By Frank Kenna
Our business was started 100 years ago by my grandfather. His idea was to sell and distribute a news photo publication three times a week (for 35¢ a week!) and sell it via subscription to Connecticut retailers to attract attention to their storefront windows. It worked, and he subsequently used the same technique to draw attention to in a manufacturing company he owned (see photo above), creating another, related company that is today Marlin.
(Note: you can see a sampling of those news photos, aka “Illustrated Current News” (ICNs) by visiting our Google history book. It’s a fun and cool look at 100 years of world history told through news pictorials).
Since then, the company has gone through many waves of disruptive workplace communications innovation. The first was at the company’s birth, using the just-invented, high-tech method of offset lithography. This enabled rapid printing of large quantities at a low cost, perfect for getting out breaking news in about a day, which was fast in those pre-radio and TV days.
Eventually radio and TV did come along, making the basic ICN concept somewhat obsolete. But the company adapted by adding issue-specific posters and memos to the service, transforming it into a full-fledged employee communication service in the 1940s.
By the 1970s it was time to introduce color, with Marlin eventually converting all of the 90+ pieces it published each month to full color, necessitating changes in the selection and production of artwork. Seeing as how this was still in the pre-computer days, all the color separations had to be done manually and press-proofed in person, adding substantially to the company’s overhead.
The 1980s brought the desktop publishing revolution and with it the fear that customers would want to “do-it-yourself,” but that turned out to be a non-issue because content creation then, as today, is all about the content itself, not the technology. Desktop publishing actually turned out to be a great benefit to the Marlin artists and production folks, and revealed the first glimmers of digital distribution of content. The only problems were lack of a distribution method – phone lines (too slow) and satellites (too expensive) were the only possibilities – and a way to display images once transmitted to the customer. With big TVs weighing in at several hundred pounds and only displaying analog resolution, there had to be a better way.
Those two problems were solved by more technological revolution around the turn of the 21st century.
The first 42” plasma screens were produced in 1997. And a new thing called the Internet came along around the same time, with about 1% of global communication flowing through it in 1993, ramping up to 97% in 2007. These two developments gave birth to the Digital Signage industry, yet another threat to Marlin’s future. But while most of the company’s competitors from then are now out of business, Marlin embraced the new technologies, patenting new software and processes to take the lead in digital workplace communications.
It’s been a pretty wild ride for the first 100 years, and given the accelerating pace of technological change, we ain’t seen nothing yet!