They were manufacturing crushers for a European company who ran into a cash flow problem, leaving them with a large stockholding of crushers and no customer. In a classic case of role reversal, they decided to sell these products locally, a move which was not only highly successful but made them realise that there was more money to be made out of selling the equipment than in manufacturing it.
Not surprisingly, they sold the workshop and founded Pilot Crushtec, a company which, just over two decades later, has an annual turnover close to R500m.
Marketing manager Yolanda du Plessis makes it plain that the same entrepreneurial spirit that wrested the company from the jaws of failure and turned it into South Africa’s leading supplier of crushing and screening equipment is very definitely alive and well today.
“Since the day Pilot Crushtec was founded, this company has always had a marketing strategy as well as an unremitting desire for excellence, something which is brought out in our latest campaign. Even in the very early days, Pilot Crushtec saw itself as an international company and never for a moment approached a problem or indeed an opportunity with a local only mindset.”
“During the global economic downturn, the one thing we didn’t cut back on was advertising. We were perhaps a bit more selective but we wanted to consistently maintain our reach. We have always thought and acted outside the box and have never been afraid to innovate and cross borders or boundaries, which is plain to see in our latest advertising campaign,” she says.
Before we ponder the creative origins of the ‘Coffee Campaign’, it’s important to take a look at the crushing and screening market and the Pilot Crushtec brand.
Background to the brew
To the uninitiated – probably most people reading this - crushing big lumps of stone into smaller lumps of stone is not something to get excited about. But in reality, boring it isn’t.
Without crushing equipment you could forget about building roads, harbours, railways, houses, offices and airports. You would also have great difficulty in extracting base and precious metals and gemstones, crushing coal and making fertiliser. In fact, you probably wouldn’t have much of an economy at all.
You’d also be quite wrong to think that a crusher is a crusher is a crusher. They come in many varieties and all shapes and sizes to fulfil an eclectic range of purposes.
Crushing is a highly specialised business, and its applications are literally boundless. Cement manufacture, producing aggregate for highway construction and liberating gold, diamonds and platinum are all processes in which crushers are essential.
Washing and screening equipment also have a vital role to play in the production of concrete. Sand, which is its staple component, has to be washed thoroughly in vast quantities to free it of impurities before it is added to the mix.
What is also crucial in this industry is technical backup and support, something at which Pilot Crushtec excels. Time is money and keeping customers’ equipment running at peak efficiencies enhances their bottom line.
Marketer par excellence
Fast forward two decades and Pilot Crushtec has seen remarkable growth under the leadership of CEO Sandro Scherf, the ‘son’ who bought the business from his father Dieter. Of German-Italian parentage, he inherited the attention to detail and spontaneous flair associated with both nations as he rapidly gained a reputation as a marketer par excellence.
Pilot Crushtec has forged links with top international brands like Terex Finlay and CDE from Northern Ireland, TRIO from the United States and Austrian crushing experts Rubble Master. Scherf has also pioneered the Pilot Modular plant concept, a highly successful step change in conceptual thinking, which provides customers with ready to run modules of equipment that can be configured to suit any requirement and can be set-up and ready to run within weeks at a fraction of the cost of a permanent facility.
Pilot Crushtec also designs and builds its own products and in 2007, its volume selling TwisterTrac mobile crusher received an excellence award from the Design Institute of South Africa.
So how does coffee come into the equation?
“We felt very strongly that we should position our brand in such a way as to emphasise how passionate we feel about forming relationship-based partnerships with our customers,” says du Plessis.
One of the points she makes is that customers have contact with all levels of people at Pilot Crushtec, from the top down, and have free and easy access to all manner of advice, be it product, technical or financial – invariably over a cup of coffee.
“Coffee, really great coffee, is a very important part of life at Pilot Crushtec. You could say that we have a continental culture and what could be more continental than our coffee bar, which serves only Illy coffee and is reminiscent of one you would find in Rome or Milan? What’s more, you might even get served by the CEO – that’s the way things happen at Pilot Crushtec.
“Customers and staff regularly meet over a cup of quite exceptional coffee and it is this atmosphere of quality relationship-building that we have sought to translate into our advertising.”
Perfecting the blend
Karen Nel, owner of Proactive Communications, has a long-standing relationship with Pilot Crushtec and has a sound understanding of her client’s brand, vision, leadership and objectives.
“They’re a company that is always one step ahead and knows instinctively how to do things differently. Over the past five years, the emphasis has transcended from what was essentially trade advertising – product driven, to solutions driven and now the communication strategy is clearly focused on service and the building of long-term relationships.
