Friday 23 March 2018

Your Business: Brand new way of thinking

Colin Culliton tells Sean Gallagher about how he built up a group of marketing communications companies

Sean Gallagher with Colin Culliton of TPI Group Photo: David Conachy
Sean Gallagher with Colin Culliton of TPI Group Photo: David Conachy
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

Most businesses, irrespective of the sector they operate in, have one challenge in common; how best to build and communicate their brand to existing and potential customers. In the past, such branding focused largely on coming up with a catchy name and a recognisable logo.

Today, however, marketing and communications have become more sophisticated as companies strive to stand out in a crowded marketplace. The channels through which brand managers must now communicate have also changed in recent years and expanded beyond traditional brochures and printed advertisements to include all things social and digital.

It's a space that this week's entrepreneur, Colin Culliton, knows well. For over 25 years, his company, the TPI Group, of which he is founder and CEO, has specialised in working with some of the country's biggest and best known brands. Today, his marketing communications group includes six specialist businesses employing 135 staff and has an annual turnover of more than €15m.

"We started out in 1990, as a traditional printing business called The Printed Image. At that stage, we focused primarily on the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and the financial services sectors," explains Colin as he shows me around the company's headquarters in Dublin's Fonthill.

"Since then we've gone on to either set up or acquire a variety of different companies that now enable us to offer a wide range of solutions to marketing-focused businesses wishing to grow their sales, brand and market share.

"These include our traditional print business itself The Printed Image; The Creative Works which focuses on graphic design and developing marketing concepts; Zest which specialises in branded merchandising; Runway which focuses on below the line marketing strategies such as brand promotions and product samplings; TAP which is our dedicated design and fit-out business for retail stores and finally Pluto, a specialist event management business which we acquired recently and is located in Clonskeagh. Even though our services have expanded over the years, our governing ethos has remained the same - to help our clients grow their top and bottom lines through what we refer to as clever customer communications," he adds.

Most of these companies are located in different areas of the facility with each one having their own corporate identity. Customers are free to deal with TPI for all their marketing communication needs or alternatively, can work with different divisions based on their individual requirements.

As we make our way through the building, I start by visiting the team in The Printed Image. From the gangway over the production floor, I can see that the large litho printing presses are in full flight spitting out high volumes of everything from posters and banking forms to packaging, large cardboard boxes and point-of-sale units.

In The Creative Works area, graphic and structural design teams are busily designing a mix of logos and marketing campaigns. In the Zest merchandising area I get to see a colourful display of interesting promotional products ranging from corporate gifts to branded clothing. Further down the corridor, members of the Runway team are planning a number of upcoming brand promotions, product samplings and customer engagement events while the TAP team is designing innovative shop and restaurant fit-outs.

In all, this is one happening place with a level of energy and dynamism that is truly uplifting. Yet for all its moving parts and individual elements, there's a cohesion to everything.

"Our target market may differ across the various companies in the group, but essentially, we work with companies or organisations that have a marketing spend ranging from small and medium firms up to very large corporates and multinationals," explains Colin.

Among his long list of well-known clients are brands such as Irish life, Bank of Ireland, PTSB, CRH, Coca Cola, Nestle Cereals, Cadbury, Mars, Bulmers, Allianz Heinz, GSK, Paddy Powers and Musgraves.

"For us, it's no longer about meeting our clients' expectations. It's about delighting them," insists Colin.

Colin Culliton grew up in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow. His father was the CEO of Cement Roadstone so discussions about business were commonplace around the dinner table. Drawn to a career in business, Colin attended the College of Marketing and Design in DIT. However, like many in the mid-1980s, he found it difficult to get a job. He signed up for a sales management course with the then training agency, AnCO.

"My first job was with Screen Printers in Bray selling tax and insurance disc holders to garage owners who were themselves struggling to sell any cars," explains Colin. "While challenging, the day to day interaction with customers convinced me that business and sales in particular, was where my future lay," he adds.

That job led to a second one, this time with a general printing company called Marksell. Having built up a reputation for his sales ability, he left three years later to set up his own printing business, TPI, uniquely with the backing of his then employers.

"Marksell was focused on large volume runs so the idea behind setting up TPI was to target smaller job runs that the company wasn't properly geared up to handle," he explains.

In 1993, TPI became the first small printing business to win the much coveted Printer of the Year Award. Three years later, he bought McGill Print. The move allowed him add customers such as Bank of Ireland and Aer Lingus to his now expanding customer base.

In 2002, he made the brave decision to acquire Marksell, the company that had helped him start. In so doing, he succeeded in buying out his largest competitor while putting the company in a strong position to weather the recession that was just around the corner.

"The recession hit the industry hard. Companies everywhere slashed their marketing budgets.As a result we were forced to cut our costs, cut our wages and cut our prices. Then we decided to re-think and re-engineer the business and become a super-efficient low-cost provider," admits Colin.

"We also realised at that point, that we needed to broaden our product and service offering so in 2009, we set up Zest Merchandising. The following year we set up The Creative Works and in 2014, we bought Runway. And then in 2015, we established TAP to harness opportunities in the retail sector. A week after we set up TAP we secured Musgraves as a client. Today, we are helping them roll out new layouts for both their Supervalu and Centra stores across the country. And finally, we acquired event management company, Pluto, earlier this year," he adds.

What does he think has been the reason for the company's success to date, I ask. "I think it's our unique culture. I believe too, that culture is about what staff do when the boss isn't there. And I'm fortunate to have built up a great team who have a strong 'can do, will do' attitude," explains Colin. "As I've grown the company, I've been careful not to create one big company with me at the helm. Instead, we have a group of smaller businesses with individual managers who have the comfort of knowing that they have a much bigger and well-resourced group behind them."

Colin Culliton is a breath of fresh air. He is positive, energetic and dynamic. Instead of worrying what the future will bring, he is busy creating it.

Colin's advice for other businesses

1 Delight your customer

“Showing up on time is no longer enough. Nor is keeping your customers satisfied. You have to be brilliant in what you do and to delight your customers. If you do that, they will stay with you and will do your marketing for you.”

2 Magic often lies outside your comfort zone

“Sticking to your knitting was once enough but that attitude can leave you vulnerable to becoming irrelevant. Take opportunities outside of your comfort zone. Sometimes, that’s where the magic can actually happen.”

3 Never ever give up

“Develop a trait for resilience. Hanging in after everyone else has given up can often be enough to succeed. The world of business is for people who see a closed door as an invitation to try the window.”


Company: TPI Group

Business: Marketing Communications

Set up: 1990

Founder: Colin Culliton

Turnover: €15m

No of Employees: 135

Location: Headquartered in Fonthill Industrial Park, Dublin 22 with subsidiaries Pluto, in Dublin 6, and Zest UK, in Chelmsford, UK

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