Small Step for Donaldson; Giant Leap for Design Firm


By Becky Bergman
Special to the Hartford Business Journal

It takes an unwavering sense of optimism for a college grad to interview at an established design firm and lay out radical growth plans that start with overhauling its successful business model.

And being the daughter of company co-founder Bill Gamble didn’t earn Jaye Donaldson any special treatment.

In fact, she says it made it even more challenging to get the job at The Donaldson Group, originally named Industrial Design Consultants when it was formed in 1961 by Bruce Bradshaw, Dick Russell and Gamble.

“My father was very demanding and insisted that I prove my value. I couldn’t just walk in there and start doing whatever I wanted just because my dad worked there,” said Donaldson.

“I approached the partners with a proposal that included my ideas,” said Donaldson. “I asked for a $12,000 annual salary plus commission for any business I brought in.”

Those ideas helped transform the design company that created the gloves and helmet used by NASA for the first landing on the moon into an image communications agency.

She has managed to parlay her firm’s industrial experience in package design and product development to provide complete brand management. Her strategy is to develop comprehensive solutions that address all facets of the corporate message and image.

A half century later, the Simsbury-based business has evolved from an industrial design firm to an image communications agency, moved its headquarters from Farmington to Simsbury and has Blum Shapiro, Kodak, Hasbro and Pitney Bowes among its clients. Of the 30 clients The Donaldson Group caters to, a handful have been around 20-plus years.

“While working with clients, we invest in learning their business, industry and company beyond the project at hand,” said Donaldson, who graduated from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. “In doing so, we have been able to build relationships and expertise that our clients value. That allows us to solve bigger challenges more efficiently.”

The agency employs 13 and is looking to hire more people this year. It recently added a new director of account services and in the past year, the firm serviced 20 clients and delivered on approximately 200 projects.

Some of those included renaming and rebranding jobs, marketing campaigns and website support for GT Advanced Technologies, EMCOR Group and Cox Communications.

Among the firm’s services are website development, packaging, interactive media solutions and product image consulting to help regional clients grow their brand.

Among its most notable projects, The Donaldson Group handled the development of CT Health Channel on behalf of the Health Reinsurance Association, a clearinghouse site that provides necessary information to consumers on Health Care Reform.

“We have seen several more opportunities so far this year than we saw in January and February 2011, although 2011 was a very good year,” said Donaldson. “And our firm is already looking toward hiring.”

Prior to 2006, the company experienced double-digit growth. While business was soft in 2006 and 2007 and stable in 2008 and 2009, Donaldson was pleased that it didn’t flat line. She wouldn’t disclose sales figures or revenues for the company.

Being able to identify the company’s target market, knowing how to evolve in order to meet various client needs and keep pace with new business trends is what Donaldson says keeps her firm growing strong.

The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts developed its first website with Donaldson more than a decade ago. The firm is responsible for launching the center’s online ticket sales and is working on the website’s third generation.

The company’s ability to learn about a brand’s personality, carry it through corporate materials and across long-term relationships has been a differentiator for The Donaldson Group.

“It is costly to have to sell new clients on an ongoing basis. We all know it is less expensive to maintain an existing client relationship than it is to develop a new one,” said Donaldson.

“When I started with the company, the Gamble and Bradshaw organizational structure had graphic, packaging and industrial designers managing projects where there is always a beginning, middle and an end,” she said.

“When it was over, they would look to the sales team for another project to work on. There was no one responsible for managing the relationship account.”

Her vision helped change that and this year the firm is celebrating its 50th anniversary, which she says makes it Connecticut’s oldest design firm.

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