• Rod Rackley: No one should doubt his or her inner strength and ability to get through this.


    Today’s podcast guest is Rod Rackley the President of the Out of Home Division of Circle Graphics.  Rod answers some of my questions, gives his advice on managing during the COVID-19 crisis and talks about the future of billboard printing.

    Here are some excerpts from the interview.

    Rod, chart your career for us.

    I spent my 20’s in school and working for my families publishing business. I spent my 30’s at Lamar in their corporate office in Baton Rouge Louisiana which is my hometown.  At Lamar I worked for Kevin Reilly Jr, Bobby Switzer, Sean Reilly and a bunch of incredible folks…Lamar has some of the finest people around.

    When I turned 39 I wanted to do something a little more entrepreneurial so I left Lamar and I spent the decade of my 40’s working at Circle Graphics where I was our Chief Revenue Officer. We built the company into one of the largest out of home printing companies in the US. I took the last five years off — everyone thinks I was sitting on the couch, but I actually co-founded a company called Anthem Displays. Anthem manufactures digital billboards in Boulder, CO and North Carolina.  We manufacture right here in the US versus bringing them in from China. We have over 250 digital billboards around the country.

    That brings us up to late December when I rejoined Circle right before this pandemic crashed the economy…great timing!

    You’ve been through 9/11 and the great recession.  What advice do you have for OOH companies managing the COVID-19 crisis.

    The quote that I’ve recited a few times internally is from Seneca, one of the great Stoics.  He says “We suffer more in our imagination than in reality.”  Times are tough right now for everyone but no one should doubt their inner strength and their ability to get through this and come out stronger.

    On a tactical front I think that if the duration is on the shorter side the billboard companies would be wise to hold rate if they can. It amazed me that it took something like six years until 2014 for out of home to hit our pre-2008 top line.

    I hope also that out of home buyers can take this time to look at their workflow.  There are a lot of inefficiencies that remain. Virtually every campaign we get is being initiated by large spreadsheets. Smaller orders are usually initiated by emails with the order details in the body of the email.  Dave, this is equivalent to sending a fax. We have to do better.

    How has coronavirus impacted Circle Graphics?

    It’s been one of the most difficult periods we’ve gone through.  We furloughed 3 out of 6 factories.  Our flagship Colorado factory remains open. Three quarters of our printing has been in providing COVID related messaging.  Cities like Austin and Los Angeles that don’t have digital billboards have to put something on the street. We’ve got some nice offers out to hospitals to do directional signage. We’ve done a lot of printing for the Ad Council and the Foundation for a Better Life.

    In North Carolina we have a large factory that is primarily doing the wall décor business. We’re also making 1,000 face masks a day. One fun project we’re doing with the folks at Lamar Baton Rouge in conjunction with LSU is supplying billboard material for hospital gowns.  LSU is mobilizing the entire university. So there’ll be some folks being protected by billboard material.

    What questions should an out of home company ask when they are choosing a printer?

    The table stakes these days are quality, speed and low price.  You have to have all three.  You can’t tell a customer to pick two. You have the right to expect some additional things from a printer. You don’t want a printer that’s going to go to market directly to your customers.  That issue came up in a recent article you did. Your printer needs to be responsive.  If there’s an issue with production your printer needs to fix it.  Fix it fast.  Not quibble about who’s fault it is. Your printer should have some excess capacity so you can get your production out of time when things are busy.

    Does printing plant location matter?

    It mattered when we only had one factory and we were losing business to LA based printers or New York based printers. Now that we do have four factories just on out of home including our most recent one in Ohio I think it does matter. It matters for freight costs which is a large portion of the bill. Freight is a tough one and the only way you can mitigate that is to be within 1-2 days ground shipping.  We pretty much are.

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    One Comment

    1. Mark Ramquist says:

      Nice website, podcasts, and the works! Fun to finally see and hear it.