Friday, August 23, 2013

Secrets of Success - Primal Communications

While listening to Rob Dodds passionately articulate all the complexities of designing a 17,000 square foot office space which includes custom manufactured lights, desks, world project map and feature walls to designing an interpretive touch screen experience incorporated into a massive, custom trade show booth for a company exhibiting at MinExpo in Las Vegas, one quickly surmises that Primal Communications is playing in a field a lot larger than downtown Nanaimo. This week we sat down with him to learn about their Secrets of Success.

DNBIA: How does a local marketing firm in downtown Nanaimo attract such high profile customers?
Rob: After twenty years in business most of our clients come to us through referrals and word of mouth. We do target prospective clients once in a while and respond to the odd RFP but primarily the work we have done in the past drives positive referrals and word of mouth for us. I can even trace some of our current clients back through several referrals to clients we did business with in our first year of business.

DNBIA: How many employees do you have?
Rob: We have seven employees and are looking at adding another in late September.

DNBIA: Do you see your company expanding in the near future?
Rob: Absolutely I do. In fact, I’ve been the bottleneck to growth because of my focus on family. My wife and I have three kids; including identical twins that are eleven years old now and a teenage daughter. Raising a family took a lot of our time, and it’s a priority for us. Now that they are a little older, I have a bit more time to focus on growing the business and that’s been working well. We had a record year last year and we are on pace for a 26% percent growth this year as well.

DNBIA: How long have you been in business?
Rob: I began designing full time in 1993 in the spare bedroom of my apartment, incorporated Primal, and moved into the Baron’s Business Centre in September of 1994. Less than a year later we found larger office space on Wesley Street in the Old City Quarter and have been on the same block for over 18 years now.

DNBIA: Can you give us a short description of your business?
Rob: We are a Graphic Design & Marketing studio – Specializing in Tourism & Hospitality, Heavy Industry Marketing, Product Marketing & Packaging Design, and Branding & Communication Design.

DNBIA: Who are your customers?
Rob:  The bulk of our Tourism clients are on Vancouver Island, including almost every DMO (Destination Marketing Organization) including Tourism Vancouver Island, Tourism Tofino, Tourism Victoria, Tourism Cowichan right up to Tourism Port Hardy, and Vancouver Island North to name a few. As well we have worked with a few of the top resorts and hotels on the island like the Kingfisher Resort & Spa, The Beach Club Resort, and Brentwood Bay Resort. For product marketing & packaging design, we have worked with everything from international personal care products, major snowboard clothing companies and gift products to redesigning the packaging for St. Jean’s Cannery’s 50th Anniversary, packaging sporting goods, wine labels, packaging a line of vodka for Shelter Point Distillery, crackers and so much more. Almost 2,000 package designs to date actually! Our industry clients include heavy hitters like Cummins Western Canada, RAS Pulleys, Western Belting and Wilkinson Steel. We have worked with clients around the world including Finland, Sweden, Japan, Australia, and a few in the States of Hawaii, Nevada, Idaho and Washington.

DNBIA: Are you also doing business coaching?
Rob: Yes, in a sense. Each time we meet a client to discuss a project we ask a lot of questions to get an idea of what they want to achieve with the particular project. This gives us focus through the creation of a creative brief. Their goals may be financial, recruiting based, to launch a new product, to lure visitors to a particular region or property, or sway opinion. Without the client goals, design doesn’t have a focus. So we ask a lot of questions about how the web site should work, where a brochure will be distributed, and what defines success for that project. We often find that they haven’t thought how that one piece will fit into their overall marketing strategy – if they even have a marketing strategy. Some do, some don’t and we try to help point those that don’t in the right direction as best we can.

DNBIA: What sets your business aside from others in the field?
Rob: After 20 years in business I would say our experience and our approach. We focus on bettering ourselves with every single project and immerse ourselves into our client’s world.
Pretty early on I learned that you need to know your audience or you are going to make mistakes. One time I set up a shoot for a golf jacket and in the photo we took, the model wasn’t wearing golf shoes. Being a casual golfer, I didn’t think of it but one of my client’s customers noticed it and called them about it, and they called me on it. So yeah, you have to know your market intimately to be successful. I am continuously exploring my craft, always reading industry magazines & feeds about design and marketing as well as our client’s industry media sources, constantly trying to self-improve and then apply that knowledge and experience to our clients marketing.

DNBIA: What motivated you to start this business?
Rob: I grew up in Port Alberni in a family of heavy duty mechanics but I decided to pursue a design career. I was trained as a graphic designer at Malaspina College. That was in the pre-computer days when you sketched your designs first and went to prepress houses to get the designs ready for press. In fact I still have and use my Pantone markers from 25 years ago and still sketch by hand. It is a great way to engage with a client when you sketch a design with them. While I was attending Malaspina (now VIU), I got a job at a local screen printing shop and was approached by one of the clients to start our own business together. A few years later, after buying out my partners, I then sold the business and started designing full time, doing what I was trained to do and what I love to do.

DNBIA: Tell us something people may not know about you?
Rob:  Well, I’m 45 and I can still do the splits – it’s a great party trick – and I guess most people wouldn’t know that I used to be a world class BMX freestyle rider. I rode at Expo ’86 at the World Championships, placed 2nd in Canada and fourth in the world overall winning a spot on team North America for the Trans-Atlantic Freestyle Challenge in England where we won First Place. I think I’ve broken just about every bone in my body – well about 26 that I know of for sure and I’ve had a few surgeries along the way as well.

DNBIA: Do your kids ride?
Rob: Not like I used to – they have mountain bikes now and haven’t really even seen many pictures or video of me yet. They did race BMX a bit in the past though.

DNBIA: What do you like best about having a business downtown?
Rob: This block is like a world food court. It’s so nice to be able to go to a different country every day for lunch – we have an Irish and an English Pub, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese and Greek restaurants within a couple of blocks. Nanaimo is a great place to do business. Nanaimo is so central to our market – we can just hop on a ferry and we are in the Lower Mainland or drive a couple hours North or South to see most of our clients – best of all we don’t have traffic jams here.
I believe Nanaimo is growing and there are going to be a ton of great opportunities here.


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