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Reflecting on IridiumGroup’s 20th Anniversary – and Envisioning 2015

Friday, December 5th, 2014

As of January 1, 2015, our company will have completed 20 years in business. I began with an idea of functioning independently — first as Flinchum Inc. and soon thereafter as IridiumGroup. Having worked in publishing and later, in 1994, at Donaldson Lufkin Jenrette, I was convinced that I could deliver exceptional creative and design services that met or exceeded those at top agencies, and do so competitively.

What I never expected were the relationships that came along with that endeavor, or today, the gratitude that I have for those relationships.  Over the past 20 years, we’ve worked for hundreds of client managers, far smarter and more capable than myself, who not only took a chance and gave us the opportunity to lead a flagship brand or marketing asset, but who also encouraged, guided, and mentored us along the way. We learned and developed professionally, as did our clients, from sharing our own experiences. We met their peers, friends, and families in some cases, and became good friends ourselves.

IMG_20141124_125409-ret2-LowResI came to understand that Iridium is not on the other side of the fence trying to “pitch” and earn a new client on the roster. If we’re fortunate enough, we’re hired to join the client team in their own fight to build their brands, increase the equity of their company, and grow their business. In doing so, we all become part of the same team with the same goals: Success for the company we work for, which in turn will lead to our own individual development and viability.

All of these professionals went out on a limb to some degree to present us with the gift of new business. They believed in and trusted us — and we trusted and believed in them. Good will is still an important and hugely underestimated value of any business relationship, and I have always believed in reciprocating this client trust with exceptional work and tangible results.

Internally, I never expected hiring the impressive level of talent I have over the years. I’ve learned so much from the strategists, programmers, designers, creative directors, account and operational managers I have had the privilege of employing. The seasoned veterans and consulting partners to the firm have given me the equivalent of a business MBA. However, most rewarding to me has been serving as a thriving platform to develop young professional talent — dozens of fledgling staffers who have gone on to accomplished positions and who flourish today working on world class brands in marketing, publishing, advertising, and communications.

2015 and Beyond —
Things change, and if there is one character trait that could define Iridium over the past 20 years, it’s been the ability to adapt to meet the market, deliver on emerging needs and customer trends.  Whatever works to build your brand image, retain existing value, and acquire new business — that’s where we focus our creative energy.

It’s been an interesting challenge to manage a small company through two recessions and a protracted global downturn. Navigating the disruptions and chaos of an industry in revolution is quite another. We’ve seen a continuing sea change in how brands are built and sustained:

• Globalization is reshaping whole labor and economic markets;
• Advances in technology have enabled increased competition and saturated agencies to a point of commoditization;
• Traditional services have been turned on their head, creating a progressive shift in what defines the very essence of an agency, design, or public relations firm;
• New business models continue to emerge to serve changing B2C and B2B needs.

IMG_20141205_131602-ret-LowResIridium’s model has also changed with the times. We have just relocated our offices to remain in alignment with a business plan that has been in place for the last three years. Agility is the goal for all businesses these days, and we’re no exception. We have been increasingly working as a virtual company, as our existing employees have relocated to various parts of the world. Our current team resides in the Czech Republic, Seoul, Korea, New York, and Los Angeles, not to mention the extended communications, technology, and strategy partners who consult to our clients on behalf of Iridium. This core group of employees and partners is comprised of professionals who have all worked together for 10+ years — we’re proven through collaborating on hundreds of initiatives together.

These relationships have produced astonishingly success and award-winning results. In 2013, we began considering taking the next step in the “virtual agency” experience. In recent months, we relocated to workspace near our current offices that will enable us to work with a core staff and function as a central hub from which to manage all aspects of each project.

I’m personally looking forward to exploring and developing this model even further. We are working on building our capabilities through relationships with SEO specialists, social media experts, and data analysts working in mobile services. My personal goal is to build IridiumGroup into the world’s first virtually operational agency. I want to maximize the benefits of “local meets global.” Skill sets are becoming increasingly specialized, and this new model presents desirable opportunities for our clients as well as our staff.

We are no longer confined to hire the smartest, most effective talent in New York who work in a traditional setting; we are now able to engage and work with the best and brightest experts, each with deep specialization — anywhere in the world.

20 years. Looking back, it’s been a fascinating, inspirational journey, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Looking ahead, I can only dream of what the future holds.

Please accept my best wishes this holiday season. I feel tremendous gratitude for the gifts that I have, both personally and professionally. I hope your remaining days of 2014 bring happiness, love, and gratitude, just as I hope the New Year will present new ideas and relationships that enlighten and delight you.




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A Brand Image That Fits

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Throughout my career, I’ve seen examples of great organizations that lacked the proper dress or attire. By this, I mean that once inside the company, I observed impressive capabilities, special insights and knowledge of the markets they served, and sometimes, a rare level of integrity and commitment to deliver on their brand promise — but with marketing communications (the corporate dress) that did not accurately and appropriately represent those qualities in the messaging and visual standards of their brand.

