who then build the plan piece of the puzzle.

Cary: So it’s interesting because as print service providers make this transition over to marketing services providers, many of them have agencies as clients and it’s kind of a delicate balancing act because agencies are trying to provide some of the same services. How do you… how does that fit into your...?

Rob: That’s always a worry. You feel like you’re going to be tagged with playing both sides of the fence, so to speak, but the reality is there are a lot of agencies that are, A, not really fully aware of the capabilities that are out there and, B, from a technology standpoint, it’s not always the sexiest piece of the puzzle, but the investment in the technology to be able to do this variable data, we use XMPie and the investment of the technology and the resources it takes to utilize that, that doesn’t really exist a lot of times at the agency level, independent of their size.

Cary: So, a lot of times you can partner with them then.

Rob: Correct.

Cary: That’s great. Well, it’s a great story, thank you.

Rob: Thank you.

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