Local marketing firm Offenberger & White Inc. started its 30th year of business this year, prompting company co-founder and owner Bill White to ask, 'So what?' What does the 30 year milestone mean? What should it mean to customers? And how did the company, which has adopted the cheekily condensed moniker of OffWhite, make it to that milestone in the first place? White tackled those questions in a recent blog post of the companies website, and decided that the milestone, in fact, means a lot.
Question: So what does it take to survive over a long period of time in business?
Answer: You have to change. Change is absolutely critical. You have to adapt every day. You can not continue to do things as you did them yesterday or you will be left behind.
Q: What do you think are some of the bigger changes you've had to make, say over the past five years?
A: Well in the past five years, it has been a lot of resolution of all the false starts that occurred for the 20 years before that. We survived the Macintosh and PC. Also I think the most obvious challenge to businesses over the past five years has been in managing information in a away that's shareable. Our particular role with a lot of the technology companies we serve relates to getting information out of the heads of the people who actually know these technologies and putting it into a shared platform that can be accessed by all the new people as the company grows. We have a saying here that we like to empower the last person hired so that person comes in and has access to the aggregate knowledge of the business.
Q: You mention on your blog the phrase "the medium is the message." How has the medium changed in recent years?
A: If you look, one of the watershed changes in marketing, or in business overall, is that we've seen our lives both professional and personal transition from a print medium to electronic medium. I think print will always be here, but it will be used differently. We have other forces that are brought into play in marketing and those relate to speed. For example, our new digital marketing platform we created here at OffWhite permits me to make changes to my website or any of our client's websites from my iPhone or iPad or anywhere.
Q: Why do you think a lot of companies find it hard to adapt?
A: Companies that are managed by people who can not or choose not to delegate or companies that are managed by micromanagers typically have a limiting factor built in whereby the bandwidth is restricted by management style. I don't believe in that. Everybody in this company, I want them to be empowered to do the best they can, to have the tools they need and to point those efforts in a common direction. Typically lack of adaptation is caused by lack of leadership.
Q: In another recent blog post, you introduced some of your employees and talked about the role they play in the company. How do the right employees facilitate adaptation?
A: They usually bring it. They're the ones who initiate it. They're on the lookout for what exists that we can use. We're constantly evaluating new software, looking at new ways to engage customers. We're very, very deep into search engine optimization, content optimization, analytics, metrics. We can send email blasts to large populations and see who opens them. All of those innovations have been brought forth by one or more people on our staff that know what to look for. They know where to go looking for solutions.
Q: What was your first "adapt or die moment" at OffWhite?
A: I bought my first Mac, a Mac 128. Prior to that I was using a typewriter. That was the first real obvious necessity that I told Warren (Offenberger, co-founder), 'We have got to get the kind of computers in here that will simplify the way we work for our clients.' Over 30 years the technology change has been an extraordinary evolution. So we were involved in that early and we weren't afraid of it. We embraced it.
Q: What advantages do you think longtime businesses have over newer ones?
A: We've made more mistakes. The hope is you don't make those mistakes again. We've done a lot of things right. We've proven that what we do has value. We've proven we can do it all over the world. So a 30-year-old business has a body of knowledge, though that has a limited value. Just because we did it right last year doesn't mean there is an insurance we'll do it right this year.
Q: And on the flip side, what advantages do newly minted business have over the longtime ones?
A: Typically that's where you find the innovation, passion, entrepreneurial drive. And that's one of the reasons we try to reinvent OffWhite every day when we come in here. And that's why we continue to look to younger, smarter people. If you look around this process you're going to see people who are younger and smarter than I am. A new business is full of hope. It's like baseball season. There's no past. It's full of hope. It's predicated on an idea that someone truly believes in or they wouldn't be putting their capital into it. Those new businesses are the engine that continues to make this country strong.
This interview was conducted by Jasmine Rogers.