Manchester advertising exec Terry Vital

When Terry Vital founded Vital & Ryze Advertising in 1990, the World Wide Web was not so wide, cell phones weighed pounds and digital media were pretty much still in the realm of science fiction. As technology has progressed, so have the methods – and sometimes the madness – branding companies must use to get their clients’ messages across to consumers.

We caught up with Vital at her Manchester office to find out more how her firm helps New Hampshire companies show their faces to the world.

Q. Some people might believe a branding company is only for the big guys. What can a small business, even a tiny single-person company, get from a firm like yours?

A. We have a particular interest in the underdog because they’ve just never had the distinction of having properly executed marketing and communications. We like working with companies that have just come to the realization that they want to do better. Sometimes this isn’t something that takes outrageously expensive consultants. Sometimes clients don’t even know what they don’t know about marketing and communications. It’s almost like you’re opening up this magic chest of toys, but the clients get to see how the magic really works. Their energy level and enthusiasm becomes so high, so genuine, so authentic, that it actually feeds into what we do.

Q. What have been some of your favorite campaigns so far?

A. Abacus Travel was interesting. It wasn’t necessarily a campaign, but a change in the presentation of their key sales piece, a pocketed folder with an insert.

Sometimes what we’re recommending can feel counter-intuitive, and it did in this particular case. We told them that we knew this was a tough decision to make, but to take their piece and our piece to their next sales meeting and ask a couple of key questions: Which company looks like it can handle all your corporate travel services? Which company looks like it has the most sophisticated software? Which company looks like it has the most resources?

Every sales call they went on our brochure was picked. They went ahead with it, and they are experiencing 300 percent growth over last year’s numbers.

Mercantile Bank was another fascinating case. It is a small community bank in downtown Boston surrounded by branches from all the other large banks. During our research we couldn’t find a single person that didn’t like this bank. Their customers would do nearly anything for this particular bank. There were some key differentiators and it all existed in their service. The kicker was all the bank personnel knew virtually every customer by their first name. That was so consistent and so uncommon that we developed the tagline “Banking on a first name basis.”

Q. One of the earlier projects you worked on was the Merriam-Webster’s 10th edition dictionary. A dictionary is not something we typically associate with a glitzy ad campaign.

A. We did that back in 1993. Merriam-Webster’s was fighting a huge battle with the name of their dictionary. It was called “Webster’s Dictionary.” As it turns out, another organization named their dictionary “Webster’s Dictionary.” Somebody over the 100 years failed to renew the protection on the name.

So we had to engage in a branding exercise. The first thing the company decided to do was change the name to “Merriam-Webster’s.” Then we decided to put together a public relations campaign.

The bottom line is, the reason why there was a 10th edition was that there were 10,000 new words going in and 500 new illustrations. So you can’t help but think, where do you get all the new words? So the marketing team decided to put together a campaign to help people really understand how words make it to the dictionary.

So we and the team at Merriam-Webster actually described the whole process as part of the campaign in the pocket folder with inserts. We broke it into many categories and sent them to all the media outlets.

Merriam-Webster was also clever enough to launch an “author” tour to major cities, something that’s more associated with The New York Times best-seller list.

Q. What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?

A. There was a private water utility company trying to get a rate increase and their rates were already one of the highest in the entire country.

It was a comprehensive process and it was going to be tough to change people’s opinions about the value of the water. The communities in southern New Hampshire were already spending a lot and were starting to get very upset.

We wanted to make sure we tested our messaging with the general public before we actually designed the script so we could dissolve the negative messaging as much as possible. The hearings lasted for many hours and were so emotionally charged.

We also tested the “fitness” of our client to be able to execute his script during these emotionally charged situations at the hearings.

It was really a matter of providing education to the marketplace. When people ask a question, they want an answer. I think people really softened up when they realized this particular utility inherited so many failed systems and so many bad wells they had to make capital investments.

Q. Tell me more about your “Healthy Earth, Healthy Life” project.

A. We provide pro bono services to non-profit groups in this state. We’ve been doing this for almost as long as we’ve been around. This is our vehicle for giving back to the community.

We like to support three categories of groups: the arts; environmental protection; and health-conscious lifestyles. They are a direct reflection of the core values that are shared here.

There is an application process with an interview and evaluation. They are treated just like clients. The deliverables can be quite comprehensive, everything from market research to publicity. Every service we provide to paying clients they have available to them.

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