At 2 million square feet, a former canning factory in Lomira, Wisc. is the largest printing plant in the world. When it opened, in the Halcyon days of print, the factory produced millions of catalogues and magazines, ranging from Playboy and Ms. When Gloria Steinem, the feminist co-founder of Ms., was asked how she felt about her magazine being printed alongside Playboy, she replied, “I think it is only fitting that the same presses that print the poison also print the antidote.”
That was 1985. We all know what happened next. Quad knows it all too well.
Harry Quadracci founded the company 52 years ago this month. Harry’s son, Joel, is now CEO. He took over in 2006, as print continued its slow decline and before the great recession upended the global economy. “I did everything my father told me not to do, which was go public and buy broken down printing companies,” Quadracci told Adweek during Cannes Lions last month. It was Quadracci’s first time at the Festival of Creativity where the intersection of creative, brand, platform and production merge. It’s also the intersection Quad aims to transect with a rebrand resulting from a 15-year transformational journey.
“For us, it was we better become the consolidator, or the consolidating is going to be done to us,” Quadracci said.
While its roots are indelibly in print, Quad now calls itself a marketing experience company that aims to rid companies of wasteful processes.
A transformation over time
A string of acquisitions coming out of the great recession started Quad’s transformation. The company closed more than 50 printing plants and began building production studios and providing marketing services at longtime
catalogue clients like LL Bean and Cabela’s. 2009 revenue was $1.8 billion. Last year, revenue hit $3.2 billion.
Wisconsin-based Quad has more than 3,000 clients and 14,000 global employees. More than 1,500 Quad employees sit in more than 90 marketing departments around the world, including 140 staffers at U.S. grocery giant Albertsons and its subsidiaries Safeway, Vons and Shaw’s. “What we’re finding is, as you get into this process conversation and you start advising, they start saying, ‘well, could you take over parts of my marketing department?’”
“Marketing departments have gotten heavy,” Quadracci argues. “In the case of Cabela’s, we save them probably 30% of cost. But more importantly, it was almost 40% of cycle time to to create all their content, because there’s just too much waste in the system,” he said.
Marketing the marketer
Josh Golden joined Quad two years ago as CMO. He said his first job was “figuring out what the story is and understanding what makes us special.” Quadracci says Golden’s job “is to yell [the Quad story] from the rooftops.”
After getting the word out at scale with the new “Built on Quad” campaign, Golden says the next step is to drill down, client by client.
“Creative agencies deliver great creative, but they don’t make anything. Consultancies provide great suggestions, but it’s sometimes very hard to execute,” said Golden, adding that Quad, as a marketing solutions company is “effectively, a third category.”
Golden says he’ll measure success with awareness tools, hoping to send the message that Quad is “an ideas company” that helps marketers “in multiple places in the journey.”
It’s the economy
Having weathered the great recession, Quadracci is keeping a close eye on current economic challenges.
“Never waste an uncomfortable economic environment, because that’s when our clients need the most help,” Quadracci says. “Marketers I talk to say, ‘okay, my budget’s being cut, but I have to be more effective.’ That plays right into both sides of our offering,” he says.
A consolidation of the legacy print business, what Quadracci calls “the non-sexy part of the business,” continues to help the bottom line and creates “a nice buffer for whatever’s happening,” says Quadracci, whose family
maintains 80% voting control of the publicly-traded company, even though the family’s stake is now around 30%.
Culture is key
When Harry Quadracci created Quad in 1971 he did so with the goal of building a company “with a soul.” Joel Quadracci carries on that legacy.
“We’ve been very much about making sure we get the right talent. We have very low turnover at the high level,” he says. In addition to Golden, the company hired Julie Currie from Nielsen as CRO. “When they come hear the story, they’re like, ‘why didn’t we know about this place?’”
“I love a good puzzle,” adds Golden, the former publisher of Adage, whose held marketing roles at NBC, Xerox and AT&T. “And when you look at all the pieces on the table, they were, frankly, a marketer’s dream.”
And even as Quad strives to be a full-service marketing agency, the catalogue, in-store and direct mail business continues to chug on.
“We’re not trying to be the end-all of the marketing world,” Quadracci says. “We’re makers. It’s a maker culture. It’s taking hard stuff and making it simple.”
This article originally appeared on Adweek on July 24, 2023.