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 October 8, 1999

Brand-name strategies bring big clients to Sterling-Rice

BOULDER — Sterling-Rice Group quietly has gone about its business in Boulder County while racking up many of the most familiar brand names as clients from across the country.

The Boulder-based marketing firm, which counts brands Taco Bell and Kraft among its clients, will be honored with a 1999 Esprit Entrepreneur Award from the Boulder Chamber of Commerce. The award recognizes the company’s entrepreneurial success over the past 15 years, growing from a two-person firm to 50 employees

The firm offers a fusion of consulting group and advertising agency to develop brand equity strategies and help grow businesses.

The company’s other clients have included Kellogg Co., TCI, Hewlett-Packard, General Mills= Quaker Oats, Kentucky Fried Chicken, U S West, Bank of America, Coors Brewing Co., Whirlpool and Celestial Seasonings. Others brands include Frito Lay, Land ‘O Lakes, Nestle and Old El Paso.

The company was founded by Rick Sterling and Michael Rice in 1984.

Sterling, who serves as president of the group, began his career in food retailing in Boston. He ran Stop & Shop stores for a couple of years. He then spent about 10 years in brand management with Quaker Oats.

He managed almost every pet food business in the company’s portfolio, developing many new products, including the highly successful Kibbles ‘n Bits dog food.

In the early 1980s he moved to Boulder to head the marketing department at Celestial Seasonings. In less than three years he tripled the company’s revenues by guiding it into grocery outlets, expanding the product line and developing the unique Celestial positioning, “Soothing Teas for a Nervous World.”

Michael Rice began his career at J. Walter Thompson in Chicago where he managed advertising for Quaker Oats, Kraft Foods, S.C. Johnson Wax and Gerber Products Co.

He left that company to join Sterling at Celestial Seasonings as director of new products. There he helped develop and launch several new tea products as well as Celestial’s first initiatives outside of herbal tea.

He now serves as managing partner of the Sterling-Rice Group.

The firm now has about 50 employees. “Over time, we’ve added specialists in health care and technology,´ said Sterling.

Since the company does a substantial amount of work on concepts for food brands, it added a food director to the staff, he said. This senior consultant is a former chef who has operated his own restaurant and was trained in French cuisine.

About 33 percent of the company’s business is food products while 45 percent is consumer packaged goods, he said. The balance is health-care and technology clients.

One of Sterling-Rice’s recent success stories was the brand positioning for DiGiorno Rising Crust Pizza. Kraft had developed the technology for producing a superior frozen pizza. In fact, this was the first time that pizza dough would truly rise in the home oven.

The company’s objective was to position the pizza as a premium-priced line extension to its successful Tombstone brand pizza.

But Sterling-Rice suggested that positioning the pizza against delivery pizza could offer a much broader frame of reference and reinforce the premium message and higher price point.

The group identified gaps in carry out/delivery performance such as long waits and high cost. It recommended changing the frame of reference from frozen to delivered pizza to reinforce the sense of higher quality with the slogan “It’s Not Delivery, It’s DiGiorno.”

It also recommended changing the brand name from Tombstone to DiGiorno Rising Crust Pizza.

The brand is now one of Kraft’s most successful new products, a $350 million-plus business.

“The big win for DiGiorno was our ability to target and source volume from the large carry-out and delivery business,´ said Betsy Holden, executive vice president and general manager of Kraft.

“It was Sterling-Rice Group’s strategic insight, positioning abilities and innovation processes that helped us to do this so successfully,” she said.

BOULDER — Sterling-Rice Group quietly has gone about its business in Boulder County while racking up many of the most familiar brand names as clients from across the country.

The Boulder-based marketing firm, which counts brands Taco Bell and Kraft among its clients, will be honored with a 1999 Esprit Entrepreneur Award from the Boulder Chamber of Commerce. The award recognizes the company’s entrepreneurial success over the past 15 years, growing from a two-person firm to 50 employees

The firm offers a fusion of consulting group and advertising agency to develop brand equity strategies and help grow businesses.

The company’s other clients…

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