Medical industry work is healthy for Reagan Marketing Design

February 28, 2012
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Last year was a very good year for Reagan Marketing & Design — perhaps its best year ever.

As the firm celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2011, it was showered with so many honors for its work that the shelves on its trophy case should be sagging under the weight of all the awards.

“Yes, it was a good year to celebrate our 20th because I do think we got recognized for many accomplishments,” said Mary Reagan Shapton, RM+D founder and owner.

The firm was recognized six times in its record-setting year. It won two Aster Awards — a gold and a silver — for medical marketing, a silver ADDY for creative excellence in advertising, a Merit award for health care advertising, a Neighborhood Business Alliance award for the renovation of its new office at 912 Wealthy St. SE, and the prestigious EPIC Award presented by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, which named RM+D the woman-owned business of the year.

“Definitely I think the woman-business owner (award) was a huge accomplishment after 20 years, but also moving into and renovating our building was, I would say, a significant milestone.

“All of that, though, fell on the heels of working on the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital,” said Shapton of the gold Aster Award her firm captured for medical marketing.

“So, it was a very big year with a lot of energy and a lot of excitement.”

RM+D isn’t a stranger to winning awards. In fact, it picked up six ADDYs from 1999-2006, three medical-marketing Asters in 2009 and 2010, and an international gold medal award of excellence for medical marketing in 2009. Although the firm works in other areas besides medical and life sciences, those categories seem to have become the company’s specialty — an uncommon area of expertise for most marketing and design businesses.

Shapton said the idea to focus on the medical industry surfaced 14 years ago when the firm was looking to diversify. At the time, one of its biggest areas — manufacturing — was entering a slower period, and the company needed to find a new client base. When the dust settled, RM+D decided that education and health care were two growing areas on which it should concentrate.

Then, a larger-than-life event occurred: Butterworth and Blodgett hospitals became Spectrum Health.

“An opportunity came up after Spectrum Health’s merger. They needed some temporary help in their communications department with a couple of their designers going on medical leave. At that time, manufacturing around here was really slowing down. We actually thought that we’d take a risk, and I know most businesses don’t do that,” said Shapton. She said the firm had a history of helping companies through the start-up stage, had staff members with medical experience, and health care was her first course of study in college until she switched to business.

“But (Spectrum) had a very tight budget, and we said we’ll see how we can work with you to make this happen. Through that, it just started to become a very good relationship that allowed us to bring some of our problem-solving and strategy skills to the table. Then we were asked to help with the planning of the Meijer Heart Center.”

Shapton said medical is a more complex industry than most and to be successful in it, a firm needs to focus more on strategy and problem-solving than on the communications side of the business. There is another ingredient, though, that a company needs if it wants to click with medical clients.

“You have to have that interest. I think if you didn’t have the interest, it would probably be tedious. It’s complex work, but I think it’s very challenging work and very rewarding,” she said.

Shapton entered the field by joining Steelcase Inc. after graduating from college, an experience she labeled as “incredible” because the office-furniture maker gave her a lot of opportunities as a newbie. After her stint at Steelcase, she took a year off to figure out what she wanted to do next. It was 1991 when she decided “to put her stake in ground” and open RM+D in a small office at 820 Monroe Ave. NW.

“I was young and I really didn’t see barriers, so I thought why not try it, because if I don’t try this now, I will never try this. I was able to secure some contract work with a law firm and a radio station here, and Steelcase also contacted me and I was able to help them to start up new businesses,” she said. “It really grew into a love. I thought this was awesome that I’m able to really stretch my thinking and my growth, and I saw that I really liked working on many aspects of helping many different businesses.”

The firm has grown so much and so steadily that, after 18 years of leasing space in a converted factory on North Monroe, Shapton bought the Wealthy Street building in a historic neighborhood district where she and her 21 employees celebrated its 20 years of success.

“There definitely have been some tenuous times as the economy shifted so fast, probably 10 years ago. But I think we’ve been able to manage our team fairly lean and remain fairly flexible, so we have definitely managed through some ups and downs,” she said.

When a firm has such a strong showing as RM+D had in 2011, the following year has the potential to feel like a letdown. But that isn’t the case so far: RM+D finds itself as busy this year as last year, when net billings topped $3.1 million.

“We don’t have any, like, huge projects. But we have a lot of great steady work, which is a good feeling. We’re seeing some of our life-science work increase and we continue to have steady health care work, and some of our contract furniture work is picking up steam after being very slow for the past decade,” said Shapton. “So it’s looking good.”

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