Cheers to 40 Years! | Featuring: Cramer’s TJ Martin, CEO, and Rich Sturchio, President

EPISODE 15: Cheers to 40 Years! | PODCAST

You can also find this episode on Apple Podcasts and Spotify

Show Notes:

Cramer is celebrating 40 years of business this year after being founded by Thomas “Red” Martin in 1982. On this episode of Pivot Points, Tripp and Elise sat down with TJ Martin, Cramer CEO and Rich Sturchio, Cramer President and Creative Director. Technology has changed a lot since Cramer opened its doors in 1982, but the company’s values have remained the same since Red’s first day. TJ and Rich dive into Cramer’s evolution and share why they believe some of the best years are still to come!

Transcript:

Elise Orlowski:

I’m Elise Orlowski, a senior video director here at Cramer.

Tripp Underwood:

And I’m Tripp Underwood, a creative director at Cramer.

Elise Orlowski:

And at Cramer, we work with so many incredibly fascinating people from all over multiple industries.

Tripp Underwood:

We have so many great conversations, many that are just too good to keep to ourselves, so now we’re sharing them with the world.

Elise Orlowski:

Right here from Cramer Studios.

Tripp Underwood:

This is Pivot Points.

Elise Orlowski:

Cut.

Elise Orlowski:

Hello, and welcome back to another episode of Pivot Points. If you think about how much our world has changed in the last, say 40 years, every industry has had to adjust over time. Working in the creative space especially, our industry is constantly changing as new technology and trends evolve.

Tripp Underwood:

Totally. And I think Cramer, one of the things Cramer has done really well over the years is kind of keeping adapt and keeping up with the world, but also being very focused on some things that really make it who it is as a company. One of those things about being people focused. I think that’s been a cornerstone of what makes this company really function well and stayed here throughout the 40 years.

Elise Orlowski:

Completely. This year at Cramer, we’re celebrating 40 years, which is super, super exciting. Today to talk a little bit more about the evolution of Cramer, we have two very special guests, TJ Martin, our incredible CEO, and Rich Sturchio, our president, and also creative director. You all are on the hot seat today, so hopefully we can get some dirty secrets out you. No, I’m just kidding. But for those of us out there that don’t know Cramer, can we just kind of start at the beginning? How did Cramer start? You know, who is Cramer?

TJ Martin:

Sure. It’s a great question. Tom Martin, my dad started the company back in 1982. He worked for a company called Cramer Electronics. In ’82, they got bought by Arrow Electronics and Cramer at the time had a five person AV installation company, actually. And as the story goes, Tom mortgaged the house and bought that particular division. Arrow did not want the Cramer name, so he was able to sort of leverage that name recognition and kept the Cramer name, which was awesome.

TJ Martin:

Tom’s background, really, he was a former CPA, so in the early days, certainly he had that financial acumen, if you will. He didn’t have the creative or engineering expertise and that was a big asset. So early on, he certainly leaned into the people and sort of empowered them to help them build the business and take care of clients and naturally it worked out very well. As you can probably imagine, too, those early years of a company, there was certainly a lot of curve balls and challenges and I think his ability to really negotiate and work with the banks was huge in kind of keeping us going in those early days.

Rich Sturchio:

And a little bit of trivia, Cramer Electronics sold Apple their first set of microchips.

Elise Orlowski:

Oh, no way. [crosstalk 00:02:51]

Rich Sturchio:

So we are some distant, distant relative of Apple Computer.

Tripp Underwood:

They owe all of their success to Cramer.

Rich Sturchio:

As do a lot of companies.

Tripp Underwood:

Were you working for Cramer at the time or Red brought you in?

Rich Sturchio:

I’m old, but I’m not that old.

TJ Martin:

No, but I would say just to pivot over, I think like the person next to me here, Rich Sturchio, back in ’82 in the early days, Tom brought on a great guy from BU. Red being a BC guy, it was a little unusual, but he obviously brought on Rich from BU and Rich has certainly been a pillar of our organization. We’re fortunate to still have four people who were at the very beginning are still with us today, which is I think a great accomplishment.

