By Jordyn Grzelewski
Prodigal Company President Jeff Hedrich’s invitation to speak at the DOYO Live digital marketing and interactive design conference in downtown Youngstown this week is just one way Prodigal and its branding process are being recognized in the marketing industry.
Later this month, Hedrich will take his message to professionals across the state at the Ohio Marketing Summit.
Prodigal’s Brand MRI process also has caught the attention of current and prospective clients and is fueling Hedrich’s vision for the company’s future. He hopes to expand the Boardman-based business to another market.
As the branding agency enjoys its recent recognition, Hedrich recalled the company’s humble beginnings 25 years ago.
Hedrich got his start in the industry working for a creative agency in downtown Cleveland. A few years into his career there, he went to the owner and asked for a raise. The owner said no.
“I said, ‘Well I can make more money on my own.’ He said, ‘Go ahead and do it,’” Hedrich said. “I walked out not knowing if I was fired or if I quit, but I knew I didn’t have a job.”
Hedrich moved back to Youngstown, where he began doing some creative work. When he incorporated, he named the business Prodigal after discussing his move back to Youngstown with a friend who dubbed him the “prodigal son.”
Hedrich rented a small office and worked from a closet-sized room. He enlisted family members to sit in or call the office to make the business seem more bustling.
Prodigal got its big break when Hedrich convinced Farmers National Bank to hire his firm. Soon after, Prodigal brought on Sheely’s Furniture & Appliance Co. Both companies remain with Prodigal to this day.
Prodigal faced some challenges when the tech bubble burst in the early 2000s and the financial crisis hit in 2008, but it survived thanks to client loyalty and Hedrich’s conviction that an economic downturn is the right time to gain market share, he said.
The company sharpened its focus on branding and began developing the Brand MRI. Hedrich said the process is an answer to an issue that came up in meetings with prospective clients – every agency had its take on branding, but none of them had a strategy.
“A lot of people have philosophies about branding, but very few have an actual linear sequential process,” he said. “It was too subjective.”
Brand MRI combines the theory of brand positioning with the science of behavioral economics.
What resulted was a 12-week process that begins with internal focus groups, then surveys existing and prospective customers. The results show what the client is good at, what it is better at than its competitors and what customers value the most about it.
“Then you have a three-dimensional view of your brand,” Hedrich said. “The secret sauce is how you turn that into great creative work.”
Hedrich and clients who have gone through Prodigal’s branding process say it delivers a message that will resonate with customers.
“When you know what matters, spend your dollars on that and not anything else,” Hedrich said. “It’s too expensive to get in front of people with the wrong message.”
Sheely’s General Manager Jeff Curry said the Brand MRI offered the business new insights.
“The MRI process really gives a distinction of the brand and the market and how you would be perceived in the industry,” he said. “Sheely’s is a very recognized brand in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. A large part of that is due to the Brand MRI.”
Curry said the MRI showed that customers value the shopping experience there, which is unique due to sales associates not working for commission.
“We don’t have pressure sales, and the customers really acknowledged they like the atmosphere at Sheely’s,” Curry said. “I would highly recommend [Hedrich] and his entire team, and the MRI process.”
Looking to the future, Hedrich sees Prodigal emerging as a leading branding agency.
“Our goal is to be the most innovative branding agency between Chicago and New York,” he said. “We want to become known for this.”
That might seem like a big dream, but Hedrich thinks it’s possible.
“With God’s blessing, a lot of hard work and great people, we have something nobody else has.”