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Survivor Featured

7:03am EDT May 24, 2005
Nancy Kramer learned an important lesson after her company, Resource Marketing, merged, then un-merged with marketing/public relations firm Ten United.

"I don't think we realized quite how important it was to be a values-based organization," she says.

Kramer merged with Ten United to protect her company following the dot-com crash. But after six months, she knew the two firms weren't compatible. So in just one year, Kramer purchased the digital/interactive marketing business from Ten United, and her company was reborn under its new name, Resource Interactive.

As part of her strategy, Kramer has also sought to become an expert in interactive marketing, and this strategy has gained her clients including HP, AOL, Sony and Victoria's Secret. Her company conducts exhaustive research on topics such as post-Christmas holiday shopping, and publishes its findings.

"It [industry expertise] is a great door opener, when we can leverage our knowledge in a particular industry," Kramer says. "Our clients end up marketing us. It doesn't get any better than that."

Resource Interactive is one of the top 50 agencies of its kind in the country, the only one on the list that is privately held and female-owned, she says.

"That is a differentiator of itself," she says.

Smart Business spoke with Kramer about surviving the dot-com crash and her strategies success.

Why did Resource Interactive survive the dot-com crash and subsequent advertising recession while others failed?

One of the things that held us together was our values. All of the people involved with the company, both clients and our associates, knew we had their best interests at heart and that had a huge impact.

Our values are a big, big part of our organization. We have very explicit values that are part of our culture.

Back in the mid '90s, Jim Collins wrote a book called "Built to Last." This book looked at what caused some companies to thrive while others did not in the same industry. He took matched pairs of companies -- they were operating in the same market conditions and similar circumstances -- and examined why one did well while the other didn't.

What he discovered is that a company has to define its core purpose beyond making a profit, but [the core purpose] becomes an overall core ideology specific to the company.

Then no matter what aspect of the company you are talking about, that core purpose is behind every decision, including from a strategic standpoint.

For us, our core purpose is to maximize our clients' success and our associates' potential. That core purpose is an intangible asset to the company that caused us to never lose a client during a significant downturn in the industry, although some of our clients went out of business.

Now we also recognize and reward our associates that best exemplify our values. Associates are not rewarded based on sales but on whether they always act in the clients' best interests. These awards are peer nominated and voted on. The nominations include specific examples of how that person best serves his or her clients.

The associates that win receive monetary awards and we also have a reward for the high-impact team. But our culture has had a lot to do with our success and has made a huge difference for us. A lot of companies are absent of culture or what hangs the company together.

As more women take on leadership positions, I see that we often don't play by old corporate rules. We are not driven by the same motivators, which were primarily ego-driven strategies.

What were your survival strategies during this time?

Certainly, becoming part of a larger organization was part of the strategy and what seemed like a good idea at the time. It didn't work out for a whole host of reasons, primarily because of a clash of values, but we did try it. It just didn't work.

You've not only survived, you've achieved growth during the last few years. How?

The single focus we gravitated to as we de-merged in the interactive arena is the cause of our growth. A lot of the competitors we faced in the market three or four years ago are now gone. The Internet still hasn't really recovered; there is still a lot of skepticism when you hear anything with a dot-com in it.

Still, online shopping has grown substantially, with women spending more online than men, which is a huge change. In the past, the Internet and Internet shopping was traditionally a male medium. But not only is the Internet convenient, it is a life management tool electrically holding the world together on various levels.

But that singular focus has helped us, coupled with our reputation for doing what's in the client's best interests. When Resource merged with Ten Worldwide, there were four parts to the business. Three of those four parts we couldn't take out when we left. The digital area was our focus in late 2001 and we really began focusing on it in earnest in 2002.

Now we help any brand online or any digital experience like wireless, an e-commercial site or an e-mail campaign. Overall, it's marketing a product or brand online or virtually.

How did the dot-com crash and recession impact the industry?

The whole thing didn't make sense. Companies' values were handled like a gold rush and people became addicted to the whole thing. We did not go public, and that helped us. More than once we had investment bankers knocking on our door.

I think people were overtaken with stock options and became crazy obsessed with the potential. Once reality set in, these companies were not making money and the ratio of earnings to value made no sense. It didn't seem at the moment that it would end, but eventually common sense set in and skepticism started coming out.

First the pendulum swung one way, then the other, and it is just now coming back to the center.

You have been both part of a larger company and independent. What are the pros and cons of each?

Theoretically, the benefit of being part of a larger company is that there are more clients and shared resources. It wasn't a reality for us, but theoretically, that is why you do it.

Again, because our assets are our people and we want to do what's in their best interests and the interest of our clients, we are not driven by a larger entity's desires and goals. It's easier when you are independent to keep an eye toward what your fundamental goals are. There can be a lot of pressure to go against that.

Why do you feel it is best for Resource Interactive to remain independent?

There are no plans in the near-term or on the horizon for us to merge with another company. We are best-suited to go with an organic growth strategy. Considering our strategic services, we may be making an acquisition ourselves to fill out any gaps we identify.

Again, I emphasize that it would only be for strategic capability only, not in an effort to grow. We intend to stay focused on the interactive market which is highly vertical. There are so many things within that as far as options are concerned. We will continue to grow in that market. How to reach: Resource Interactive, (614) 621-2873 or www.resourceinteractive.com.