If you were a new media company getting your start in the mid-1990s, you took whatever business came your way. Click Media Inc. was no exception.

“”We did a great variety of work. Basically anything that was electronic- and

communications-related, we did it,”” says Robert Brunet, president of the King City, Ont.-based firm.

Ten years after its launch, Brunet said Click Media has created a distinct focus on what it calls “”controlled customization,”” creating presentation tools and e-learning products that marketers can tailor to various parts of their internal organization or customer base. One of Click Media’s most recent client wins was Changepoint, which ordered an e-learning solution to educate users on its compliance products.

Brunet recently spoke with Pipeline about Click Media’s first decade in the business, and his plans for the next.


Pipeline: How did the “”controlled customization”” approach come about?

Robert Brunet: That was created in response to two different pulls from our clients as they try to leverage electronic media to get their message out. One being the strong desire of any marketing department to have a clear, consistent message that finds its way to the marketplace, as well as other departments inside head office. It could be about compliance, because we do a lot of work in insurance and other highly-regulated industries. On the other hand, there’s a need for quite flexible customization of messages as they reach their intended audiences. That desire can be driven the audience, or it can be driven by the sales channel that says, “”We’d really like to use your electronic messaging to communicate with our audience, but if it’s a canned message, that makes it difficult to tailor our messaging to this or that different prospect.””

Pipeline: How do you articulate to clients how controlled customization might differ from what other providers offer?

RB: We put a really high degree of attention on how to allow messages to be customized while keeping creative branding and messaging controls in place. An example would be where we’ve got a sales presentation that is being delivered through a sales channel, part of which is internal to a company, part of which is external. So if I use insurance as an example, they have what are referred to as “”career agents.”” They may also have brokers. Brokers will want to take client presentation material and make changes to it very easily. They want to be enabled, they want to be supported by good technology from the insurance company. The insurance company wants to make sure there are no representations being made that are inappropriate for their product. We have a product called ClickPresent which facilitates that. It’s a proprietary piece of software that allows our clients to enable only the degree of customization for those appropriate in templated presentations. It goes a big step beyond other presentation software.

Pipeline: Who tends to be the champion for this kind of initiative then? You mentioned sales as well as head office.

RB: All of our relationships involve the marketing department at some point. But we are often working as well with both sales and the IT department. Sales because they may be the people who are ultimately using our solutions, IT because they might be the ones to roll them out.

Pipeline: How have you seen customer’s expectations change in terms of the degree of control they want over content as the Internet came of age over the last 10 years?

RB: It’s been interesting. While on the one hand as people have become more accustomed to using new media tools themselves, there is a greater willingness to make use of off-the-shelf tools to produce content. At the same time, that has produced an issue or a challenge for marketing departments to need to make sure that the message that gets out is the right one. It’s not greatly different from what happened with desktop publishing at one point, where everybody thought they could produce whichever message they liked. It was because the tools were easier to use and messaging got blurred. The same thing happens with tools like PowerPoint, where our clients will say, “”Here’s a presentation. Please use it,”” and what the channel will do is modify it to their own needs and then release it.

In an e-learning environment, the challenges are parallel in terms of controlled customization but somewhat different. Every audience wants to have a combination of just-in-time learning and sort of a holistic approach. At the same time, companies struggle with how to leverage packaged or modularized e-learning (products) if they do not reflect their internal business processes. What we do is allow our clients to say, “”Here is a consistent, a controlled e-learning experience, and here is how it can easily and flexibility modified, where appropriate, to reflect your internal business processes.”” The first step for people was how to get the learning materials online, how to make them more engaging, and now it’s how to make it more relevant to people that work here.

Pipeline: Are you talking here mostly about e-learning content that’s been developed from scratch, or taking material that had been on paper and digitizing it somehow?

RB: Most of the clients that we’re working with are either beginning with a clean slate, or recognizing that if there is material that is being retrofitted, it really has to be converted to e-learning materials. We’re not trying to replace the classroom with e-learning. We’re not trying to compete with a Webinar or other forms of e-learning. An example is a technology company deploying its software to its corporate clients. In other words, one company trying to educate the employees of another company in how to use a tool. There may be some training that takes place at the point of deployment, but if you have thousands of users inside the corporate client, more likely what’s happening is that they’re getting online training. They need the ability to get a quick answer to a question as you start to deploy the software in a meaningful, relevant way. You’re not trying to say, “”Let’s give you five days of training and then go back and do your job.”” Instead you’re saying, “”Keep doing your job. Here’s a new tool, but as you use it, here’s how you get quick answers to your questions and how it works.”” It’s a little more engaged than just using a “”Help”” file.

Pipeline: Is that what you did for Changepoint?

RB: Exactly. We built their Web-based training. The user experience is a collection of Flash movies, but it doesn’t appear movie-like, because you can drill into whatever point you’re looking for. There are quizzes, there are simulations. Within the Web-based training, you have the experience of using the software which it trains you on, except that it’s giving you simulated feedback based upon what it is that you’re doing. So if someone is looking at the software for the first time, they can spend half an hour or a couple of hours going over course material. On the other hand, as they start to use the software to do their job, they can get quick answers to questions.

Pipeline: Now that you’ve reached this milestone, any ideas on your growth plans for the next 10 years?

RB: The industry that we focus on is financial services and technology, as well as a few pharma clients. What we’re seeing is a heightened readiness among the FI community and the pharma to do the kind of things that would have been more typical of a technology environment in the past. At the same time, technology companies that have been pretty hard hit in the last few years are really starting to regain their stride. They’re realizing that as their solutions get further integrated with their clients, they need better ways of supporting them with learning.

Comment: pipeline@itbusiness.ca

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