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A high-tech company can build a better digital mousetrap, if you will, but that doesn't mean it will know how to sell that new application, system software or information technology (IT) service.
Kirsten Chapman has seen that happen plenty of times. She is principal of KC Associates, the Twin Cities-based business-to-business marketing and public relations agency for IT companies that she started in 1988.
For all their technical prowess, IT companies can falter in marketing and promotion. A website might not be optimized for online search engines, Chapman said. Or a site might not even get built if the company, busy building sites for its clients, doesn't get around to it.
"We'll get contacted by clients and they've got some really sophisticated online products. ... [But] it doesn't make them savvy marketers,'' Chapman said. "They're savvy developers, they may have some really great products and really great ideas, but that does not make a business. It makes a product."
Getting products to market is what Chapman has specialized in for a quarter century at KC Associates, one of the few firms anywhere to specialize in business-to-business (B2B) marketing and public relations for IT firms.
A key difference, Chapman said, is that she and her core group of a dozen associates -- all experienced B2B marketing and PR executives -- have worked inside IT companies, so they know the urgency and focus the industry demands. Having worked with more than 150 companies, Chapman said, provides experience to ramp up quickly when working with clients, typically small to medium-sized, early stage or high-growth IT companies.
Chapman is pursuing controlled growth, seeking to increase revenue to $1.2 million to $1.4 million a year, a size where she can still maintain personal contact with clients. Last year's revenue was close to $900,000, rebounding quickly in early 2011 after uncertainty about the economy brought a 60 percent drop in billings in 2009-10. Her growth plans include hiring a couple of additional associates this year and looking at expanding into marketing and PR consulting for clean-tech firms.
KC Associates operates as a virtual organization, which Chapman said means more than working out of separate home or office spaces. Associates and the network of writers, designers, developers, PR and online marketing specialists and event organizers that work with the firm can scale up quickly as teams to take on a project.
"The teams exist when they need to and they disappear when they don't," Chapman said. The structure is in the best interest of clients because it offers "all brains and no overhead," she said.
The firm's rates are on the high side of average, Chapman said, although project rates usually are 20 percent less than at other firms because of the speed at which her experienced crew operates. Associates are indeed just that, contractors rather than employees, who consult with their own clients but typically spend 80 percent of their time with Chapman.
"We've got an incredible team. I contribute to the success, but the success of our business is a team effort," said Chapman who focuses on sales.
"The biggest thing is that Kirsten cares both about her clients and her people," said Tom Pick, digital marketing and PR director for KC Associates. "She really has a strategic sense of how this part of the world works. We're working with clients who are very sophisticated, very smart in various areas of technology, but we bring that base of traditional marketing knowledge as well as the very modern practices to help them with growing their businesses."
John Sundberg, president of St. Paul-based Kinetic Data, said the developer of business service management and service delivery management software tools had been working with KC Associates for six or seven years. The firm is now working with Kinetic Data on understanding the new market into which it is expanding.
"I realized we weren't really marketing properly, or you could even say at all, before interacting with [Chapman]," said Sundberg, who interviewed several agencies before choosing her firm. "KC Associates knew what I was talking about, could instantly understand my problem and instantly has insights into steps I would want to take to get where I want to go. Confidence is a big thing, and I had confidence in them immediately."
The expert says: Mike Harvath, president and CEO of Revenue Rocket Consulting Group in Bloomington, said Chapman and KC Associates are known nationally as leaders in B2B marketing and public relations consulting for IT companies.
Chapman's model is a clear advantage, enabling her to offer services from top, experienced talent at competitive prices, said Harvath, who has referred clients from his practice to KC Associates.
"As we continue to scale and grow as a tech leader here in Minneapolis ... I think KC Associates will continue to play a key role in that," Harvath said. "She's already worked with many firms that have grown to a good size in no small part because of the work she has done when they were small.''