Every business, says Rodger Dean Duncan, has three kinds of assets: physical, financial and human. Unfortunately, he says, many companies focus nearly all their development efforts on the physical and financial assets when it is only the human asset that can make anything happen. That's where The Wirthlin Group comes in.
Most people know about Richard B. Wirthlin, the Murray High School graduate and former Brigham Young University professor who became the "prince of pollsters" and chief strategist of the Reagan/Bush presidential campaigns.What they may not know is that Wirthlin the pollster and campaign guru is also chairman of The Wirthlin Group, an international consulting firm headquartered in McLean, Va., with satellite offices in New York, Chicago, New Jersey, California and, now, Utah, serving clients ranging from General Motors to small startups.
The Wirthlin Group was founded in Provo in 1969 but didn't have a major presence in Utah County until the company moved its telephone data collection and research operations from Santa Ana, Calif., and Washington, D.C., to Orem in 1985 where it now has a staff of 150, which expands to about 250 at election time.
Then, in February, the company opened a client service center of The Wirthlin Group in the same Orem building. It is headed by Rodger Dean Duncan, executive vice president, and Steven L. Bodhaine, senior research executive. Duncan joined Wirthlin last June when his own consulting firm merged with Wirthlin. Bodhaine came from the Wirthlin operation in Irvine, Calif.
"We see Utah as an extremely fertile market along with all of the intermountain area," said Duncan. "We have a real job to do in educating our potential clients in the great leverage they can get in first-class survey research and strategy building. We help them develop strategies that win."
Although Wirthlin clients include an impressive list of Fortune 500 companies, including Exxon, General Mills, Procter & Gamble, Eastman Kodak, Coca-Cola and American Airlines, among many others, Bodhaine stresses that no company is so small that it can't be helped by Wirthlin strategies.
While Wirthlin contracts can run as high as $1 million, others have carried much more modest fees, as low as $5,000. Bodhaine cites the case of the municipality of Palmdale, Calif., that wanted to know public sentiment on a proposal to build a recreation center. "They didn't need all of the abilities that The Wirthlin Group has, but we were able to offer them some insights. It was a small but important job," he said.
The Wirthlin Group is privately held. Richard Wirthlin is the majority stockholder, but a "handful" of others, including Duncan, own shares in the company and there are "opportunities" for other employees to earn equity positions, said Duncan.
Being private, the group does not publish financials, but according to Marketing News, a publication of the American Marketing Association, The Wirthlin Group had billings of $13 million last year, placing it 25th among the top 50 survey research firms.
In terms of "strategic research," said Bodhaine, it ranks among the top five nationally. He explains strategic research this way:
"Our heritage arose from the political arena, and we have techniques that we have leveraged into marketing and communications, public affairs and public relations. We have developed some different modeling techniques that enable us to identify attributes thatdrive the corporate image and measure customer satisfaction."
Duncan puts it this way: "We deal in leadership. Leadership is a real struggle in this country. There is a difference between being a manager and being a leader. Being a good leader involves having a vision, communicating it, building a strategy and inspiring people to respond to the battle cry.
"A lot of people can talk the talk; we teach them to walk the talk, and that requires focusing on strategies. Lots of organizations have become adept at responding to change or accommodating change. Those that do best will manage change. And that's what we help them do."
Duncan said the process begins with a "culture audit" of the client company, a process he developed with his own firm prior to joining Wirthlin.
The culture audit involves an in-depth analysis of its traditions, behaviors, norms, reward systems, performance standards and communication practices - all of which directly affect morale and productivity. This is done through confidential one-on-one interviews and individual "effectiveness profiling" of key managers, as well as focus group interviews with employees.
Out of the culture audit, he said, comes a picture of the company's strengths and weaknesses, challenges and opportunities. From this, the group develops recommendations for change and improvement. Over time, the positives are enhanced and the negatives are eliminated or at least reduced.
The Wirthlin Group does not limit itself to corporations. Last August, after Iraqi troops marched into Kuwait, it took on an assignment for Citizens for a Free Kuwait. Wirthlin conducted interviews with hundreds of people in 10 world capitals to monitor world opinion on the events in the gulf.
That report, said Duncan, was made available to the "highest levels" in Washington, D.C. "Those global events," he said, "were funneled through Provo, Utah, (the Wirthlin Data Collection Center) and then back to the world."
Although the Provo client service center that opened in February will stay relatively small in terms of staff, Duncan said it will have the resources of the entire Wirthlin Group and all of its experts available at any time they are required to meet a client's needs.
"We don't just dump a bunch of computer data on their desks. We work in partnership with them," said Duncan.