Top Image is the market leader in the highly competitive promotions or ‘below-the-line advertising’ industry.
Top Image was created in 1995 when its founder and CEO, Jennifer Barassa, found herself out of a job. Her friends encouraged her not to look for a job, but rather to start a business. She then realized that there were few professionally run promotional agencies and given her marketing skills and networks in the marketing profession, she saw sense in what her friends were saying. So she sat down in her sitting room to write her first business proposal. Her start up capital was a mere thirty shillings – to cover the cost of typing and printing the proposal. That proposal resulted in Top Image winning its first contract. “The rest, as they say, is history.” Jennifer says.
In the early days the company was involved mainly in promoting merchandise in supermarkets, and carrying out bar promotions. Road shows, street carnivals, street storms and other events were then added to the range of services. More recently, the company has expanded into outsourcing of sales, trade development and customer care staff. The company also provides event management services.
Top Image’s customer base includes household names such as Safaricom, EABL, BAT, BIDCO, Standard Chartered and many others. To give an example of the kind of work her agency handles, Top Image was involved Safaricom’s “Guruma Tena” promotion and additionally, it provided additional sales staff to help train Safaricom’s MPESA dealers.
The secret to the company’s success is in Jennifer’s hands on involvement in the business. This brings her personal touch and years of experience to an assignment. However that does not mean that Jennifer’s presence is always needed in the office. She travels frequently but can afford to leave her business in the capable hands of her staff. This is because Jennifer has invested heavily in training and moulding her staff, which today, numbers over 200. The Top Image team is trained to be quality conscious and committed to clients. Jennifer is particularly proud of the fact that Top image is viewed as an entry point to a career in marketing, and that many large corporations have poached staff from her. Whilst losing valuable members of her team poses a continuous challenge, it is also an endorsement of the quality of the investment she has made and continues to make, in her team.
Top Image is also committed to deliver value for money. Whilst Top Image’s services are among the costliest in the industry, Jennifer says that companies get what they pay for. She points out that there are many “fly by night copy-cat” agencies that undercut the bigger agencies, but do not do a good job. “I never apologize for our pricing. I often say that we are the ‘Mercedes’ of the promotions industry. We are not the cheapest in the industry but our customers get quality service in return.”
Top Image’s vision of being the leading promotional agency by 2010 is well on its way to being realized. Indeed one could argue that it has already been achieved.
One of the biggest challenges constantly facing Top Image is the length of time clients take to settle bills. A project which requires heavy upfront investment will be satisfactorily completed yet clients will take 60 to 90 days to pay. “Our business is cash and labour intensive. More often than not, our sub-contractors need to be paid upfront. Yet some of our clients, even though they have vast resources, often delay settling our invoices.”
Top Image is active in the community. “We don’t like to shout about what we do, but we regularly support children’s homes. We also made a point of supporting and visiting the internally displaced persons at the beginning of the year.”