Rick Gardiner will be presenting, Digital Acument: How to Hire the Staff of Tomorrow, Today!, at the Integrated Print Forum in Pittsburgh this October 24-25. Rick took the time to talk with me about how Brunner has adapted to change and how this all relates to the printing industry. 

How has Brunner evolved to be who they are today?

Our agency was founded over 20 years ago and our focus initially was print design and production.  In the early 90’s, as the company started to become known for other services, like creative, some thought the ownership was crazy for getting into services like database marketing.  Decisions like that went completely against the grain from what other agencies were doing. Then we acquired an early iteration of an Internet marketing company. So, I don’t know if, at the time, they knew how visionary it was. But they always believed in having technology at the core.

There are pundits that believe it’s not about technology, but printers love technology and the iterations they make revolve around technology. What do you have to say about that?

It’s the marriage of both. If you make decisions only about technology and not about ideas or creativity, then that’s not going to cut it. But if you can successfully combine both, you’ll find some success. That’s what worked for us. There are some downsides, too—having to invest earlier than your clients or customers are ready in order to stay ahead of the curve. Obviously, there’s a cost implication of staying the course. I remember I was here during the dotcom bust in 1999 and 2000 and we at Brunner were talking about how committed we should stay to this “Internet” thing. Michael Brunner said, “You know what? It’s not going away and it’s a blip. We’re going to stay the course.” Turned out to be a great decision.

That’s great, that’s visionary stuff. That was a weird time for printers since we were just hearing about Web-to-print. Printers hated the business model of only taking a percentage of the sale because no one was self-hosting. The printers that stayed the course then were Vista Print and Mimeo.com, the ones that are big and strong now. I think now there’s a similar message to those guys.

Even though we started out as a print focused business (print-design and print-production) we were always positioned as an agency, but there are a lot of parallels. There are a lot of agencies going out of business who can’t keep up with the times, which results in consolidation in the industry. While there are some agencies that have turned the corner and are successful and thriving, there are just as many who are struggling because that pace of change is so rapid. If you try to get on now, it’s pretty tough—unless you’re ready to make a big commitment. 

How would you get a printer to make that leap now?

From a knowledge standpoint you can get up to speed fairly quickly. If you think about mobile marketing, two years ago it was all about iPhones, but today it’s all about Droids. Droids are engulfing the Apple market. Apple is a major player, but we’re looking to bring people on with Android skills, and they didn’t exist a year and a half ago. One of the other things happening is the collapsing of layers within the industry. You have printers offering agency services. You have agencies who are offering studio production services. You’ve got clients who are looking to innovate. Then you have automation. It’s a crazy time right now. It is an opportunity for people to evolve and take on services that five years ago people wouldn’t think would have a leg to stand on. But today I don’t think anything is out of the question.