Entrepreneurs / Small Business  March 8, 2013

Burns’ strategy: To stand out in its field

2013 Bravo! Entrepreneur

In 1972, a few years after college graduation, Mike Burns got the chance to help market the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. The hotel had just come out of bankruptcy and needed some snappy promotion to let the public know it was once again ready for guests.

“I started a one-person agency in my bedroom and it’s grown from there,” said Burns, who is president of Burns Marketing Communications. “I was 22 and naïve.”

Though perhaps unsophisticated at first, Burns was savvy enough that he soon hired a designer and nabbed another client — Epsilon Sigma Alpha International, the community service organization. Within two years, he had moved into an office in Fort Collins.

Today, Burns Marketing has 41 employees in Denver and Loveland and has represented clients such as HP, Vail Resorts, Seagate, Comverge, Life Technologies and Baxa. Although the Denver office only opened last summer, Burns already is looking for new space to accommodate his growing team.

“I spend a lot of time – most of my time – looking for new, excellent talent,” Burns said. “Even if we’re not hiring, we’re recruiting in hopes that a position will open.”

Many of Burns’ employees have found him, often coming across the firm while planning a move to Colorado.

Burns has a formula when it comes to getting the best work out of his people.

“We try not to box creatives in,” he said. “Every idea is a good idea and we eventually settle on one. There’s also a collaborative approach in that we don’t rely on one person to come up with a winner. We work as a team.”

This approach has, in large part, kept Burns Marketing busy at a time when rapid changes in technology and consumer outreach have left others in the business panting to keep up.

“We’re on the cutting edge of technology in terms of marketing,” Burns said. “Things change almost daily or monthly now. Several years ago, direct mail, phone solicitation or print were your primary avenues. Now there’s social media and your ability to reach and target potential customers is mind-boggling.”

Burns Marketing specializes in business-to-business marketing in the life sciences, technology, energy and financial services industries. As a result, consumers never see much of the company’s work.

For example, one client charged Burns Marketing with selling software to the CEOs and CIOs of gaming companies such as EA Sports. The Burns team sent blow-up footballs to sports gaming developers and gnomes to dungeon-and-dragon type developers directing them to web landing pages that included creative, fun, informative videos.

“The result was that our client met their annual sales targets in three months,” Burns said. “There was something like a 40-percent response, which is just unbelievable.”

Last year, Burns Marketing grew by 20 percent. Burns expects the company to grow by another 20 percent in 2013.

As the company has grown, so has its commitment to area nonprofits. Currently, Burns Marketing is donating $60,000 of in-kind services to the Rocky Mountain Innosphere in Fort Collins to help promote companies in the incubator.

Burns also provided marketing and branding services to Roundup River Ranch, which is part of the Paul Newman Hole in the Wall Camps designed to provide free summer camp experiences for seriously ill children. Burns’ team took a trip to the ranch, which is in Avon, Colo., and built decks and put beds together to get the camp ready for campers.

Burns Marketing also helped one of its first clients raise more than $150 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“This aspect (community service) has come along as the company’s matured,” Burns said. “I think it’s the right thing to do. We spend a lot of time and effort raising money for the kids at St. Jude’s. We’ve seen what that’s resulted in and it’s been kind of a guiding light for other things we do philanthropically.”

As a result of its philanthropic work, Burns Marketing received the best corporate citizen designation from the Coloradoan and a Torch Award in corporate ethics from the Mountain State Better Business Bureau.

“We not only want to do well for our clients, we want to give back to the community and make this a better place,” Burns said.

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