Rich Sturchio:

In the early days, every morning after the Beanpot in the early to mid eighties, BU was dominant at the Beanpot. It was the quietest morning when I’d come in and charge into his office and go, “Did you see the game?”

TJ Martin:

Oh, he saw it. He saw it.

Tripp Underwood:

What was the tech like? You start in AV, so you’re working with camera, what was the main function?

Rich Sturchio:

I think at that time, because we were an installation company, we had a lot of equipment around the facility and Red came up with the ideas that maybe I can utilize this stuff and start producing videos. At the time corporate video production was really not a thing yet. On the installation side, we were filling companies with VCRs and monitors to start doing this training thing and we sort of latched onto that and started then producing the content to go into those monitors and VCRs that we’re selling. That’s sort of how we got going and I was thinking the other day of all the clients that we were doing work for. Baybank was one of the original ones, which is long gone and Arrow Automotive. There were all these companies.

TJ Martin:

Purity Supreme.

Rich Sturchio:

Purity Supreme.

Elise Orlowski:

I have no idea who any of these brands are.

Tripp Underwood:

Elise is too young to even recognize any of them.

Rich Sturchio:

I know.

Tripp Underwood:

They were one time, big brands.

Elise Orlowski:

I’m here to make you all feel old.

Rich Sturchio:

Here to make you feel young.

Tripp Underwood:

All right. Obviously the technology has changed, which changed the company, evolved, video production, getting into other things in AV and then events and moving on to creative and marketing content from there. Everything changes, that’s not unique to our industry, but what do you think are some things that haven’t changed at Cramer? There are certain things. I’ve only been here for five years, and I have seen a lot of change in that time, but I’ve also seen some things that are undeniably Cramer and don’t change. I’d love to just get your thought on what are some of the cornerstones of things that have stayed with us for these 40 years.

TJ Martin:

Two things that stick out to me and I’ll let Rich respond. We’ve talked about here a little bit, we started in that AV installation world, so I think a big part of our world has always been in that technical execution part of things.

Elise Orlowski:

Definitely. Yeah.

TJ Martin:

And that’s really been kind of the deep sort of platform and foundation for the company that’s allowed us to then build on the creative and design aspect of things, build on the strategic offerings that we have. But that technical foundation has been huge, especially trying to navigate the last 40 years, even the last two. The complexity of our world has just increased so much and having that technical foundation has been a huge part of it.

TJ Martin:

The second thing that I go back to and we’ve chatted about is the people side of things. I think Tom started very, very early on, again, good news, bad news. He wasn’t really in the creative engineering side of things. So again, he intentionally kind of really looked to hire the right people and really empower them the right way and I think we’ve really kept that sort of focus today is bringing on the right people. We’ve got a tremendous studio model and give the team the tools, what they need, and they’re going to take care of the clients and create great outcomes.

Tripp Underwood:

Recognize both an opportunity and the fact that that opportunity was a blind spot for him and then surrounded himself with the right people to help fill it.

TJ Martin:

Correct.

Rich Sturchio:

I think also the other important thing is, as he said, because Tom was an accountant, we didn’t come in with some predetermined notion of who we wanted to be or what we wanted to do, so we were kind of able to follow the needs of the clients and we would sort of drift in and out of businesses that we thought, “Well, this is what the clients are asking for, so let’s go into that.” We didn’t start out, “We’re just going to be a video production company and that’s all we’re going to do.” The infancy of that, we talked about the infancy of the video production business, but the event world was also in this infancy because 1982, they were literally just coming out with video projectors. You didn’t have them up until that point.

Elise Orlowski:

Insane.

TJ Martin:

Slide projectors.

Tripp Underwood:

Slide projectors.

Rich Sturchio:

Slide projectors and you go back when slides were popular, we found out that the turnaround time for changing a slide was ridiculous because you had to go to someone else and get that and get it processed.

Elise Orlowski:

I heard it took three days if you had to change something on slides.

Rich Sturchio:

At rush charges.

Elise Orlowski:

Which is insane to us.

Tripp Underwood:

We have people making edits to slides 13 seconds before they go on stage now, so the idea that you had to get a CEO keynote to agree to a change to his or her slide five days in advance blows my mind.

