Jamie Bradley is a marketing, sales and printing professional with a great deal of experience and expertise. He is also a really nice guy blessed with a gregarious, easygoing personality.
I’ve known Jamie for some 20 years or so, mainly through the many New England Direct Marketing Association (NEDMA) and other industry-related functions we both attend, and I’ve always enjoyed his company.
Not only does he know print production inside and out, he’s also a smart, seasoned businessman, someone who’s been there, done that so often that you just know you can count on him for a good answer or the right solution.
Jamie and I had lunch recently at Panera Bread on Waltham Street in Lexington, during which time we talked about all the changes we’ve seen in our industry and our respective plans for the future. At some point in our conversation, I asked him if he’d be willing to answer a few questions of mine by email and he didn’t hesitate to say “yes.” So without further ado, here is our Q&A…
Bob: Where do you work and what do you do there?
Jamie: I am the founder of Sophwell in Woburn, Massachusetts. Sophwell works with people in marketing who want someone else to manage details of production and implementation for their marketing programs. They outsource those details to us. I oversee business development, production management and project implementation.
Bob: How and why did you choose a career in the printing industry?
Jamie: I majored in mass communications at UMass Amherst. I planned to work in television, until I interned at a station in Washington, D.C. The people thought they were so damned important because they worked in television, and I knew it wasn’t for me.
A chance opportunity via a fellow intern had me help with graphic layout of the magazine where she worked, and I was drawn to it immediately. When I returned to Amherst the following semester, I did graphic layout for ads at The Massachusetts Daily Collegian student newspaper. After graduation, I worked for a newspaper and a printer in Newport, R.I. Thirty five years later, I still work with printers.
Bob: What have been some of your greatest accomplishments and proudest moments as a professional so far?
Jamie: I think my greatest accomplishment has been refusing to let myself stay in one place professionally. I have always embraced changing technologies and been quick to see their utility. In the early eighties, I convinced the printer I worked for to invest in a fax machine to reduce courier costs, and a desktop PC for file conversions to eliminate re-keying client documents we typeset. I got my first cell phone in 1985 (it cost $1,700). Ten years ago, I led the New England Direct Marketing Association’s first conference session on using variable data printing for marketing. I’ve been on LinkedIn since 2007, and wrote my first blog post in 2008.
I think my proudest moments come when clients who have worked with me for 10 years or more still come to me for help with constructive input on a project. It’s never been about who my employer was, but about what I was able to offer them.
Bob: What have been the most significant changes you’ve seen take place in your industry so far?
Jamie: Gutenberg’s moveable type was the printing standard for almost 500 years. Photographic-based graphic layout replaced it and lasted less than 80 years. Desktop design for print had a strong run for about eight years. Publishing online cut commercial printing by nearly 40% in about five years, and it continues to decline. Many talented, dedicated workers and craftsmen who spent their lives in the industry have had to switch careers. The internet made their old jobs unnecessary.
Recently I spoke with the owner of a now-defunct chain of music stores in the Boston area called CD Spins. We agreed that what the MP3 did to his industry, the PDF did to mine. He recently moved to a farmhouse in western Massachusetts and drives a yogurt truck. We all have to adapt.
Bob: How has your role at your job changed over the years?
Jamie: I started out in graphic production doing what desktop designers do today, but using the old cut and paste method. While I was technically adept, I didn’t have the artistic gene needed to create great visuals. I understood the language that designers used, so as a print salesperson I was able to translate their ideas to production. Over time, I focused more on the process of how materials would get to end users, and how they would interact with them. I use that information to inform how a project should be produced and distributed, and which suppliers are best suited to align with the requirements.
Bob: Can you describe a typical day in the work life of Jamie Bradley for us?
Jamie: At the office I scan emails quickly to look for client and vendor updates regarding current or upcoming projects. I review and update the production log, and fill in my daily To-Do list. What happens from there can vary depending on what’s on the list and the urgency of a particular project.
I am often researching products, getting estimates and putting together proposals. On any given day I could be working on a direct mail project, a print on demand business card ordering system, packaging, a trade show booth or the promo items to give out at the booth. There is a lot of variety to how clients utilize Sophwell’s services. What slows me down the most is getting costs, due to the research it takes and the lag time of how long vendors take to respond. It’s one of the things clients hire me to do so they won’t have to.
I check in on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook intermittently through the day, and I review newsletter emails I get for interesting content to repost. I try to get out to networking events in the evening a couple of times per month to learn what’s new, meet new contacts and keep up with friends professionally.
Bob: How and why did you start your own business, Sophwell?
Jamie: When I started Sophwell in August of 2008, my goal was to offer clients comprehensive programs for to managing production and distribution of their marketing materials. Little did I know that The Great Recession had already taken hold. I had to shift my focus into survival mode, taking on whatever business came my way.
Now I am moving back toward my initial plan, but with a slight shift. The original concept focused on revenue from producing and distributing products. Now I see that what many businesses really need is someone who can help them implement their marketing plan on a day-to-day basis. Lots of business owners tell me they just don’t have the time or staff to manage a referral system, or get started with social media, so I am working on a business model to address that need. Also, I think my 30+ years of commission sales brings a different mindset to client development than the background of traditional marketers.
Bob: What do you think of social media and today’s new marketing communications tools?
Jamie: No one knew who Sophwell was when I started in a spare bedroom in my house. I had to learn how to run a business with no experience and no money. I needed a larger marketing presence that could be found and provide credibility when businesses wanted to check me out. I built a website and started a blog. I got myself listed on every search site I could find until I owned the first few pages of Google when searching for “Sophwell.” I started using Twitter to connect with other like-minded people and to find out about networking opportunities where I could meet them.
My first confirmation that it was working came about a year after I started when I met a business owner at an event who had heard of Sophwell. She was visibly surprised to hear that the company was just one guy working out of a spare bedroom. She thought we had at least eight to 10 people.
LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook have provided the “water cooler” conversations I longed for when I worked alone, and pointed me toward important resources I needed to run my business. Using social media brought me referrals that turned into paying clients.
Bob: What do you see as the biggest challenges to marketers today?
Jamie: Marketers lack the time and resources to do what they would like to do. While this is a business opportunity for Sophwell to help them do more by outsourcing, it undermines their success. For many businesses, it is also a mistake for them to ignore direct mail as a vital part of their marketing program. As more companies move to online marketing, the ones effectively integrating direct mail realize their message goes into a less cluttered marketing channel. The most interesting and creative direct mail piece I got last year was a unique, interactive piece from Google. Zappos discovered printing catalogs increased sales from both old and new customers.
Bob: What companies, organizations and people do you admire most in business? Who are your biggest influencers?
Jamie: On the sales side, I am a big fan of Jill Konrath, author of the books, “Selling to Big Companies” and “SNAP Selling.” She emphasizes the importance of recognizing how your prospects have no time to talk to you unless you can solve their problems. On the marketing side, I have great respect for HubSpot because of how their own practices show you how to effectively use their products.
Bob: What do you see yourself doing five years from now?
Jamie: I am still trying to build my business. The challenges of the recession have made it take a lot longer than I projected. There are days when I love the sense of being the one in control of my destiny. Then there are days when it feels more like I am out there on the tightrope without a net, and if someone handed me a line to a stable income, benefits and paid vacation weeks I would grab on. At heart I’m an optimist, like every entrepreneur needs to be. You can’t say that I’m someone who is afraid to fail.
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