By Sue Moore
A technical communications company, Prima Communications Inc., is headquartered on Grand Street in Schoolcraft, right next to the Salted Cupcake and Bud’s Bar. But from that location, they serve clients throughout the world.
Charlotte Hubbard, CEO, founded the company in 1991, leading it on a long journey through various ups and downs.
Hubbard had intended to become an engineer, but upon graduation from the General Motors Institute, she realized she would rather write and train than develop products and processes.
So Hubbard founded the company to “build bridges between the people with the information and the people who need it,” she said.
Initially, it was just Hubbard and three, four, and then five other writers.
“We made cold calls to all the little engineering companies around,” Hubbard said. “They were happy to find people who loved to write and it paid the bills.”
Eventually, Prima was hired by The Upjohn Company to provide technical writing and training.
Within a few years, the staff swelled to 143 employees with new people hired to give the company the proper direction. In 1993, John Kroggel was hired as an administrator.
“John is top-notch at administration,” Hubbard said. “I prefer sales and production—he keeps the infrastructure running.”
Another big step was taken in 1999 when Kristen Crandle of Schoolcraft, was hired as employee number 40 to oversee finances and human resources, and to organize the company’s business practices.
Things worked well until late 2003, when Prima had to make a significant change in order to survive.
Prima’s business model, while well aligned with Pharmacia, its major client at the time, did not match up as well with Pfizer. Pfizer preferred to work through a master vendor and Prima needed to adjust to a playing field that was tilted in favor of national suppliers for contracted resources.
This was a very challenging time as Prima re-focused on its core competency, technical writing, and worked with the master vendor program to be allowed to compete in that segment only—technical writing.
Unfortunately the process was difficult and Prima had to release many employees.
“We formed a Business Development Team (BDT) to decide what to do next,” Crandle said. “We wanted to keep key people. We tried everything to build business – cold calls, attending conferences, word of mouth. As the shock wore off about the changes, we began to stabilize the business and rebuild; including working successfully through the master vendor program at Pfizer and rehiring a number of former employees.”
Crandle and Kroggel believe they have weathered the worst as the economy comes back and former Pharmacia and Pfizer employees, who now work for other companies, are calling on Prima to complete work for them.
Another advancement for Prima has been partnering with Patrick Sweeney and his firm, Explainers, The Bishop Company, which has been writing and illustrating technical manuals for many years in Kalamazoo. In 2011, he joined forces with Prima where he could have the services of someone like Crandle to manage the operation and could devote his time to writing.
Sweeney was writing technical manuals in the pre-wireless world and became the go-to person for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) when it wrote its report on the origins of wi-fi, explaining the system to Congress.
His business contacts have been helpful in the rebuilding process, Kroggel said.
Prima continues to write procedures and manuals that meet FDA standards, said Kroggel.
“Our teams are currently on site in Kalamazoo, St. Louis, and Indianapolis, among other locations,” he said. “We help clients prove that their machinery is operating as designed and that their employees have the tools (documents) to operate it correctly. This requires us to develop procedures and work instructions that meet regulatory requirements. This can be accomplished through traditional text documents, visual work aids, or a combination of the two disciplines.”
Prima now has clients around the world in industries ranging from aerospace to electricity, and pharmaceuticals to farming.