Rich Sturchio:

But because of that, we bought into the slide business and we were making slides so that we could cut that three day turnaround down to 24 or eight hours if it was necessary. That’s just another example, we didn’t want to be in the slide business. It was awful, but that’s what the clients wanted and they were hoping to get, so we said, “All right, we’ll go do that.” I think that sort of really defined who we have been over the past 40 years is let’s figure out where the needs are and move to them.

Elise Orlowski:

Yeah. I know you were talking a lot about starting in video production. What was kind of the transition into being in the event space? You touched on a little bit, but like how did we really start getting into events and stuff like that?

TJ Martin:

I’ll just kick into it. One of the areas that we first started really getting involved in the event was actually in the trade show world.

Tripp Underwood:

That makes sense.

TJ Martin:

In the trade show world back in the day, folks wanted to rent gear and equipment and then slowly and surely our clients were also asking about, well, we’re going to these programs, we need content and stories to engage with our audiences.

Tripp Underwood:

You spend all this money on equipment and then you’re shining it on a super boring headline. You just wasted a bunch of equipment. Right?

TJ Martin:

Exactly right. So again, I think that then getting into, and integrating the creative storytelling for companies in the trade show space, I think also it really exploded the trade shows, Comdex, Interrupt, back in the day became very complex creative expressions. We worked with some big brands to kind of tell us. Those were maybe the big early events, then obviously we get involved with folks like PWC and others to do more complex work.

Rich Sturchio:

I think I’ve always likened, especially in those early days, I always said we were sort of a design build construction firm where we were able to connect the creativity, so the design, with the execution. We could provide answers faster. It’s still one of the things we talk about all the time, it’s about doing the right thing. A lot of times the right thing isn’t what’s up here or what’s down here, it’s the right thing for the client, for the budget, for the audience. Because we merge the technology and the creativity, we’re able to work through what is the right solution for that. We’ve always been relatively agnostic on what sort of media we were going to deliver. I mean for a long time, we were in the digital space and we’re still in that a bit, less to this point now, but it was important for clients at that point. We always said, “We just want to provide the right solution. Doesn’t matter if it’s video or an event or whatever.” That’s been sort of a hallmark for us.

TJ Martin:

I think, like that, we sort of caught the wave of understanding that sort of event landscape. We just looked for ways, how can we intentionally look for ways to continue to kind of add value and make a difference. It was certainly creating some of these big opening experiences and opening video pieces then that certainly led into the executive presentations and the executive presentations became into being a little more thoughtful about the messaging and what’s being said and how we marry that together. I think the messaging and that side get into the strategic part of event programs and strategic part of communication, so we then leaned in and built out that side of the organization too.

Tripp Underwood:

What makes a good event is going to change based on technology, but our clients still need a good partner to pull it off. If one day you’re doing slides and the next minute you have PowerPoint and what a leap of difference that is, but having somebody on the other end to help either walk them to through it, or at least guide their expectations on it I think is super important as well.

Elise Orlowski:

Yeah. I think being a partner, that’s something I’ve always appreciated is that we’re not trying to sell an agenda. We’re really trying to hear our clients out, see where they’re at and then provide the best solutions for them as well.

Rich Sturchio:

I think we staked out early on that we were going to be really playing the corporate space because I think that’s where partnerships really sort of shined. I would say that we’ve always taken the approach with all our clients that we’re in this for the long haul. I don’t really care what we’re doing today, whether it big or small or whatever. It’s that we’re going to do the right thing and in that we’re going to be with you for a long time and that’s been our approach and it’s worked out for us.

Elise Orlowski:

Kind of talking about, as we’re looking back, but in the last few years, we’ve definitely, especially the past two, have gone through a ton of changes. What do you think has really allowed us to be able to, not a plug, but literally pivot so quickly and be able to adapt in these unprecedented times?

Rich Sturchio:

I think when the pandemic hit, we were in a unique position because there are a lot of companies that had equipment and there were a lot of those AV companies and there were a lot of production companies that had clients. We’re in the unique position of having equipment and clients, so we were right out of the gate, working with our clients to say, “What do you need? What do you need?”

