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A to D – Don’t Look Back!

It has been a very short three years since I left Sunshine Media/Scottsdale after a fun and fruitful 5-year stint. We built a great team, we recruited some very talented publishers from all over the United States (about 190 at our high point) and in 2007 we even pulled off an acquisition of a custom publishing company in Chattanooga, TN that concentrates on the burgeoning health care sector. Our home building and real estate publishing sectors did hit some heavy weather in the difficult economic conditions of 2008, but our commitment to our publishers and their successes never wavered during my tenure. But, when your time’s up, you don’t usually get a chance to do much more than wish everyone well as you move on to new things. For the last three years, I’ve enjoyed the freedom of entrepreneurial advisory work, with a very heavy emphasis on analog-to-digital transformations. I was fortunate enough to stumble upon two very different companies, each with a very different set of challenges. I thought I’d cover one of the companies in this post, and I’ll wrap with my experiences with the second company in a later post.

Communication Links is a leading golf industry marketing and public relations firm based in Scottsdale that serves some of the top companies in the golf sector, with a 17-year history of doing great things for golf management companies, daily fee golf courses, high-end private golf communities and even big name individuals in the golf industry. With an expertise in branding, creating mission statements, logo development work right through to all phases of marketing, public relations and advertising (mostly in the golf and high-end consumer magazines), the team has some of the most knowledgeable writers, publicists and marketing thinkers in the golf sector.  Most of the team has been with the company for more than 10 years…in this day and age that says a lot about the two founders and the people they hired to build the business starting in the early 1990’s.

But, the company didn’t have an in-house response to a request made by many of its clients: “How do I do digital stuff?” Communication Links would put these clients in touch with outside digital specialists, who in turn would build web sites and provide other technology solutions.

But, then a PR guru in town introduced me to the two founders/owners of the company in the fall of 2008, and we immediately fell into “like” with each other, and agreed to hook up. I had worked at Golf Digest/Detroit & New York much earlier in my business career, and my lifelong passion is playing golf, so what could be better? I’d get to learn golf from “the inside,” spend all day thinking about golf solutions for golf industry clients, and apply my traditional/digital media background to the challenges of transitioning from traditional media choices to digital opportunities. It’s turned out to be more than I hoped for when we got together.

Shortly after joining, we launched Communication Links Digital (CL Digital) and began the process of taking responsibility for some of the digital efforts of our client base so we don’t have to send them to third-parties. After a period of team-building and internal education about our capabilities, we began to offer our existing legacy clients new options from the digital side of the house. Each of the partners and the senior account managers in the shop are happy we can now offer the kind of solutions that clients need and want…not just our traditional media services which Communication Links has done so well for almost two decades, but now the digital services that enable us to be a full-service provider regardless of our clients’ needs.

Stan Utley with future LPGA Star

The first website we built was for Stan Utley, one of the world’s Top 5 instructors whose specialty is the short game (pitching, chipping, bunker play and putting). He works with top PGA Tour players in the US and in Europe, LPGA players, and top-notch college amateurs as well. And, he does give golf instruction to non-competitive amateurs who just want to improve their games.

Stan’s previous Web 1.0 site was built many years ago by another company using old tools, no interactivity and was rather outdated looking. Our Web 2.0 launch for Stan’s new site has worked very well for him. And, his teaching, speaking and various corporate outing forays have kept him very, very busy. The new website has helped promote his books, his videos and his endorsed products. Our longer-term goal is to launch a “learning center” in his name, with global online access to all of Stan’s methods, drills and teaching tools readily available through his website. We’re about 6 months away from that transition, but the strategy is firmly in place.

Par 3 #16 "Stadium Hole" at TPC Scottsdale

We then rebuilt the pre-existing Web 1.0 Waste Management Phoenix Open website (formerly called the FBR Open…named for its previous sponsor), launching several months before the golf tournament and its new Waste Management sponsorship kicked off in February 2010. The PGA Tour has recognized the WM Phoenix Open website as one of the top local tournament websites in the country. We couldn’t be more delighted by the amount of fan interaction and the full array of interactive services the tournament can deliver through the site (video, social media widgets, PGA Tour widgets, fan comment areas, news updates and tournament features such as ticket buying, parking maps, charity fund-raising options and more).

A few months ago, we went live with another PGA Tour event website for the Frys.com Open, part of the Fall Series PGA tournament events sponsored by Frys.com (uh, well, THAT’S obvious, isn’t it??). The tournament is smaller than the Waste Management tour event, so the number of pages and image content gives us less content density, but the website uses typical Web 2.0 form factors and a JQuery feature slider technique that will render on Apple products such as the iPad, iPhone and iTouch (which Flash-based feature sliders will not). The tournament is moving this October from its Grayhawk/Scottsdale home of the last three years, and will be hosted at Cordevalle near the Frys.com corporate headquarters in San Jose, CA. This adds some Silicon Valley luster to the tournament.

Fortunately, while some golf media industry spend is down, new website builds, social media launches and our e-mail digital marketing platform have kept us very busy. We’ve gone on a tear building a half-dozen brand new websites for a number of clients, and our backlog is healthy and growing. The advantage of being small is that you can act fast. The disadvantage to being small and fast is that you can be resource constrained when multiple builds are going on at the same time. But, we’re dealing with it, and getting through these challenges.

The team at CL and CL Digital is very adept at marketing and deep in golf industry knowledge, and our client relations are excellent. What has impressed me as much as anything is that the company’s executives truly listen to what the clients want and we then go into overdrive to deliver fast.

Since I know enough PHP, CSS and XHTML to be dangerous, I’m right in there rolling up my sleeves to help on the coding and content feeding. To me, this is where it really gets fun: to start with an idea that we map out on a whiteboard, create a wireframe and site map on the computer, and to then see it evolve into a full-scale web presence for each of our clients when the site build is completed. Each member of our team has special skills, and we collaborate extremely well in meeting our ultimate client goals…build on budget, launch on-time and take the client brand to the next level through integrated traditional and digital media initiatives. Nothing makes my day like a well-built, robust and useful website for a client! Along the way, we may take a few divots, but we are focused on helping our clients WIN when they sink that final putt on #18.

As Chief Digital Officer, I work 3-4 days a week at Communication Links’ Scottsdale office, and enjoy every minute of it. Our two founders are very low-keyed and self-effacing, so one of the challenges has been to get our OWN website launched. As they’ve said…”it’s about our clients, not about us.” After being in business for 17 years, they’ve built their success on doing great client work and word-of-mouth recommendations. That is very impressive, but a public website is an essential element today. How can you tout the value of a web presence if you don’t have one yourself? In the next couple of months, however, we finally launched our own website for Communication Links. Like our founders, it is low-keyed. We show our fun side and use some creative flair to make our business website very different.

I also serve another Phoenix-area company a few days a week as Interim CEO and Technology Advisor. This company has similar challenges, albeit in a very different industry cluster: B2B publishing. I’ll cover that situation in an upcoming post.

Next Up: Powering Through at Power Trade Media/Phoenix