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Software company builds loyalty with box of chocolates

Ugo Feunekes left university nearly two decades ago with two things: a graduate degree and an idea for software that would help companies derive business intelligence from large volumes of data.

Mr. Feunekes, who lives in Fredericton, was convinced he had a marketable product on his hands and decided to build a business around it. The bet paid off.

What began as a two-person upstart is now a global player with clients on six continents. Remsoft's software is used by organizations in the forestry, transportation and environmental sectors to help them manage long-term priority and financial planning.

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Being a player in the software industry is not for the faint of heart. The competition is intense, and startups often find themselves facing off against multinational corporations.

Andrea Feunekes, Remsoft's co-CEO, knew the company couldn't out-promote the bigger entities, so she decided early on to focus on community building and ensuring existing customers stayed true to the brand.

"Our approach to public relations has always been consistent with our size and our goals," she explains. "We started small. We participated in environmental and transportation conferences, but the big jump came when we started our annual user-group meetings – one based here in Fredericton, another in South America, and a third in Australia."

From there, much of Remsoft's PR took on new momentum. User group members, who by definition are avid supporters of the software, routinely switch jobs and bring their Remsoft loyalties with them, sparking more business opportunities.

With such an enthusiastic user base, Remsoft has used its small size to its advantage. Ms. Feunekes recalls one customer who wanted to come to Fredericton for the annual user meeting, which coincides with the city's Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, but lacked the means to get there. So the company's marketing director invited the customer to stay at her place for the week. Not all the gestures have been so grand. The company once sent another customer, an expatriate Canadian living in Mississippi, a box of his favourite chocolates, which are only available in Canada.

"As we grow, we're going to continue keeping this level of personal touch with our user community," says Ms. Feunekes, adding that Remsoft is adding PR agencies, brand managers and social media to its marketing mix to complement its growth.

I often advise clients of mine who are new to PR to start small, and build from there. The Remsoft approach is an example of a company scaling promotion to match its stage of growth. It makes little sense to embark on a "big bang" campaign when a series of small touches and building closer connections to those who are committed to your brand can be just as effective.

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In PR, sometimes a box of chocolates speaks just as loudly as a newspaper headline.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Wedgbury is president of the Canadian region for Fleishman-Hillard Canada and its sister company, High Road Communications. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing award-winning communications agencies. Her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle. She works in partnership with her clients to build brands, mitigate risk and shape communications strategies.

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