Gragg Advertising has a secret weapon that distinguishes it from other direct response ad shops in Kansas City.
A passion for technology.
Based in the River Market, the company routinely develops new software that enables it to track and monitor marketing strategies and ongoing leads for clients, which range from universities and financial institutions to manufacturers and retailers.
“What sets us apart is our analytical ability,” President Darryl Mattox explains. “We are very numbers-oriented as opposed to being creative-oriented. Our use of technology allows us to analyze data faster so we know what’s working, what’s not working and where we need to adjust our strategies.”
Chairman and CEO Greg Gragg started Gragg Advertising out of his basement in 1992 after his former employer unexpectedly went out of business. Throughout the next decade, the company ventured into search engine optimization and marketing. When Director of IT Mike Schuler joined the agency the following year, developing proprietary software seemed like the next logical step.
“We’ve kind of morphed over the years,” Gragg says. “We’ve turned into more of a marketing technology company, which is a great benefit for us. We have added programmers to our staff, so it doesn’t make us a traditional advertising agency that is just about creative—we’re about results.”
Today, Gragg Advertising offers more than 30 tech-oriented products and services, which can be tailored to meet a client’s specific need. In fact, “It’s not unusual at all for us to have a conversation with a client that stimulates a brainstorming session, and out of that brainstorming session evolves a brand-new product or service,” Schuler says.
For instance, the company developed the online learning program Educate2Excel to assist its higher education clients in their recruiting, enrollment and retention efforts. Students who complete the five-week, five-course program walk away with credits earned, along with valuable information about the school itself and how to navigate through real-world obstacles.
Gragg Advertising’s Web-based marketing management tool, Alpine, allows clients to track and monitor all ongoing marketing campaigns and incoming leads. Developed in 2008, the system provides validity standards, trending reports and analysis through an easy-to-use online dashboard.
“Businesses today need to utilize information systems that analyze sales and lead data in real-time, allowing you to make quick decisions on what works and what does not, saving you time and money,” Gragg says. “Alpine is a system that achieves this for our clients.”
Essentially, Alpine is the pulse of Gragg Advertising’s entire technology platform. It enables the company to gather and track data, analyze it on a month-to-month or year-over-year basis, and organize it in such a way that clients are able to see firsthand the effectiveness of their in-house marketing strategies with regard to how they affect sales numbers and consumer response.
“Alpine’s purpose is to present all of Gragg’s functionality on a client-deliverable and client-owned platform,” Schuler notes. “So, if a client loves our technology but does not want to displace existing marketing resources within their organization because of the value they bring, we can license our platform to them. They can use their existing headcount to make marketing decisions but use our technology to deliver the analytics.”
Gragg Advertising is continuously making improvements to its product suite because “if you’re not innovating, you’re dying,” Mattox says. “One thing that is very important to Gragg Advertising is our approach toward constantly evolving our systems. Our clients’ needs are the most important thing to our agency, and these updates are a direct reflection of that ideal.”
But it’s not enough to stay up-to-date on Gragg’s internal technologies—the company must also remain focused on emerging trends. “It’s our job to understand what’s going to be the next greatest thing,” Mattox asserts. “Marketing and advertising have gone through so many changes over the past 10 years. In the past 12 to 24 months, some of those changes have been extraordinary.”
The company has been keeping an eye on the progression of social media. “I remember a time not too long ago when people were trying to justify social marketing, period,” Mattox recalls. “Now, it’s being looked at as a prime revenue-generating avenue for business. The challenge there is how do you monetize it or look for a return on your investment? If you’re going to spend money on it as a business, you need something to come out of it, and measuring that is certainly a challenge.”
That is not to say Gragg Advertising jumps on every new fad. The company prides itself on being cautious and methodical before unveiling a new product or service. “We plan incessantly,” Schuler admits. “The recession was tragic in many cases, but for companies like us, our diligence helped us through those hard times.”
“Technology is at the center of this agency,” Mattox adds. “It’s what we do. It’s what’s made a difference for our clients and helped them experience a strong return on their investment. We are not about the newest and greatest thing because a lot of that will fail. If we are going to implement something, we want to make sure it will benefit our clients. If we can make our clients grow, we will grow.”
Story by Kathryn Jones