The relationship between Pitney Bowes and Ibis Communications (Nashville, TN), an advertising agency heavy in technical competency, is "wonderful," declares MaryAnne Howland, president and CEO of Ibis. "Pitney Bowes is the client that has given us the most benefits in terms of growth, exposure and experience. They've been a great nurturing partner."
Pitney Bowes (Stamford, CT) specializes in engineering the flow of communications through mail and document management. The agency has been working with the company since 1997. "Over time we've been able to establish really good relationships so we can feel comfortable probing, asking questions, getting feedback," Howland says. "We consider Pitney Bowes one of our best clients."
Helping with outreach
Ibis is Pitney Bowes' diversity advertising agency. It helps the company reach potential diverse suppliers and gets involved in global diversity marketing and workforce diversity.
There's a lot of IT going on at the ad agency. It has a large creative department with graphic designers, writers and production people all tied into a computer network specifically built for advanced graphic and technical design. "Pitney Bowes asked us to do some major projects that quite frankly we had never done before," Howland remembers with a smile.
One of the first tough technical assignments was a lengthy video presentation that covered Pitney Bowes' global diversity policy in Mexico, Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, London and Stamford, CT. "And it came off," Howland says with pride. "It won awards and was particularly successful for Pitney Bowes internally."
Pitney Bowes' supplier diversity program
Kevin Beirne, manager of supplier diversity development at Pitney Bowes, explains that the company's supplier diversity program began formally in 1997. Before that, he says, "Supplier diversity was a 'can do' type of thing, mostly involved with government compliance issues and customer expectations.
"Then we realized a need for a fulltime staff of supplier diversity professionals, so the department was formally organized and I came over from corporate purchasing." His principle responsibility, he says, "is developing opportunities for M/WBEs to participate in procurement at Pitney Bowes."
Beirne says one of his most important tasks is developing a database of diverse suppliers to draw on. He does that by going to outreach events where he interviews minority and women suppliers. There's also a website where M/WBEs can register, available to company purchasing people and other decision-makers.
Beirne notes that he regularly puts on presentations. Some are for corporate purchasing and enterprise procurement people, others are at sales offices and meetings. "I tell them what the trends are, and what their customers may demand of us in terms of supplier diversity initiatives."
"I sit on both sides of the desk," Beirne says with pride. "Most of what I do here is actual supplier development, but I also help our salespeople answer questions from their customers about what we do."
Half a dozen years ago, he notes, prime customers would simply ask the question, "What do you do on supplier diversity at Pitney Bowes?" In the last few years that simple question has expanded to pages of small type in request-for-proposal (RFP) documents, demanding documentation and numbers. "It's almost as important as your best price, your deliverables and your quality," Beirne says.
And it makes sense. "We require M/WBE participation and reporting in our own RFPs and contracts with our prime suppliers, including second-tier reporting," he notes.
The smart thing to do
Pitney Bowes strongly encourages its M/WBEs to get SBA certification for small and disadvantaged businesses, and then to seek certification by national organizations like WBENC and NMSDC. The company is usually represented on WBENC, and on the Connecticut affiliate of the NMSDC.
Beirne notes that Harriet Michel, president of NMSDC, recently suggested a change. The diversity slogan of many companies, "It's the right thing to do," should really be, "It's the smart thing to do.
"As a corporation selling your products you want to address your sales efforts to M/WBEs as well as everyone else," he says, "and it makes good business sense for them to be reflected in your supplier base, because minority suppliers are also customers."
There's no formal mentoring program at Pitney Bowes but mentoring is provided where applicable. One company currently being mentored is a minority electronics supplier that makes a key component for various Pitney Bowes postage meters. "It's a company we're currently doing business with and we're looking to develop even more business with them," Beirne explains.
In through corporate
Ibis, Howland explains, handles Pitney Bowes supplier, recruitment and community partnership advertising specifically targeted to minority and emerging majority communities.
"We also work with the specific supplier diversity area and focus on the company's goals and strategies for developing it."
The agency's Pitney Bowes assignments are part of an overall corporate communications program including HR, suppliers and community. "We assist in the strategy and handle all diversity advertising for all those areas," Howland says.
And in the past year, she notes happily, "We've begun to be tapped to do other kinds of advertising. We're really loving and growing with it."
The Ibis genesis
Howland, who had advertising and corporate experience, started a small creative firm in New York City in 1988. It formally became Ibis, the ad agency, in 1993, and the IT-heavy in-house graphics department was added shortly afterward.
The ibis, a sort of heron, is the sacred bird of the Nile, the symbol of wisdom and knowledge in some African cultures, Howland explains. It is also a symbol of prosperity in the Japanese culture.
Prosperity, indeed, especially considering the good work the agency is doing with the giant corporation. "Pitney Bowes supplier diversity and workforce diversity efforts have been facilitated and assisted by Ibis," says Beirne. "It's a lasting, working partnership and a fine example of a success story."