Tripp Underwood:

Yeah. “How can we help?”

Rich Sturchio:

“How can we help? What can we do?” When we got onto the, “Okay, I know what you need. I understand where you’re going,” and we were able to build out this facility in a matter of months-

Elise Orlowski:

Oh, yeah. Very quickly.

Rich Sturchio:

… into something that is probably one of the largest webcasting facilities on the East Coast and that connection and partnerships that we had where we could say, “What is it that you need? What’ll work for you? What’ll work for us.” And being able to move on it quickly was, I think, great for our clients. Obviously it played out very well for us too.

TJ Martin:

Yeah. Just to play off what Rich has said, certainly the speed has been unprecedented in regards what we’ve gone through.

Elise Orlowski:

Totally.

TJ Martin:

The typical event project would be three to five months. I think it pivoted into three to five weeks.

Tripp Underwood:

Or less.

Elise Orlowski:

Yeah. Literally.

TJ Martin:

At the same time on the content marketing side of things where you may have 90, 120 days to do a programming, and Tripp, you’re intimate in some of this work, again, it just got so compressed. I think one of the big assets has been the diversity of the people that we’ve been able to talk to and activate. When the call does come in to be able to pull together the diverse thinkers and people, maybe on the design side, maybe on the writing side of things, engineering, that nimbleness has been huge. I think we’ve been able to quickly help architect the approach. Then certainly huge is the diversity of the studio and be able to activate that maybe on the virtual studio side of things or on the content side of things has been a huge asset in being able to deliver in those compressed timeframes.

Tripp Underwood:

I was shocked and I will say very pleasantly surprised. I was very nervous to see the way this building activated when we did make the switch. There were guys that came in from the warehouse that were helping us build things and then learning about the equipment. Then what, three months later they were helping run some of those broadcasts.

TJ Martin:

Right.

Elise Orlowski:

Then also striking it and setting up a whole new technology. Yeah.

Tripp Underwood:

Guys that used to do operations for parts of our business that paused, needed something to do, and Cramer wasn’t going to let them go, so we started training those guys up to learn new skills and some of them are still doing it to this day. Not only the physical transformation, but A, the way people were able to be the next person up, I thought was really impressive. I think a real testament to the leadership is the way that you empowered those people to take a swing at it. We’re all kind of in this together. If you want to learn something new, this is the best possible time and it really worked out well.

Rich Sturchio:

Yeah. I think that really showcased Cramer at its best and I don’t mean leadership alone. I mean the whole company.

Tripp Underwood:

No. Top to bottom.

Rich Sturchio:

We’ve said this first three months were a little rough while we were trying to figure things out-

Elise Orlowski:

For everyone.

Rich Sturchio:

… and no one knew what was going on. But, everybody from the top to the bottom, went in with an open mind like, “How can I help and what can we do? And what’s going to work?” I think that brought us as a company really closer together. I think we learned a lot about ourselves and what we could do and how much everybody cares about each other. I think it was an important time for us.

TJ Martin:

Yeah. I think it certainly amplified the culture that we had. I think it also amplified the value with the clients too. I think they really saw us very deeply too, so it was good.

Tripp Underwood:

The turnaround, the ability to deliver, because we were just firing it all cylinders. You’re not going to get that anywhere else. What do you see for the future? You’re at a different stage in your career, you’ve been here the whole time, you’ve seen a lot change. What are you thinking about for the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years? What keeps you coming in every day and what do you hope to see the company grow into?

Rich Sturchio:

Well, I can say this. I’ve been here for, it’s closing in on 40 years-

Elise Orlowski:

Oh, wow.

Rich Sturchio:

That’s a little scary, little crazy.

Elise Orlowski:

It’s your Cramer birthday.

Rich Sturchio:

But for 40 years, I’ve come into work and I’ve always said it’s important for me. I’m going to spend most of my life at a place. I want to love where I go. I want to love the people I work with and I want to love the values of that company. That I think combined with the changes that we’ve gone to through, every day is exciting. I’m learning something new still to this day. I learn something new every day or try to learn something new. Now I’m at the phase of my career right now where I’m trying to teach something new every day. I think the combination to those two, it’s really fulfilling and exciting. My hope is that for the next 20 or 30 years, we will keep this cycle going on of learning, of loving where you are and teaching all at the same time. That’s it for me.

