How many checks do you write today versus, say, 10 years ago? If you’re like most Americans, that number has dwindled, and while half of U.S. businesses still write checks for bills, that number is down from 74 percent in 2007.

If you’re 100-year-old Minnesota-based Deluxe Check Corp., a company built on printing checks and business forms for consumers and businesses, you need to seriously reassess your business model and marketing. It’s something that company has done in recent years by adding marketing support services such as logo design and social media campaigns to its list of offerings, in hopes of capturing revenue lost to declines in the check printing business.

Right now Deluxe is in the midst of one of the most aggressive external marketing efforts to date, under the direction of new chief brand and communications officer Amanda Brinkman. Called Small Business Revolution, it’s a yearlong campaign that will likely continue into 2016—Deluxe’s 100-year anniversary—utilizing the anniversary as a platform for looking forward versus backward.

It makes sense for Deluxe to target small business rather than going after large businesses that have internal resources and external partners with similar expertise.

In the U.S., 28 million small businesses account for 54 percent of all sales, and provide 55 percent of all jobs and 66 percent of all new jobs since the 1970s. Since 1990, big business in the U.S. has eliminated 4 million jobs, but small businesses have added 8 million new jobs.

As part of its campaign, Deluxe employed a host of notable storytellers and documentary filmmakers to create 100 stories—one for each year Deluxe has been in business—about small businesses by profiling owners throughout the U.S. It’s also produced a longer documentary that tells a story about small business in America.

In addition, Deluxe is sponsoring a contest with a $25,000 grand prize for the company that “best embodies the spirit of the Small Business Revolution—a committed community member that has made an impact on the lives of its employees, customers and neighbors.” Nominations are open to the public, and the winner will be selected by Shark Tank investor Robert Herjavec.

While the cost of the program can’t be disclosed, it’s certainly a big bet on what marketers are now calling “earned media,” a clever rebranding of what PR people have always called media relations.

There’s no big advertising supporting the campaign, and Deluxe is betting big on social media and earned media to carry the day, similar to how small businesses have to market. “If we did something worthwhile,” says Brinkman, “we thought we would earn more impressions than we could buy.” She says the campaign has generated a billion impressions so far. While it’s not unusual for successful PR campaigns to generate returns on investment in advertising equivalency of 10, 20, even 30-plus times, it is unique to place such a big bet on them, but it seems to be paying off for Deluxe.

One of the biggest challenges for its marketing team was managing internal expectations about how brand awareness will lead to sales. That’s not an unusual conversation between sales and marketing, especially when you’re trying to reposition a 100-year-old company rooted so deeply in printing as more of a business services organization.

It’s going to be an uphill battle for a while. According to Brinkman, the company has 1 percent brand awareness among small businesses and it’s competing against the likes of GoDaddy and Constant Contact, which spend millions on paid advertising every year, not to mention specialty agencies that deal in areas like search engine optimization and social media marketing.

The repositioning reminds me a bit of when ad agencies decided in the 1990s to become fully integrated one-stop shops for clients—the logic being “Who better than your agency to coordinate all of the various marketing communications disciplines like public relations, direct marketing and sales promotion?”

I would guess that most small businesses don’t have the time to work with separate agencies for graphic design, website development, search engine optimization and social media marketing, so offering them from the same place you’re getting your checks and business forms could eliminate a lot of hassle.

Not everybody needs a $100,000 logo redesign complete with graphic standards manuals and user guides. Keep in mind that one of the most famous logos in the world, the Nike “Swoosh,” was created by a graphic design student at Portland State University, who was paid $35.

Glenn Karwoski (g.karwoski@creativepr.com) is founder and managing director of Karwoski & Courage, a marketing communications agency. He also teaches in the graduate school at the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas.

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