COMMUNICATION: CML expands in all directions

TRAVER SE CITY – They say timing is everything, and nobody believes that more than Chuck Lombardo.

Seeing a need for public relations consulting in the early 1990s, the former corporate PR Manager decided to open a firm of his own.

“I had a vision of a consulting role for myself,” Lombardo said. “But it became obvious clients wanted someone to execute the plan, as well.”

So in 1994, he opened his one-man operation under the name CML–his initials.

“I wanted to be the first one on the block,” he said. “If I didn’t, someone else would.”

Six years ago, however, he could never have imagined the incredible boom that his firm would enjoy.

“I knew there was a need, a market in Traverse City for that kind of service, but I had no idea it would take off like it did.”

It’s taken off not only at CML, but in public relations agencies all over the country. According to the Council of Public Relations Firms, the industry saw a record-breaking increase last year, adding to a five-year growth of 140 percent–good timing on Lombardo’s part. “I feel pretty fortunate we picked this time to start the business.”

But timing isn’t the only thing that has helped CML’s growth. By taking classes and becoming accredited by the Public Relations Society of America early on, he secured an understanding of what the market needed.

“It helped me to learn about the agency business and helped me tap into the growth nationally and translate it to our growth locally,” he said.

It seems to be working. In 1999, CML’s total billings were $1.2 million, a 167 percent increase over the previous year. And, the company posted a 69 percent net fee revenue increase. They also added new clients, such as Passageways Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Traverse City Light and Power, Waste Management, and LochenHeath to their roster, which already included Great Lakes Energy, Cherryland Electric, BATA, and River’s Edge.

And with the formation of public relations, graphic design, marketing and advertising divisions, CML can now offer clients full-service capabilities. “Our approach has always been: PR is all encompassing in terms of communications,” Lombardo said.

For 2000, even more expansion plans are in the works. As of June 1, CML will enlarge its office by 1,000 square feet. The expansion was necessary to accommodate the recent addition of a graphic designer and support position, bringing the total number of employees to 10.

Lombardo credits much of CML’s growth to his staff. “I really attribute that to having the right people in place. It’s because of them we’ve been able to achieve the success that we have.”

This year, they will offer in-house market research services and work with other companies to offer more services to clients. For example, they’ll partner with Passageways to manage trade and professional associations’ conferences and events, and with Gaslight Media, which will provide Web site programming for CML’s Web design services. Both partnerships are already bringing in new business prospects to the firm.

“We are working on a proposal, along with Gaslight, for the Mall of Michigan, an Internet mall Web site for the Michigan Retailers Association.” They are one of four firms in the running for the business.

It’s just one of the many new clients CML will try to win as they strive to expand their geographic markets statewide and grow in revenues. They are currently trying to get contracts with the State of Michigan.

“We feel like we can compete with any firm in the state,” Lombardo said.

But the focus of CML remains the same: “We feel our clients hire us to, number one, be creative,” he said. “I’ve tried to identify ‘what do our clients really want from us?’ and deliver that in ways they don’t expect.”