Small business: Risdall focuses on future

  • Article by: TODD NELSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 20, 2013 - 7:13 PM

Second-generation agency leader Ted Risdall has led the drive to apply the latest online technology to clients of Risdall Marketing Group.

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Chairman Ted Risdall, left, has taken on an expanded leadership role at Risdall Marketing Group, the New Brighton agency founded by his father, John Risdall, right.

Photo: JOEL KOYAMA , Star Tribune

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Ted Risdall already had led New Brighton-based Risdall Marketing Group to the cutting edge of marketing technology two decades ago, making CD-ROM-based sales presentations, video-game trailers and interactive retail kiosks.

Then something new came along in 1993 — putting up what arguably was their first website — the first Web page with a graphic on it to be viewed on a graphical Web browser.

“We didn’t know we were creating history while we were living it,” Risdall recently said of that August 1993 achievement, accomplished through the efforts of the agency’s then-new interactive group, the first in Minnesota; a couple of University of Minnesota students who were working on agency projects and the U’s gopher.net Internet document distribution tool, and the University of Illinois-based developers of the Mosaic browser. “We were just doing what seemed to make sense.”

Bringing the latest technology to marketing programs for clients ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies has long made sense to Risdall, a tech enthusiast who grew up in the independent advertising agency launched by his father, John Risdall, in 1972. The younger Risdall had just gotten an MBA from what is now the Thunderbird School of Global Management when he joined the agency in 1993.

Ted Risdall, 44, maintains his focus on the future of technology, with his smartphone and smart watch online all the time. “We’re in the biggest human communication revolution ever in mankind’s history,” he said. “Where it stops, nobody knows. But we do know that effective communication is going to be more important today than ever.”

The agency’s interactive work earned Risdall Marketing Group recognition as Top Agency at the 2013 WebAward Competition, conducted by the Web Marketing Association. The agency received 37 WebAwards this year, including awards for best manufacturing, portal and science websites. Risdall Marketing Group has won more than 200 WebAwards in the past seven years, John Risdall said, placing first on one other occasion and second and third on multiple occasions.

The integrated agency’s three main offerings are in public relations, advertising and the Web, John Risdall said, but its broad range of services in 15 disciplines has helped it survive and provided a road map that others have followed successfully. The Risdall agency, with 63 employees plus continuing relationships with more than a dozen freelancers, expects 2013 to top last year’s $34.8 million in revenue.

Ted Risdall has taken on an expanded leadership role in the agency in what he and his father, 68, both joked was a two-decade-plus transition plan. Ted Risdall now serves as chairman and president. The elder Risdall, having stepped into the vice chairman’s role, offers inspiration and insight from an advertising career that dates to the “Mad Men” days of the late 1960s.

Looking local

Ted Risdall said he’d like to win more local work, noting that more than half the agency’s business is from outside Minnesota. “We want to be the best hometown agency we can be,” he said. “We love this state and we give back a lot to it. We want to continue to attract a lot of great businesses here.’’

Eric LeBow, CEO of Spanlink Communications, said the company expects its new website, the second that Risdall has developed for it, to launch in the near future.

“I wouldn’t even consider going anywhere else,” LeBow said. “We view them as a true extension of our team. They’re extremely responsive. They’re extremely innovative and work hard to stay up to date on the latest technologies.”

The site that Risdall developed for Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union, which won an “outstanding website’’ award in this year’s WebAwards, features members in pictures and testimonials that capture the organization’s “people over profits” message, interim President and CEO Dave Larson said.

The expert says: William Rice, president of the Connecticut-based Web Marketing Association, attributed Risdall Marketing Group’s success to the agency’s independence and its drive to keep evolving.

“It’s making sure that their clients are one step ahead of the competition when it comes to interactive development,” Rice said. “Independence gives them the ability to be as creative as they want to. They are large enough where they’re able to keep up with the trends and to hire talented individuals to implement the code necessary to create these great sites, to design the images to make them look right and, what I think is most important, to understand the strategy that makes the website truly a success.”

 

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is todd_nelson@mac.com.

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