Creative Characters Finds a Path to Growth

Creative Characters in downtown Philadelphia ended 2013 with some spectacular news, according to Brigid Kaye, its co-owner, chief relationship officer and head of strategic business development. “We set a sales goal—and it was pretty lofty—and we went $256 over that goal,” she related. “My business partner called me this morning and said, ‘It’s a Christmas miracle!’”

It’s the kind of miracle that Kaye and business partner Marya Kaye, the firm’s product manager/CFO, with whom she started the company in 1994, should start getting used to. The year ahead will see the pair take their firm to the next level, offering a greater depth and breadth of services than ever before.

The two had previously worked for NightRider Overnight copy service in Dallas, TX, leaving right before it was bought out by Alco Standard Corp. and became Ikon Office Solutions. They then traveled to New York City to work for a friend.

“We were bored with Texas and what we were doing,” Kaye said, “and wanted to start our own business. When she told us she needed help we said, ‘What the hell are a couple of Texas girls going up to New York City for? There is no food up there.’ We went ahead and went anyway, even though we didn’t think there would be grass and trees. Turned out there were.”

That first step eventually led them to Philadelphia and to owning their own company, Creative Characters.


Getting a Handle

The year just ended was a memorable one, Kaye reflected, because she and her partner “got a handle on social media. We perfected it. We started to do a lot more planning than we had done before; we planned further out than we had. And we did some automation of the delivery of the message.” The firm’s other staffers are Jason Lauts, lead customer care specialist, and Sean Miller, graphic design and programming.

As with so many other print shops, social media is growing at Creative Characters. “We sold a lot of websites this year, and became pretty adept at that,” said Kaye. “That has become a big part of our business now.” Indeed, she views her company has having become more of a hybrid enterprise than ever before. “It’s more of a marketing company. That means that we are doing the full communications package for people, the whole marketing package.”

Offerings that broad, of course, mean becoming almost a de facto consultant. “If somebody comes to me with a problem—‘Hey, we opened up a satellite medical practice in this particular area, but we’re having trouble getting patients, what can you do to help me?’—we come up with a plan. Part of it might be for direct mail; we will take care of the list. I will sit there and talk with them and have a long interview about what their plan is. Who are they getting referrals from? Who are their patients? Who do they want to get referrals from? What kind of patients do they want? Medicare? Or do they want insured patients?”

Kaye will plot out, say, a direct mail strategy. “I might even suggest EDDM (Every Door Direct Mail), depending on the area. If it’s a retailer, I would recommend that they try EDDM. Being in Philadelphia, we can target specific buildings that we actually know are big condos—high end.”

Kaye might also help establish a sales plan that includes what will happen after the potential clients or patients respond to the direct mail. “What happens after that is important because the follow up is everything. It’s all in the follow up. If you just let it drop then nothing is going to happen, so you’ve got to do something. I’ve set it up all the way through the first referral, and then I let them take it from there.”

Telemarketing, emailing marketing, and database setup are three more strategies the firm might employ, she added. “Right now I’m setting up a database for a nonprofit. Anything communication fits within the marketing plan.”

The co-owners say they have benefitted greatly from their membership in Certified Printers International (CPrint), the professional alliance of printers. “It has been a huge help to me this year,” Kaye said, “specifically the way that they helped us with our financials, helping us to better read them and accurately forecast for our business. They have also brought in different ideas; they are ahead of the curve as far as trends go, so that has been a huge help.”


Stay Focused

For the year ahead, Kaye said she would like, among other things, to sell more websites. “I want to get more comprehensive marketing projects for people, more clients in that arena. Actually, my business partner and I were planning to sit down over the break and set our own marketing plan. But I do know those are two major things we want to push out.”

The owners are also planning to work on honing their email marketing skills, and develop more relevant messaging for clients. “We are probably going to start segmenting our newsletter and email mailing lists, where we personalize the mailing to what they order now and to what they have expressed interest in. It’s going to end up being very highly personalized—every single newsletter will be different in content and pictures. Everything will be different.”

The primary challenges in 2014, Kaye believes, will be “to stay focused, not to try and do too many things,” and trying to educate customers about things like personalization and its benefits. “Also about why they need a marketing company—what we can do for them that they can’t do for themselves—things like that.”

Highly successful companies are built on things like that.