Tripp Underwood:

Yeah. Growing from within.

TJ Martin:

Yeah. I would agree, Rich. I think certainly first and foremost you want to walk into a building and work with people you’re excited about. I think to our credit, we’ve done a great job with the culture and the energy that’s within the building and the people are great, so I think you certainly enjoy to work with them. We also talk about, we’re not on some quest to sort of be this big agency. I think that we’re really trying to focus on being exceptional. Though we’ve been around for 40 years, I really feel like we’re still pretty young at heart and I think that our best days are really ahead of us.

TJ Martin:

I think the exciting part is seeing you’ve got great people and also just seeing the opportunity that really is in front of us as a group and as a company. That’s going to be leading to success and development of people as well, but it’s a bright future and it’s fun to come into work every day. It’s great to be part of it and certainly a guy like this next door, I can’t say enough. I can’t say enough in regard to Rich…

Rich Sturchio:

I hear you’re calling me old. That’s what I’m hearing.

TJ Martin:

Yeah. I’m old too. I’m old too. A little behind you, but in all seriousness, again, I think that if you want to get a little bit of sense of who Cramer is all about, I think this guy right next to me, Rich Sturchio, has been at the heart of Cramer. I think that he’s a people person. He’s focused on the frontline folks, folks behind the camera here and I think he’s helped us stay grounded with the right principles and right values. I think that’s been a great part, so I appreciate all you’ve done.

Rich Sturchio:

I’m flattered.

Tripp Underwood:

Not to pump his tires anymore.

TJ Martin:

No, it’s true. It’s about people.

Rich Sturchio:

Tripp will cut me down. Tripp will cut me down.

TJ Martin:

For a BU guy, he’s done a great job.

Elise Orlowski:

I’m going to make you feel old.

Tripp Underwood:

Not bad for an old guy from BU. I will say a wonderful mixture of creative and technical knowledge-

TJ Martin:

Exactly right. Exactly right.

Tripp Underwood:

… because he starts talking about lights and camera stuff and it’s just a string of boring ass numbers and I tune out.

TJ Martin:

I’m going over here. Yeah.

Tripp Underwood:

I’m glad somebody else is paying attention to that.

Elise Orlowski:

Then I show him a TikTok and he is like, what’s that?

Tripp Underwood:

He thinks it’s a Tic Tac. He’s like, “Oh, I thought you’re giving me a mint.”

Elise Orlowski:

Just kidding. Just kidding.

Rich Sturchio:

This is all cold.

Tripp Underwood:

We were being too nice for a little bit there.

Rich Sturchio:

You’re cold. You’re cold.

Elise Orlowski:

Now he just feels even just the way he came in.

Tripp Underwood:

Even-keeled.

Elise Orlowski:

Well, TJ and Rich. We really appreciate you taking the time to be here. It’s very exciting that we’re celebrating 40 years and hopefully we’ll be able to celebrate another 40.

TJ Martin:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Rich Sturchio:

Sure.

Elise Orlowski:

Awesome. But again, thank you all for watching and stay tuned for another episode of Pivot Points.

 

View Transcript

Latest Podcasts

Check out more insights and candid conversations with the latest podcasts of below

Episode 18: The Art of Explaining Complicated Science

Today on Pivot Points, Tripp Underwood is joined by Sarah Santos, Cramer Associate Creative...

Listen

Episode 17: Collaboration Across Marketing & Events Teams

Today on Pivot Points, Tripp Underwood talks with Kristen Wilson, Director of Marketing, 3DEXPERIENCE...

Listen

Episode 16: Implementing DE&I into Events

Today on Pivot Points, Elise Orlowski talks with Jacqueline Wilson Cranford, Principal of Cranford...

Listen

Episode 14: Protecting Your Event Data

Senior VP of Technology at Cramer, Sean McGuire, joins Elise and Tripp on this...

Listen