The idea for Montana-based PFL came to be during a casual chat between friends on a fishing trip.
“I was fishing with a buddy of mine who’d been working at a local printing plant that was in the process of shutting down, so he was looking for a job,” CEO Andrew Field explains. “He knew I had a background in printing and suggested I start my own printing company. At the time, I was bored with the work I was doing, so I thought about it for about a week and decided to run with it. I bought a Heidelberg printing press from Germany and in 1996, we went into business.”
With humble beginnings, PFL has grown from a 6-person printing company in a rented office space in an old creamery to a robust marketing automation solutions company. Now, they have about 350 employees across multiple offices in Montana and one in Indianapolis.
We talked with CEO Andrew Field to learn more about where the company came from and where it’s going.
ClickZ: What exactly did PFL look like in the beginning?
Andrew Field: We started as strictly a commercial printer. Admittedly, it was a little tough. There’s a reason that there wasn’t a commercial printer in our little town of 7000 people cradled by two mountains.
We started doing sales in California and that was doing okay. In trying to do more, we figured out how to do a color commercial print of a Microsoft Publisher file, something that was not being done yet at that time.
We realized then that we could help small businesses print their own high quality marketing materials, but we had to figure out how to reach those businesses.
One of our employees had bought a couple books on this new thing called Amazon in 1998, and at that time, all Amazon was selling was books and music.
That inspired us, so by March 1999, we launched www.printingforless.com and on the third day, we got two orders.
We’re proud to say that we invented the category of ecommerce print, of which we now still have a little chunk.
CZ: When did the evolution from strictly printing to offering marketing technology solutions begin?
AF: We started delivering tech solutions to companies in the mid-2000s. That’s consistently been the fastest growing part of our company, so much so that in the last couple years we stumbled into our second category, Tactile Marketing Automation.
We’ve built integrations that make marketing truly multi-channel for the first time. For example, let’s say you’re using Marketo’s email marketing to get someone to register for a webinar. You can see the person’s opened the email, but hasn’t taken the action to register.
Through our integration with Marketo, you can send a printed, personalized letter directly to that person from your company’s CEO inviting them to register for the webinar.
The idea is that a letter, package, mug, whatever you want to send to your customer, has high impact.
It’s certainly more expensive than email, but it’s also more effective. It allows marketers to cut through the digital clutter, make a connection, and drive real impact.
CZ: Impressive. So who else do you integrate with?
AF: Aside from Marketo, we integrate primarily with Oracle Eloqua; Salesforce Marketing Cloud, CRM and Pardot; Engagio; and Outreach.
If you think about it, five years ago, marketing automation platforms were barely mature enough for us to build upon and integrate with.
We definitely couldn’t have done this eight years ago. But today, we’re right in the heart of helping marketers have an impact. And what’s truly remarkable for us is that many of our customers have documented case studies where every dollar they spend with us can be directly traced to $10, $20, $50, or even $100 in ROI.
CZ: Who would you identify as competitors in the space?
AF: To our knowledge, we’re not aware that any other company is integrating exactly in the same way we are. I’d have to say our primary competitors are marketing agencies who are creating campaigns on behalf of clients.
A brand or company can go to an agency and explain what they want, and that agency will turn around and do it all offline.
Anyone can create a marketing campaign or do a mass mailing, but without the orchestration that’s enabled by our integrations and rich behavioral data, it’s hard to compete.
Anyone can grab and mail out a branded mug from the swag closet or do a mass mailing, but if you’re not harnessing behavioral data, that can be extremely time consuming and ultimately not scalable.
We’ve oriented ourselves towards marketing to medium and large companies who really care about their brand, marketing, and messaging. We want a customer to have a really good, brand-enhancing experience, driving the next action in the customer journey.
We know that sending direct mail is often used as a sales tactic. So we wanted to create a way to allow marketers to do this without potentially damaging the brand.
When a company sends you a cup of coffee, they’re not trying to bribe you. What they’re doing is creating engagement, and in that moment of engagement, they’re delivering real value.
The basics of marketing is understanding your value proposition. How you communicate with your customers is very, very important for that.
CZ: Where do you strive to improve within the company?
AF: At the request of our customers, we’re continually working to enhance data-driven attribution. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds of how data is handled, so we’re continuing to work on and improve that.
We’re also working on creating packaging to be both as effective and cost-effective as possible.
When you buy a new iPhone, you’re spending a lot of money, but the product packaging is beautiful and sleek and enhances the customer experience. Apple uses the packaging to create an emotional connection with the customer.
Marketers want to create that emotional connection with their customers, so we’re working on and continuing to roll out improvements in what and how products look like and feel for the customer.
CZ: Sounds like you have a lot of exciting things going on!
AF: You now, I really think the modern world of marketing is exciting.
Marketers are smart and savvy and are doing some amazing things. I’m really in awe of what some of our customers are able to do. The sophistication they possess is truly inspiring. These marketers are truly intelligent, and I’m really proud to work with the people we work with.
Quick facts on PFL
- Year founded: 1996
- HQ: Livingston, Montana
- Employees: 350
- Martech category: Tactile Marketing Automation
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