Executive Q&A: Ironmark CEO Jeff Ostenso

QP: Tell us a little about your company, the segment of the market it serves, and what you consider to be your “core” users.

JO: Ironmark is an image company serving the Washington DC/Baltimore/Northern VA markets from our brand new, state-of-the-art facility in Columbia, MD. We work with clients in a wide range of industries, including government, health care, education, franchises, and associations. We have a team of 110 talented people who support our clients’ goals through design (web and creative), digital, offset and large format printing, marketing, promotional items, e-commerce technologies and logistics.

QP: How did you get involved in the industry?

JO: My father [who founded the firm as GPS Gumpert in 1955] offered me a job at his printing company after I graduated from high school. I started driving the delivery truck at his Annapolis location in 1986. I drove that truck for two years before moving inside to run a press. Driving that truck was my ‘best education’ because I saw first-hand the direct effect of excellent customer service. It’s satisfying to know that my father’s emphasis on customer service remains one of Ironmark’s core values.

QP: What do you consider your greatest achievement in this market to be?

JO: My goal has always been to grow a solid business. My biggest fear in life was failing at what my father had entrusted to me. This fear gets me out of bed each day to focus on our people and customers, to be the best company we can be. Over the past 10 years I have had the privilege to partner with six other companies that make up our team today. Each of these acquisitions has added its own spoke to our company wheel as well as the talent to execute those services. We’ve been able to grow our business through a very tough economy, while creating opportunity for our employees to grow. I’m very proud that the principals from each of these acquired companies still have a vested interest in Ironmark and that the company continues to stay true to our core values.

QP: If there was anything you could change, either about your career in regards to the print industry, your company, or the market as a whole, what would it be and why?

JO: I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to lead a company of great people, but our industry is constantly evolving. I wish more companies would realize that we must adapt to the market to be successful. Our industry is notorious for being set in its ways -- we need to keep an open mind, be willing to try and learn from any mistakes. If we stay engaged in the industry and listen to feedback from our team, we can best meet our customers’ needs.

QP: What do you consider the greatest challenge to be for the industry right now? Why?

JO: I’m a big believer in ‘best value and quality.’ When I shop for myself, the products that I buy need to feel good, look great, and last. The problem I see with our industry is not necessarily about delivering quality products. The technology these days has leveled that playing field considerably. At Ironmark, our customers find immeasurable added value in our partnership from our first meeting until the final product is delivered. Our tag line, “an image company,” stems from this idea -- we make our customers feel good, look great, and we go above and beyond to create a ‘big impression’ that lasts.

The pace of change in the ways communications are delivered also is challenging. The industry needs to keep up with these changes and offer consumers forward-thinking solutions to deliver their ‘image.’ This requires a true partnership with consumers to better understand their markets.

QP: What do you consider the greatest asset to be for the industry right now? Why?

JO: The strategic use of data to understand your client’s goals. Ironmark uses analytics to develop marketing strategies that are supported by our in-house services. From concept, to web design, print and promotional items, we can formulate a solid plan to meet customer’s goals. We find it to be very exciting to see the power of our campaigns and their reach. The analytics create a baseline for the customer to review and our team to re-engage.

QP: In your opinion, what have been the biggest changes to the way we communicate with one another in the past few years? How would you recommend this industry take advantage of that?

JO: Electronic communications play a huge role in our daily lives and companies see its power as a marketing tool. It’s exciting to be able to develop print to drive these marketing touches along with SEO [search engine optimization] and mobile marketing. These electronic communications create a different selling opportunity than traditional printers are used to. Traditional printers should embrace the extra ‘value added’ sale and maximize the returns for their customers.

QP: Looking ahead, what major innovations or technologies do you believe will shape the future of the industry? Why?

JO: What I’m most excited about is the integration of print and technology. For instance, augmented reality and mobile marketing allows consumers access to information and products they have a true interest in, quickly. Marketing can then be highly targeted to these consumers using personal ‘one-to one’ information that drives sales and allows companies to spend their marketing dollars more effectively. The possibilities are limitless.

QP: What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to printers and others involved in this industry?

JO: It’s about people -- it’s NOT all about the product, and always lead by example. Thirty years ago you were only as good as your best pressmen. Today’s technology has leveled that playing field considerably, so you need to offer more. You need to be stay focused on the customer and your team. Customer-focused companies thrive on understanding the customers’ needs, the ways they can exceed those needs, and fostering that long-term relationships. There’s the added value.

Your team is equally as important. People dedicate a large part of their week to their careers so the time they spend working needs to be rewarding both personally and professionally.

So, roll up your sleeves! Don’t be afraid to get dirty! Listen to your people! A great leader will always set their title aside to help create opportunities within the team and for the organization.

QP: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

JO: I love printing. We should be proud to be in this industry. Printing has taken a lot of hits, but it has unbelievable opportunities for success. As technology evolves, even more opportunities present themselves; you just have to be open to recognizing those possibilities and having confidence in your instincts and your team.