Marketing firm focuses on health & wealth

  • Article by: TODD NELSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 27, 2012 - 10:47 PM

BlueSpire Marketing has thrived by adapting through ownership changes and keeping in touch with its clients in the finance and health care sectors.

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BlueSpire President Kathryn Hammond and Executive Vice President Jim Larranaga at the company’s Edina offices.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Health and wealth are a successful combination for BlueSpire Strategic Marketing of Edina.

The firm focuses on providing traditional and digital marketing services to financial and health care companies and its expertise in those markets has helped see the company through numerous changes and also is the key to the company's aggressive growth plans.

Those changes include a transition to second-generation ownership, acquisition by a private equity group, a merger with a former out-of-state competitor and a rebranding of the founding company -- Priority Integrated Marketing -- as BlueSpire. The company also has integrated strategic and digital marketing services and adapted to new channels such as mobile devices and social media.

"The core of the business is content that touches the life of the end user, it's the health and wealth content," BlueSpire President Kathryn Hammond said. "We've been around for so long, but the heart of what we do has not changed regardless of how we deliver it."

The company's content formula has paid off since its early days of producing newsletters for local banks, said Executive Vice President Jim Larranaga. His parents, Bob and Mary Larranaga, founded Priority in 1983.

"The need to reach and keep in touch with existing customers is prevalent in those [banking and health care] markets now and always has been, and is growing more and more," Jim Larranaga said.

Looking ahead, BlueSpire is counting on its work in health care and financial services to drive growth as it seeks to double revenue to $30 million by the end of next year.

The company offers strategic, digital and content marketing and custom publishing services. While most are in health care or finance, some corporate clients seek out BlueSpire for its content marketing or interactive expertise.

Larranaga joined his parents' company in 1989 and bought it from them over time beginning in 2001. Hammond joined Priority in 2001, serving as vice president and chief operating officer of that company.

While the company has seen big changes recently, the management team of Hammond and Larranaga remains at the helm. In 2009, Priority acquired local Web development company Net Dynasty, bringing aboard former owner Brian Bierbaum to expand Priority's interactive capabilities. 

Then a year ago, Larranaga and Hammond sold Priority to High Road Capital Partners, a private equity firm in New York. "We felt like we could grow bigger faster with somebody funding us," Larranaga said of the transaction.

A successful combination

Priority turned out to have much in common with another High Road acquisition, New Jersey-based Dowden Custom Media, Larranaga said. That company, which High Road had acquired in December 2010, also had gotten its start in the 1980s as a custom publisher serving the health care industry and, like Priority, also had integrating digital marketing services into its offerings.

Priority and Dowden Custom Media, once competitors, merged last fall under the BlueSpire name, with its headquarters and management in Edina. BlueSpire has 60 employees, 40 here and 20 in New Jersey and other locations.

"We couldn't be happier," Hammond said of the acquisition and merger. BlueSpire is hiring and expanding its office here and adding to its New Jersey location as well. 

BlueSpire aims to continue growing, organically or through acquisitions, to meet its goal of doubling revenue by the end of next year, Hammond said. The company also may seek to expand by adding the senior care market to its traditional mix of health and wealth.

Ken Parker, director of marketing and communications at Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, N.J., said the transition from working with Dowden to BlueSpire has been seamless.

"Now that they have the resources of the Minneapolis arm, in my view they're more of a full-service marketing firm," Parker said. "They're more of a complete picture for us. They came and saw us twice, and we felt the company we had worked with for more than 10 years, Dowden, was moving into good hands."

The expert says: Margaret Owen Thorpe, a professional business consultant at the Small Business Development Center at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business, said Hammond and Larranaga offer a lesson in the value of being open to change. Thorpe worked with the unassuming pair a few years ago, advising them to add interactive services through acquisition, as they went on to do, instead of building the capability internally.

"The key is that Jim and Kathryn are two of the most open, flexible business owners I've ever worked with," Thorpe said. "They don't invest their egos in what is and go, 'We've always done it this way.' Anybody who owns a business should learn from them to pay attention to what's going on out there, to be thoughtful and to know that it's about what they do that's valuable and not about them."

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury.

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