Company Makeover

By Christine Neuberger

The Carlson Marketing Group, one of the nation’s largest marketing-services companies, used to be a ship veering off course, but Jim Ryan took over at the helm and now it’s smooth sailing for CMG. In just five short years Ryan has led the company to an average annual compound growth rate of 41 percent.

What happened? CMG realigned business units to improve service. The company renewed its interest in the well-being of its employees. It resigned unprofitable accounts and focused on growing markets overseas. CMG evolved and acquired new services and products. And it developed a corporate-wide employee think tank called Strategic Marketing Forum.

“During the past five years CMG underwent a difficult and sometimes painful growing process,” Ryan says. “But it has proved mutually beneficial both internally for our employees and externally by enabling us to provide more valuable, results-oriented service to our clients.”

The corporate soul-searching led to a range of initiatives. For employees, these included Web-based, customized recognition programs, and systems to gauge employee engagement. The goals? “To demonstrate that our employees’ opinions count and can influence their work environment – and to create a great place for people to work,” Ryan says.

Research sponsored by CMG helped lead the company to redefine its relationship-marketing practices. With a top-down approach to building a brand, CMG blends customer service, customer-relationship management and marketing communications. One of its clients, Hallmark Gold Crown stores, has increased sales for 48 consecutive months since CMG launched the stores’ relationship-marketing program in 1994.

The company cites a business-strategy study, conducted for CMG by the Strategic Planning Institute, which showed “relationship quality” drives economic performance. “We realized that companies needed to maximize their investments in relationships at every point of contact with the brand,” Ryan says. “We also realized that companies must focus their attention first on the ‘quality’ of relationships, rather than solely on investments in technology and tactics.”

Carlson is a major operating group of Carlson Companies, a $22 billion Minneapolis-based corporation with 160,000 employees worldwide.