The Pepper Group has an approach to creating proposals that Founder and CEO Tim Padgett says can double your win ratio. It’s called StoryStyle, and it creates the proposal’s narrative like the plot of an adventure movie.
How do you tell the story of someone who specializes in stories? You follow his lead.
Meet our hero, Tim Padgett. And while this story isn’t a StoryStyle proposal, it will tell of his adventures in marketing.
Born and raised in Chicagoland, Padgett began his career as a graphic designer and printseller and soon got into print manufacturing. Then, twenty-six years ago, he decided to leave full-time employment to become an independent contractor doing design work. “I literally put together a business card that read ‘T. Padgett Graphic Services’ and my phone number, and I was in business,” he recalls. As his workload grew, he began working for multiple clients and built a team to help.
“After about two and a half years of hearing people spell my last name wrong, I said, ‘Let’s rebrand,’” Padgett says. At the time, he had the foresight to understand that the business may evolve into more than just graphic services, so the name had to be unspecific. The Pepper Group’s name was ultimately chosen for Padgett’s love of food and baseball (he explains that baseball players train using a drill called “playing pepper”).
He also likes metaphors. “We’re the Pepper Group. We’re the spicy guys,” he explains. “All of our clients know the meat and potatoes of their business. We bring a little flavor to it so the audiences they want have a taste for them.”
Eight years into entrepreneurship, Padgett found a partner: George Couris. At the time, he was trying to expand the Pepper Group’s services to include strategic/advisory work.
“I took up Taekwondo at 40—how crazy is that?—and George went to the same Taekwondo school as I did,” he explains. “He worked for Michelin—he was in the big, international corporate kind of sales and marketing stuff—but he was looking for something new, something more entrepreneurial. We had a conversation after class one day, and the next thing you know we literally hit on all cylinders. He was what I needed in order to be successful on the strategy side, and we were what he needed. And it worked out great!”
As president of the Pepper Group, Couris has helped Padgett lead the agency to a boutique size and a variety of clientele.
“We can work with anyone,” Padgett says. “People buy from people. One of the beautiful things about this business—and why I don’t know if I could do anything else—is the variety. Just learning about companies and how passionate they are about what they do, what they make, how they sell it . . . oh, it’s really cool. I love that. I have a lot of curiosity for that kind of stuff.”
Having endured two significant economic downturns, Padgett knows a thing or two about the role marketing plays when times are tight.
“The books say: in times of economic turmoil or uncertainty, when everyone else is pulling back, market more,” he says. “Get what you can out of the market, but also establish those relationships that could become transactions later. You’ve got downtime, so why not strive to make those relationships work? We take that advice seriously and we do it. Unfortunately, not everyone follows, because it’s easy for a CFO to say, ‘Stop the marketing, save that money, bank it.’
“Still, we’ve done okay,” he continues. “We’re the first call from companies who want to slow things down, but we’re also the first call when they want to ramp back up and they figure they might be able to get a few steps ahead of their competition. And if the last two months are any indication, I think that people are getting more comfortable. They know where they’re playing now, and they’re starting to get back in the game.”
His Story Continues
It was during the 2008 downturn in the market when the idea for Teer1 came to Padgett—an idea that would later become a second business.
“Teer1 is a platform for companies to use to manage their employee volunteering programs,” he explains. “Think of Facebook for volunteering—it’s a community-based platform where you get to share your experiences about volunteering with your coworkers. You encourage them, you can post volunteer opportunities for people to come join you, and then each time you volunteer, you log in your experience. Maybe you post some photos from the event. And a company’s marketing department can use that in their recruiting, to talk about the character of the people who work there.”
Teer1 is also how Padgett was introduced to the idea of a Knowledge Partnership with EO Chicago—he worked with the chapter to develop a Teer1 site for EO Chicago Cares.
As a Knowledge Partner, Padgett’s primary goal is to help EO members. “Tap me,” he says. “Tap me for things that you’re thinking about in your marketing. Bounce things off of me—‘I was thinking about doing this, what are your feelings on it?’”
He has a list of forum presentations he can offer—including one on the aforementioned StoryStyle proposal approach.
He says, “It’s a very EO term, but I can certainly share my experience.”