IridiumGroup_Pitch_EvercoreWealthManagement2Expression of a brand is a tricky thing. More often than not, companies are aware of the burden they are bearing in “ad hoc,” produce-as-you-go-marketing. For relatively new companies, there’s always the point in time where they recognize the need to up the ante and call in a professional design team to strategically and systematically architect and craft new ways of projecting their brand image.

This was the case in 2014 with Evercore Wealth Management. I am proud to say that we recently redesigned and re-launched their website and thought-leader journal, Independent Thinking.

One of the interesting things about my job is the diligence phase: The ability to ramble around in the back of any organization, conduct interviews, and learn more about the operational model. From the beginning, it was evident that Evercore Wealth Management was actually living the brand attributes that many of these firms tout. They are passionate, knowledgeable, experienced, and dedicated to projecting an accurate, sophisticated image in their marketing materials. The firm’s leadership — from the CEO, who was hands-on with copy and messaging, and all of the partners — is a model of professional excellence for other organizations to follow.

The company was founded five years ago. The marketing literature and website was understandably a humble reflection of the true capabilities of the firm. By 2014, it was time to audit and challenge the way the company communicated with various audiences.

To achieve their goal of better articulating their differentiation and positioning, and establishing the firm’s point-of-view in investment and trust services, Evercore publishes a range of original thought-leadership content.

IridiumGroup_Pitch_EvercoreWealthManagement5One of our first recommendations was a communication strategy with a quarterly frequency that would allow for a simple, easy integration of content and branded imagery to both the website and print publication, Independent Thinking. We worked to make the thought-leader content serve as a flagship for marketing strategy, and sought to illustrate the firm’s perspectives though compelling, thought-provoking visual metaphors. Unexpected images — the kind one doesn’t anticipate in business communications — were selected to accompany original content, and ultimately functioned as an anchor for website homepages.

The photographs suggest wealth or family trusts services, but if one looks more closely, there are additional layers of meaning, which help reinforce the ideas behind each article. The design approach reflects the level of financial intelligence at Evercore, as well as to its sophistication, approachability, and leadership. The images are intended to evoke a simple, artful elegance.

IridiumGroup_Pitch_EvercoreWealthManagement1 In leading many of our branding initiatives, my primary purpose is to serve as a responsible steward for each client brand. I’m not a spiritual adviser, business analyst, or strategist, but there are important components of all of these roles in my job. With Evercore, we set out to deliver a platform of communications tools that could not only share, with clients and prospective clients, the company narrative in an easily updated, cohesive way, but also, clearly communicate the character or spirit of the firm — the intangibles.

A brand, expressed appropriately, should fit perfectly and “feel right”; it’s akin to choosing the perfect suit or dress. Part of our job that isn’t discussed often is how to get the nuances? The answer lies in the ability to conduct — i.e., ask the right questions to the right people — and to interpret and analyze research.

In choosing IridiumGroup for both front-end research and the visual identity that flows from it, Evercore could not have selected a more suitable agency-partner. For twenty years, we have helped academic- and research-based organizations on the nonprofit side, or worked in business services, data and analytics, and information services on the corporate side. We’re an exceptional fit with erudite organizations that are content-based in their business model and marketing communications strategy.

Through our own research and design, we always aim for that rare intersection where high art, intelligence, and practical purpose reside. Call it “art meets commerce,” with a twist of academic reason.


A few of the results for Evercore Wealth Management are proudly shown here. Professional team members included:

Frank McGill, Research
Yi Son Ko, Creative Director
Janese Castro, Project Manager
Abby Hassan, Print Production Manager
Minho Kim, Lead Developer
Ali Hoffman, Senior Designer
Cindy Hon, Senior Designer
Ezra Cohen, Executive Producer
Salvatore Salpietro, Technology Adviser


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Innovations, Driven by a Monotony of Marketing

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

My job affords me a luxury. I have tremendous gratitude for the things I have learned over the years as we have led cross-industry brand initiatives for some of the world’s leading organizations. But at times, all it takes is a long walk in the city to observe new ideas. Considering this blog, which was intended to reflect the current culture or a snapshot of contemporary marketing, I’m seeing that there are many varied items of interest emerging lately — perhaps appropriate to the disruptive, seemingly haphazard business and communications climate we live in. I’ll share a brief note here that relates to a compelling trend I’m noticing on the streets of New York.

The User Experience
I don’t think it would be an irresponsible statement to say that a lot of consultants base advice to clients on their own perceptions as a customer. I do it. I’m human. I see advertisements, retail merchandising, integrated marketing, and digital or traditional direct campaigns, and I see and how effective — or at times, how ineffective — a particular practice can be.

