Meeting company ProActive finds new ways of serving corporate communications needs

Let’s take a step back in time in order to bring perspective to Catherine Rategan’s interview with Tony Lorenz, founder/president of 12-year old ProActive, Inc., a business communications company with a staff of 30.

Decades before the digital revolution, Chicago flourished “as the 16mm capital of the world” by virtue of producing more industrial films, or “trips through the factory,” than any other film market in the country, as tracked by Eastman Kodak.

In fact, for many years running, the business communications sector, as it was now being called in the ?80s, contributed a steady, estimated $200 million to Chicago’s overall film economy. (That’s more than twice the revenue from a good year of highly touted features.)

For more than 30 years, communications companies (Jack Morton, Motivation Media, Carbiner, Lighthouse Communications) with large staffs and prestigious clients, each grossing $10-$15 million annually, and numerous smaller ones, produced huge sales meetings for thousands of employees (think the big new car introductions), major trade shows, image films, training, trade show events and more.

Even the big corporations (Sears, McDonald’s, Allstate, Ameritech) maintained video studios and had staffs of up to 100 to serve their internal clients.

By the mid-’90s, however, “industrial film” was an archaic term and business communications had advanced into new ways of reaching corporate “publics.” While the Caribiners et al adapted as best they could, they could not survive the new world order.

Joining the interview is Bill Bunkers, ProActive VP/general manager, who spent 17-years with Jack Morton.

REELCHICAGO: Tony, what led you to start ProActive?

TONY LORENZ: I worked in financial services for one of the Big Eight public accounting firms in the ?80s. I then worked for a small corporate meetings firm (since out of business). There I learned from whomever I could: clients, vendors, industry conference ? you name it. It took a few years to really begin to deliver at a level that would be acceptable in that marketplace. That’s when I started ProActive and hired employees.

RC: Who was your first client and project?

LORENZ: Uno Restaurants hired me to help celebrate Pizzeria Uno Chicago’s 50th anniversary. It was a $900,000 project that included a franchisee convention for 300 people, a national PR campaign and press event for 800 people at the Wabash and Ohio restaurant. It was a huge success.

RC: How has your business grown since then?

LORENZ: We’ve worked on about 700 different projects in the last 12 years. We serve a variety of industries, mostly in B2B, including consulting services, transportation services, pharmaceuticals and technology. About 90% of our business comes from clients that have been with us for more than three years.

ProActive VP/GM Bill Bunkers

RC: Bill, what’s different about ProActive?

BUNKERS: In today’s environment, execution and logistics are no longer enough to serve the full range of corporate needs. ProActive succeeds by being able to counsel and guide clients in thinking strategically and planning how to communicate with their audience.

RC: Tony, what’s your business philosophy that’s contributed most to ProActive’s growth?

LORENZ: The people we hired from other firms, like Bill, in part because they appreciate our working environment. They have a sense of ownership and belonging, which we encourage by soliciting candid feedback. If you want to grow your business, you should try to hire and retain bright people who are even better than you are, then give them the ownership to run their piece of the business.

RC: ProActive’s has a measurement protocol that sets it apart. Will you describe it?

BUNKERS: We have a solid methodology to help clients measure whether their message has gotten through to the audience and stuck with them. I haven’t seen this measurement protocol at other firms.

RC: How does that work?

BUNKERS: We get a statistically significant baseline of where the audience is. Then we design our ideas and communications solutions by recognizing the audience needs and mindset blended with enterprise-wide objectives. Finally, we measure the impact on those same objectives. It’s unique, and it works.

ProActive Inc. is located at 343 W. Erie, phone, 312/654-8844.