Showcasing Your People

February 06, 2005

Case categories include: Human Resources   Marketing   

By Robert Sher
K/P Corp is a mature business in an industry grown old.  Printing goes back hundreds of years to the day of the Industrial Revolution, and the pride of printers was and is their equipment and capabilities.  Just watch a printer glow as they take you through the noisy pressroom where ink meets paper.  Their lead marketing piece is usually a capabilities brochure that touts their heavy investment in equipment.

What does your firm do or have that really attracts the customer?
Rich Barbee was appointed CEO of K/P Corporation in May, 2001.  His first order of business was to look and learn.  He found that the real value K/P was providing was service, well beyond its printing heritage.  K/P specialized in solving their customers’ marketing challenges, and much of that was through know-how, database solutions, and close integration with client operations.  He found incredibly gifted employees, carefully catering to client needs.  He saw client loyalty built on relationships imbued with trust and respect.  However, he also found that all of K/P’s marketing collateral referenced capabilities and machines, not the people and commitment of K/P.

Rich and his marketing team embarked on a full remake of all K/P collateral – print, web, and advertising.  They focused on conveying the core values that his team already embodied:  Warmth, competency, caring, loyalty, and genuineness.  He profiled real employees and clients in the new K/P marketing materials.  Their stories about real situations and achievements truly tell the K/P story.

The team was concerned at first about the effect of pushing their capabilities to the background, and the “touchy-feely” relationship aspect to the front.  As it rolled out, clients loved it.  Rich’s team had hit upon the real reason K/P attracted and retained clients – because of values and relationships.  Many times, clients would ask to meet the “cover girl” on their lead collateral piece.  Rich Barbee says, “At first we couldn’t figure out why the wanted to meet Kathryn.  We’d walk them over to her, they’d meet, and that was it.  When we started asking why they wanted to meet her, we learned that they wanted to see if she was really on the K/P team, or just some model.  They were testing to see if we really were genuine.  And we are.”

Measuring good relationships
Measurements of “relationship” success are difficult.  At K/P, the measurement used is years of service, i.e. employees to K/P and K/P to its clients.  K/P is proud of the fact that it has employees and clients who have 50-year relationships.  Another validation for K/P is the large number of referrals it routinely gets.  Employees refer their friends and relatives to K/P and their clients aggressively refer their services and offerings to other businesses.

Yester-year’s industrial revolution has turned into today’s technological revolution.  Mindless assembly lines and mechanical automation isolated people then – just as cubicles, virtual offices and e-mail isolate us today.  But humans tend to evolve slowly, and we still need the emotional connection that only real relationships can offer.  At the end of the day, it’s all about people relating to and doing business with one another.

Your employees are human (I presume), and showing their human attributes is smart business, as illustrated by K/P.  The people who make decisions in other corporations want to know and like the people they choose to do business with.  While appearing as a strong, professional business is important, that strength should be the backdrop, with your people in the forefront.

Make sure that in every aspect of your business, your client sees consistency.  For example, if you want to come across with a high-quality, high-value urban image, then your offices or storefronts, your marketing collateral, your advertising, your employee’s attire, and the way your receptionist answers the phone should all be aligned to that image.

What your clients think about your firm
Get help in assessing the way your firm really looks from the outside.  Don’t wait for your replacement to do it!  Peer CEOs like those found in the Alliance of Chief Executives or similar groups can in a few hours review your “corporate face” and give you a reality check.  Keep the corporate storefront looking bright, accurate, and appealing – in your clients’ eyes. 

Capabilities and equipment are still important today, whether they are in your home office, or offshore.  Businesses still need to deliver tangible goods.  But Rich Barbee took this mature business in an industry grown old and updated its marketing collateral with a concept that pre-dates modern times:  Humans want relationships. 

• People prefer working with people, not impersonal corporations.
• Use your people in your marketing efforts, to personify your business.
• While what you do is a factor, who you (collectively) are may be even more important.

Robert Sher is principal of CEO to CEO, specializing in assisting CEOs and business leaders as they navigate critical passages.  He is the author of The Feel of the Deal; How I Built a Business through Acquisitions.  He may be reached at

Company and Case Facts:

Company: K/P Corp, Inc.
Person: Rich Barbee, CEO
Alliance Member since: 2001
Business Founded: 2
Annual Sales Volume: $85 million
Growth Rate: 8 to 10%
Head Count: 550
Service: Direct marketing solutions
Typical Customer: Corporations with active direct marketing programs
Written: February, 2005