Bold Type

How an Innovative College Couple Turned Four Printing Presses into a Full-Scale National Creative Agency by Ann Schwede

When Todd Tiefenthaler first saw Liz Schmidt at a party following a University of Wisconsin-Madison football game, he wasn’t thinking about the life and the successful business they could build together. The reality at that moment was his need to think of something clever to say, so he took a deep breath, mumbled something he can’t recall to this day, then asked Liz out to a movie, and she accepted.

That night was the first step in what would become a 45-year marriage and a 33-year business partnership.
Todd and Liz graduated from UW-Madison in 1973. Todd took a job as an account executive at a print shop in Madison, while Liz accepted a position as a schoolteacher.

When Kramer Printing went up for sale in 1984, Todd and Liz jumped at the chance to own their own business. Although they started with only four presses, they saw a great opportunity to expand. In 1998, they had grown enough that they sold their original location and built a larger facility just outside of Madison. This extensive space allowed them to install additional presses and to begin offering much-needed services to their clients.

Now known as Kramer Madison, their superb product quality and excellent customer service garnered them regional, national and international attention. They developed a full-service creative department, filled it with talented people who partnered with their skilled craftsmen. After winning many design awards, from the American Advertising Federation’s Annual ADDY Awards, Kramer Madison cemented their position as design leaders and gained credibility equal to that of traditional advertising agencies.

Today, Todd and Liz manage a comprehensive strategic design, marketing and branding agency, which offers award-winning digital, variable, and offset printing. The couple works with a wide range of major national brands, but they especially enjoy collaborating with Zachary Tyler, CEO of Creative Marketing Concepts.

Todd and Liz have known Zachary since he was a high-schooler in Madison and they were delighted to hear from him when he was working for The Hearst Corporation and needed a printer. They were even more thrilled when Zachary, known for his entrepreneurial spirit and creativity, purchased Creative Marketing Concepts in 2013. Together, CMC and Kramer Madison work together regularly. Their specialty: strategizing to help clients break through the white noise of the modern day media landscape. Kramer not only designs and prints CMC catalogs, they also work closely with Zachary on a number of out-of-the-box projects including designing custom jackets for a recent BET network awards show and fulfillment projects for Charles Schwab.

Marque Asks

Marque sits down with Todd and Liz Tiefenthaler, the couple behind Kramer Madison.

Your business is more than 80 years old. How did it begin and how has it evolved?

Todd: It was founded in 1936 and we bought it in 1984. When we bought the business, it was a small newsletter and business card shop. We grew it into a thriving design and print focused business.

Liz: From there we added marketing services, mail and fulfillment.

What made you decide to develop your own creative department? 

Liz: Todd has always loved the agency part of the business. Even when we first bought Kramer and it was a small shop, we hired a graphic designer because we saw the need. As we evolved, we discovered that there were more people looking for creative services and we knew we could offer that. Not everyone wants to go to an agency that requires a retainer or has a lot of overhead. We fill a large void for companies that are looking for an agency that is nimble. And we are very nimble.

How has having a creative team, including strategic brand consulting, changed your service offering and client mix?

It has changed us from a company that only works with local customers, to one that works nationally and internationally. Our most sizable growth areas have been in regions outside of Wisconsin. I think that reflects the success of to our business model — we can create and execute entire campaigns or focus specifically on the parts that are needed.

Todd: Both the East and the West Coasts are using our services heavily.

Working with several PR firms you’ve have incorporated promotions into your integrated marketing campaigns. What are some projects and brands you’ve have worked with?

Liz: One of the early big projects was with Philips Sonicare as they launched a new Diamond Clean toothbrush. We learned a lot on that project — mostly how to scale and adapt to our clients’ expectations. Since then we’ve worked with Nivea, See’s Candies, Mucinex, Budweiser, Canada Dry and KY among others. We amp-up the experience by curating branded promo items that fit within the theme of our mailers. When quality product, great design and promo come together, it really makes an impact. Our “Media Mailers” get our PR clients in front of tastemakers and editors alike. Leveraging promo has been a big part of that success.

What is your favorite branded promotion?

Liz: I love this game! We just did a fully designed Boxanne speaker that is just fantastic. It’s something we plan to give our clients and prospects. It showcases our design chops and humor. I mean, who doesn’t love dogs?

Todd: As a sailor, I’m often seen wearing my Kramer-branded sun shirt. It wears like iron and I don’t have to put on sunscreen. And when people ask where I got it, I point to the Kramer Madison logo, which always makes the rest of the crew laugh.

Where do you see Kramer Madison headed in the future?

Liz: I see us expanding in all areas. Shockingly, print is back. We are currently doing a lot of print for online companies, who have discovered that they get great results when using direct mail and variable data.

Todd: We have been pioneers in the use and application of variable data printing as a marketing tool, and have had many wild success stories from national and international companies who hire us for these services. We can personalize every piece we print, help our clients track action through promotional codes, and build brand awareness through integrated marketing.

Liz: The other area where we expect growth is working with Creative Marketing Concepts on branded promotional mailings, our “Media Mailers.” The mailers have been tremendously successful for PR firms that we work with.

With all of your growth and advancements, is there anything about your company that hasn’t changed?

Todd: Our dedication to serving our customers and exceeding their expectations.

Liz: At the end of the day, I will always love my customers. Our employees are our family, and we like to think our customers are, too. And . . . dogs will always be welcome in our shop.