IMG_20140905_162443Lately, I see great examples of innovation in marketing. Take my stroll down Columbus Avenue last weekend, where I stumbled upon an interactive experience in real estate outside the offices of Halstead, a real estate broker in New York. The touch screen display offers profiles of new properties available to anyone casually passing by. That’s west side Manhattan, but on the east side, the Halstead experience has a counterpart that is perhaps even more novel: The cupcake ATM at Sprinkles. Yes, I wrote cupcakes — available to pedestrians in an automatic, street-facing display. Each cupcake costs $4.25 and buyers can choose from among red velvet, cinnamon sugar, Cuban coffee, and banana dark chocolate. Served in a small pink and brown box, cupcakes are available at the ATM on a 24/7 basis, and replenished throughout the day by bakers inside the store.

What’s driving these types of experiential marketing innovations? Well, one explanation is that technological advancements over the last 25 years have created a mind-numbing, geometric growth in channels to reach the consumer. As a result, it all means less, and along with desensitized consumers comes more noise — or a different kind of noise. In brief, the constant drone of a billion messages across a billion microchannels is pushing marketers to discover to new ways to share their message.

The people who develop and activate brands realized that in order to be heard and seen, they have no choice but to create experiences that are disruptive, ways to engage weary customers with arresting and novel ideas. That provocative headline, offer for “free” or “discounted” product, those reward programs and that daring (is it even legal?) photograph? It’s no longer enough. Now, we need cupcakes dispensed to our waiting, sugar-deprived hands on the street — which, will also create a social buzz and gain lots of earned media to build the brand. In the weeks and months to come, look for this trend to get even greater traction. The digital marketing experience, in my opinion, has failed on many fronts to truly engage and earn loyal customers. Technology presents marketers with a new playing ground and new opportunities, but we have yet to tap the vast possibilities to engage, inform, and inspire consumers. But interactive pictures of houses listed for sale, and cupcakes dispensed on the street? Now, that’s a beginning.

IMG-20140831-00844The fall is an inspirational time and I have folders with dozens of clipped articles and saved links to share, so I’ll be updating this blog frequently. We also have a flurry of new prospects and leads in the hopper that are yielding interesting dilemmas and challenges for our clients, and our A-team of professionals. Is it possible to make a compelling print magazine that appeals to that ever-elusive Millennial? Are eBooks a thing of the past, or have they simply not been marketed well enough? What’s the best way to pique the interest of the affluent patriarch, or how can one best engage the corporate attorney? Solving these and other questions is a large part of my job, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

As part-hobby, I’ve also been photographing another trend in what once would have been called guerrilla marketing, and which now I suppose we can call experiential retail: A review of outrageous food trucks, which I’ll share in a future blog.

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90 days, and counting

Monday, August 25th, 2014

HEUER-STOP-WATCH-STH810As of today, we have precisely 90 business days left until 2015. In addition to fall being “back to school” season, it’s also “getting back to business” time as we begin the sprint to year-end and the promise of the new year ahead.

Bear Bryant famously said, “It’s not the will to win that matters. . . everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”

It’s difficult to understand any company being satisfied with the status quo of their business. By now, many of us have learned that this isn’t exactly the age for complacency. The climate is volatile and shifting rapidly; every business market is disruptive and unpredictable. Things change and new opportunities — and challenges — arise. For the marketing industry, it’s the globalization of labor, but also the digital revolution, which has created thousands of new micro channels through which we build brands.

As confusing as it is, this is definitely not the time to wait it out on the sideline, or feel content with traditional practices. If anything, there’s an urgent need to assess the organizational plan, tighten or sharpen all messaging, and better define the most appropriate channels.

At our offices, we are in meeting several times each week to better understand the behaviors of buyers in those markets where our clients work, as well as the ones where we work. We ask, “What changes to value are driving their emerging needs, and how to be positioned more effectively to serve those needs?” It’s about practical, tangible business results more than it ever has been.

On the client side, it can be a daring, brave gesture for any leader in any organization to raise their hand and suggest that the brand can be challenged, that the modus operandi of marketing operations can be better. The inaction, however, is definitely the greater evil.

What actions can you take now to prepare to take your organization further, grow your business, and seize emerging opportunities in the market? How can you improve the performance of your brand and communications? What would empower you to compete more effectively than you have in previous years?

You can make 2015 as successful as you wish. All it takes is a commitment to make smart decisions, work hard, and build your brand with clear and compelling messaging that conveys your value proposition.

IridiumGroup can help your organization define the obstacles, set goals, develop your strategy, and create a strategic marketing and communications plan that will lead to a successful platform for your brand. Together, we can develop the tactical tools to engage and activate new business opportunities to enable positive change for your organization.

Some of our most successful clients have taken those steps; others are working to position themselves to capture emerging opportunities. There’s no time like the present for you to get started. Visit our website to learn more, or contact me to discuss how we can collaborate on your behalf – and make the most of the 90 days ahead.

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Founder & President,
IridiumGroup Inc.

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