Ed Russ Gets It Right
May 31, 2009
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
you want to prosper as the economy rebounds, listen to Ed Russ.
Russ is the chief marketing
and sales officer in the United States for Grant Thornton International,
the global audit, tax and advisory services provider. Russ is
a soft-spoken, articulate, fact-based CMO who has quietly helped
Grant Thorton grow from a $367 million firm in 2002 to a $1.2
billion firm in 2008.
companies that invest in brand building during the difficult times
emerge from those times with greater market share and higher profitability
during the good years,” Russ says.
He joined Grant Thorton
in late 2001 on the heels of the dot-com bust, the Enron/Arthur
Andersen accounting debacle and the start of Sarbanes-Oxley accounting
compliance process. The accounting, tax and advisory services
world was in upheaval. There was market share to be gained or
lost. Russ and Grant Thorton invested, and the results are impressive.
who Grant Thorton was,” Russ says. “I conducted an
awareness study asking CFOs, ‘If you were in the market
for an accounting firm, which firms first come to mind?’
Only 5% said Grant Thorton.”
“For the past
six years I’ve been attacking that number. We have a good
reputation with our clients. If we make more people aware of that
reputation, good things are going to happen,” he says.
Russ focused on boosting
awareness through an integrated marketing communications and sales
effort. He also instituted a client satisfaction program to confirm
Grant Thorton provides superior service.
“I started measuring
client satisfaction in 2003 using the net promoter approach advocated
by Fred Reichheld. The approach measures how likely Grant Thornton
clients are to recommend the company on a 10-point scale. It takes
the percentage of promoters who rate the company a nine or 10,
and subtracts detractors, who rate the company a zero to six,
to gain the net promoter score.
“We had a net
promoter score of 49%, which confirmed my views. Reichheld’s
Net Promoter stars exceed 48%,” Russ says. “We started
out pretty good at 49% in 2003. Today, our average net promoter
score is 62%.”
While client satisfaction
was high, brand familiarity was low. In 2003, only 43% of target
buyers rated themselves somewhat to very familiar with Grant Thornton.
Scores for competitors like PricewaterhouseCoopers stood at 81%.
Today, thanks to an
integrated campaign that includes TV, radio, print and electronic
media advertising, brand familiarity is 20% higher at 64%. Grant
Thornton isn’t yet a household name but the brand and the
business have made sizable gains.
Russ is highly research-driven.
He uses data to drive his advertising development.
“I study and
read the data. I've concluded the basis for client selection is
in four areas: responsive service, providing ideas or recommendations,
access to global resources and getting quick answers to technical
questions. That's what our clients are looking for. We've created
four TV commercials addressing each of those particular client
selection criteria,” Russ says.
Russ deploys a high-quality,
integrated suite of marketing, communications and sales tactics
to achieve his results, but the real secret to this marketing
success story is the yin and yang of Ed Russ. He is a low-key,
collaborative executive who is driven and focused.
His TV ads, produced
by Coil Counts Ford & Cheney, blend strategic focus with lightheartedness
and humor. That combination of almost self-effacing shyness and
focused pursuit of business objectives has paid big dividends
for Grant Thornton. It’s also a model other marketers should
Russ has an unconventional
background for a CMO. The Pittsburgh native trained to be an Olympic
gymnast and attended Kent State University where he earned a bachelor’s
in psychology and an M.B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh.
He began his career
in operations and supply chain management with BorgWarner Inc.,
the auto parts manufacturer and distributor. He designed warehouses
that handled more than 10,000 parts. He moved to shop floor design
and then to market research and industrial product development.
He did a stint in personnel and wrote job descriptions which he
says gave him, “a real overview of the entire business.”
Then the entrepreneurial
bug bit. He helped start Rusty Jones, the auto body undercoating
and rust proofing service as vice president of marketing. When
that business was sold, he helped Alberto Culver create Signed
Sealed & Delivered, a services business treating, coating
and guaranteeing concrete industrial floors. He was part of the
team that started Merchant Network, a venture-backed electronic
bill payment provider. He raised $5.2 million in venture capital
and helped sell the company to Intuit.
His success at raising
venture capital led Russ to a position as vice president of marketing
for an appraisal and valuations organization, American Appraisal
Associates, where he learned about marketing and selling to CFOs.
From there he was recruited away by PricewaterhouseCoopers to
serve as its national director of marketing for the middle market
While at PwC, Russ
was part of a team contemplating an acquisition of Grant Thornton.
PwC didn’t acquire Grant Thornton but they did hire Russ.
The rest is history.
Russ has two pieces
of advice for young marketers. “Do something you really
like doing. I don't care what industry it is in. If your affinity
is for cars, consider the automotive industry. It's having difficulties
now, but there are lots of cars out there. If you like where the
money is, look at financial services. Financial services are here
to stay. Do what you like.”
“My second piece
of advice is to have empathy. Look at the world through your client’s
eyes. Look at the world through your employees’ eyes. Look
at the world through your boss' eyes,” he adds.
Russ is fond of quoting
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on branding. “Bezos says: ‘Your
brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.’
In Russ’ case,
they say, “There’s an accomplished marketer.”
Krauss is president of Market Strategy Group, based in Chicago,
and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Mkt-strat.com