Older Firm Celebrates A New Interactive Anniversary

June 19, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Eleven years ago, Woller, Cook + Misamore tried to get out ahead of the curve by hiring a guy from Apple Computer.

His name is Brett Chaffer.

Apparently it worked, because this month the company is celebrating the first official birthday of its transformation to serve the interactive business world. It also claims to be the state’s oldest and largest interactive communications firm.

Actually, it was a decade-long change.

But it started with Chaffer coming on board as the first software developer for a traditional advertising and public relations company.

In 1993, Chaffer formed WC+M’s first interactive software group, the following year bringing in another developer named Charles McGrath.

“At that point,” Chaffer said, “the bulk of our business was traditional business-to-business advertising and public relations. Only a fraction of our business was interactive, and it was coming to us as a by-product of our traditional work.”

Nowadays, he says, only a fraction of the firm’s work involves traditional high-gloss printed materials. “And what little we do have,” he told the Business Journal, “comes to us through the bulk of our work, which is what we call interactive communications.”

Also coming to the firm through interactive communications was its third principal, Michael I. Brown.

Before joining the Grand Rapids company, Brown was with Dow Corning in Midland. Now he is the director of account services for structure:interactive (SI), which is what WC+M became a year ago this month.

Brown, in fact, is the vice president of this new interactive version of a 30-year-old company.

McGrath, SI’s creative director and Internet director, is the corporate secretary, while Chaffer, director of technical services and business administration, is SI’s president and treasurer.

Brown and Chaffer note that McGrath is in demand elsewhere in the industry as an interface design consultant. He recently has been involved in projects with Disney and Mattell.

Brown explained that the company made the name change primarily because it is a better description of what the company does today. “We have evolved from a traditional advertising agency into an agency focused on interactive communications.”

That means that in addition to its long-time role in strategic planning, the company now helps its clients with e-commerce development, CD-ROM applications, Web-based applications and DVD-based kiosks.

“We understand the special nature of business-to-business communications and the arcane world of interactive technologies,” Brown said. “We work on the bleeding edge of these technologies.

“It’s what enables us to help our clients be heard in today’s information-overloaded business world.”

And among the firm’s major clients are Universal Forest Products, Ford Power Products, Noranda Magnesium, Dow Chemical, Siemens Dematic, Dow Agrosciences, Steelcase and, not surprisingly, Dow Corning. The firm’s specialty is large clients and it had annual capitalized billings of $26 million last year.

The major Web sites it has developed are www.dow.com, www.norandamagnesium.com, www.siemensdematic.com and www.ufpi. com

The firm has a staff of 36, including its owner-managers. Chaffer said the crew consists of six full-time programmer-developers, nine designer-developers, three technical writers, nine account service people, three production coordinators and three support staffers.

Brown notes that the changes in SI actually are part of a 30-year tradition that began when Joe Misamore founded Misamore Advertising and Public Relations in Grand Rapids.

A decade later, Jack Woller and Bob Cook joined the firm, leading it through a long period of growth that saw its client base expand throughout the nation and overseas. They also initiated the changes that propelled the company into a 21st century version of the original business.

WC+M’s first venture into the interactive world was a digital media tutorial for Central Michigan University. By 1996, the company had an international reach.

As a public service, the company has created and maintains the Kent County Millennium Park Web site, www.millennium-park.org.

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