Company Spotlight (Dec. 2014) : Holland-Mark

Company: Holland-Mark

Interviewee: Rob Waldeck

Interviewer: Whitney Reimann and Judy Hsu

Holland-Mark is a marking company located at the Financial District in Boston. Their office is at the fifth floor of an office building next to South Station. The office environment balances between a traditional cubicle setting and a warm and innovative feel. We were fortunate to interview Rob Waldeck, the president of Holland-Mark.

Whitney: What is the company culture like at Holland-Mark?

Rob: The culture has really evolved over time. Holland-Mark was a large company, but it shut down in 2001. When Holland-Mark relaunched in 2007, I joined as a partner. Christopher Mark Colbert, the founder, actually existed about two years ago.

Early on, the culture adheres to the old adage of “work hard, play hard”. A lot of people pushed for great work, which meant uncharted territory. As the company morphed from an advertising company to a marketing company, the focus turned to strategy. The culture evolved in the same way, from a little bit more crazy to more button up today. The change does not dismiss the fun atmosphere at work, but the deliverables for clients are expected to demonstrate strategies that others may not see, but essential to forming a product.

As a small company of 12 to 14 people now, the culture is dictated by the employees. We have as many people who have family and need to go home at night as those young and crazier ones. This is the driver of our company culture as well.

Whitney: What is your typical day like?

Rob: There are three types of days I have. The first kind constitute of being out of the office and meeting people, whether for business development or partnership with other agencies. Sometimes, the goal is simply to participate in the business community such as the Chamber of Commerce or the start-ups at the innovation district.

Another day would be client deliverables. For example, yesterday morning I met with our client to refine brand strategies already presented. We had lunch together, then I returned to office to discuss brand architecture of a new brand from a nonprofit partnership. The partners are from New York and Chicago. The conference over phone aimed to minimize confusion and find ways to promote the two brands independently.

The third kind of days is for internal management and business operation. We do not have an internal bookkeeper, so a lady comes in and meet with me on Mondays and Thursdays. Once a week, I meet with the outsourced IT person. Other times are spent on meetings within the company.

Judy: What is the main objective of Holland-Mark? Is it shifted away from marketing to entirely strategy and branding?

Rob: Holland-Mark exist to help build brands people love. All of the work we do, whether it be brand strategy, creative development and execution of campaigns, focus on emotionally connect with the people.

If a company is to start from scratch with us, they will fill out the brand strategy exercise. The exercise helps understand the company, culture, products, competition, and their capability. Then, they will create a brand message platform that truly adhere to the culture and capability of the organization yet relevant to the market. The platform is to be distinct as possible from others. This is brand positioning.

After the identifying the strategic piece, the question lies what does it translate into the real world. This could include web development, marketing, advertising, social media assets etc. The third piece focuses on driving the world and the market to those assets that tell your story so well.

Overall, there is definitely a strategy component, but also same for branding, marketing, and advertising. A lot of people think marketing is just communication and advertising, but they are really only part of the entire marketing industry. Thus, we try to bring all the elements to our clients.

Whitney: Did you always see yourself working in the marketing industry?

Rob: No, I can recount the steps to now, but I am still trying to figure out how I got here. I went to college as a political science major, but in fact I was not interested in academics at all. I think most high school students should not go to college right after. Only the few that are motivated will actively participate in the environment. Nonetheless, I graduated and went to live in Colorado for a year like I always dreamed. Then, when I returned, the economy was not ideal for job searching. I ended up working at a ski shop. I sold pair of boots to a man, who thought his company was hiring. The HR person interviewed me did not hire me, but offered a position at a new company the same CEO was starting.

After a couple of years, I befriended a man from a graphic design company. He then hired me for himself. It was the period of time when computer just begin to use for creative work. Apple just discovered how to put different fonts on the computer. Technology fueled the change in the industry. The man understood it, and he taught it to me. Eventually I started on my own business for twelve years until I joined Holland-Mark. Over time, I changed from graphic design to marketing.

In fact, I have never took a class in marketing, advertising, design, or even business. I have read a lot and taught myself, but I have always decide on distinct. Although my background sets a challenge, but my twenty years of experience in the field allowed me to give authoritative suggestions to my clients.

Whitney: Do you have any advice for students looking for a job or an internship?

Rob: I will give you the advice I give everyone, although I do not think anyone actually executed it. Find five companies you really want to work for, and go work for them. It might mean doing an internship for six months without pay, or even going in at night for a shift or a class. I am constantly amazed by those who search for a job at home. Ask for the opportunity to go in everyday and learn something. It is better to spend time learning about the industry and the job, than to spend time on becoming good at job searching. I believe this is important because people can love marketing, but not necessarily to the extent to do it in every industry.

Another advice, take advantage of city of Boston. Explore the innovation around you such as Mass Challenge, The Workbar, HubSpot conferences and other innovative initiates. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell discussed how much luck come into play at success. An example is that most professional hockey players are born in January because it gave them the most time to grow before the cutoff date. The same goes for Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, who were born at a time the world is changing. Thus, it is important to place yourself in innovative environment.

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