“Relationships are all important to Pilot Crushtec, which despite its exceptional growth, insists on retaining close ties with many original customers and suppliers,” she says.
“Our brief was to develop a campaign that focuses on building long-term relationships with customers. It’s not just about selling quality products but is about taking a holistic approach to a relationship before, during and, most importantly, after the sale. We agreed that Pilot Crushtec’s coffee culture was the ideal metaphor to symbolise the quality of its service and the way it builds relationships.”
The creative approach to the campaign was based on simple and mutually inclusive premises: conversation starts over a cup of coffee, conversation encourages open communication, communication builds relationships, and relationships build trust. Trust in Pilot Crushtec will encourage the customer to come back for more.
“To sum up, Pilot Crushtec offers far more than great quality products; it offers embedded personal relationships with each of its customers,” adds Nel.
Proactive Communications set to work and submitted four different concepts for a print ad in A4 format to be used in the trade press. They immediately impressed with the clarity of their execution and innovative design, supported by fluent and concise copy leaving absolutely no doubt as to the communication objective.
On the other hand, compared to the usual product-orientated material associated with predictable trade advertisements, this might have come from another planet.
Du Plessis recalls a fleeting concern that the concept might be pushing the envelope just a bit too far. “I thought, this is taking a really bold step, is the brand ready for this kind of message? Is the medium strong enough and do people know us sufficiently well for the message to carry through?”
Her passion for the brand and the encapsulation of its personality using the coffee metaphor persuaded her, and following discussions with Scherf, they decided to give the concept legs.
Proactive Communications was requested to conceptualize and design all four ads, all similarly themed, but touching on important aspects of business relationships like competitive advantages, customers’ needs and service excellence.
“In their final format, each of the four ads project a simple headline over cleanly executed visuals, all with a “coffee flavour” in support of the campaign theme,” explains Nel. Body copy then reinforces the brand proposition.
‘It all starts over a cup of coffee’ invites the reader to come in for a chat and a cup of the finest in-house brewed coffee.
‘For best results, use the best ingredients’ tells readers how they can benefit from the alliances Pilot Crushtec has forged with world-class suppliers. There is also a tongue in cheek reference to the fine coffee beans used to make its hallmark brews. (Pilot Crushtec is, incidentally, the largest private consumer of Illy products in the East Rand.)
‘How do you take your coffee?’ underlines how Pilot Crushtec gets to know its customers’ individual business requirements in order to provide customised solutions for their specific needs.
‘There’s service and there’s Pilot Crushtec service’ presents the image of a polystyrene cup of instant coffee standing next to a frothy high-class coffee house offering of cappuccino.
Savouring the serving
Launched to the trade media in January, the campaign is set to run throughout 2012 and several leading publishing houses, including BrookePattrick, Creamer Media, Avusa, Crown Publishers, Lloyds Media and 3S Media will be carrying the ads in their relevant publications together with some innovative extras.
These include branded belly bands, branded coffee mug coasters and teaser inserts. In certain issues, the advertisement page is printed on high grainage stock, which gives it instant prominence when the issue is opened.
Reaction to the campaign has been both swift and enthusiastic from customers and suppliers alike.
Brian Pauley, marketing manager of Terex Finlay, one of the world’s leading suppliers of crushing and screening equipment, wrote to du Plessis from Ireland, saying:
“I love the fresh approach you’ve taken with the Pilot Crushtec brand! You’ve carefully crafted a wonderful brand identity. Bravo!”
She also received an email from a delighted local customer telling her, “Your advertising is competing with Nando’s.”
Du Plessis’ primary role at Pilot Crushtec is to develop and maintain the company’s marketing strategy and she firmly believes that to extract the maximum benefits from advertising and PR, their efforts must run hand in hand.
“We are very fortunate to have access to top level expertise in each field. Proactive Communications has a sound understanding of our brand, marketing strategies and thinking which is very valuable, and the quality of their work is exceptional.
“Sally Braham Public Relations has been our media partner for the last five years and we have an extremely good relationship. It has an excellent rapport with the media and has built up a strong PR base on providing publications with newsworthy material that adds editorial value.”
Come enjoy the taste
The Pilot Crushtec communications philosophy can only be described as holistic. It maintains a high content, high quality interactive website, publishes the Crushtec Chronicle newsletter for its external stakeholders and the Pilot Flyer, a monthly full-colour publication for staff. In addition, du Plessis has ensured that the company makes full use of the opportunities offered by social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
But at the end of the day, it all comes down to personal relationships and the premise in print is a promise in practice.
As Scherf says, “Visit us for a cup of the world’s best coffee and let our relationship begin.”