Touchdown PR

Seamless transition from PC to Mac

Slow boot times and system crashes are a thing of the past for staff at Touchdown PR, a pan-European public relations consultancy, after replacing Windows Vista laptops with MacBooks and a Mac mini with OS X Server.

“We encourage staff to use the MacBooks for work and pleasure. The more you become an expert in something, the more useful you become to the business. We want staff to be technically independent.”

James Carter, managing director, Touchdown

Touchdown PR, a pan-European public relations consultancy, have recouped their investment in MacBooks for their 20 staff and a Mac mini with OS X Server within just six months. The Apple technology has eliminated time wasted waiting for Windows machines to boot up, allows staff to work faster and produce better results, and ensures full compatibility with clients still using Windows thanks to Office for Mac. Meanwhile, the Mac mini server provides file sharing and connectivity at a fraction of the cost of the Windows equivalent and can be easily managed in-house.

Touchdown PR is one of Europe’s leading technology public relations and marketing consultancies, with staff based in the UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Their clients are up-and-coming business and consumer technology companies. “Most of our clients are experiencing hyper-growth; many are in the process of crossing the chasm to become the de facto technology standard for their industry. It’s an exciting place to be,” explains James Carter, Touchdown PR’s Managing Director.

Like most of their competitors, Touchdown initially kitted staff out with Windows PCs and laptops. Following several years of steady growth, and having attracted some of the best talent in the industry, the Touchdown directors wanted to give the company’s growing number of employees the latest and best tools to do the job.

“With Windows Vista, staff were easily losing 10 to 30 minutes of every working day just starting up and shutting down their machines,” Carter explains. “Even on a good day, it would take five minutes to boot up. All too frequently, either while booting up or at a random point during the day, the machine would insist on performing an update that could tie it up for anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes. When you could work, performance was poor, and if you opened more than three or four applications, the machine would get sluggish.” Carter estimates the business was losing around 50 working days each year just waiting for its PCs to be useable, a potential revenue loss of more than £30,000.

“When we looked at the Mac mini, it could provide everything we needed for a tenth of the price — and we could use the difference to upgrade all our client machines to Macs. For the same money, we could get a much better solution.”

James Carter, Managing Director, Touchdown

Moving to an acceptable standard

The breaking point came when the business grew large enough that it needed a server to handle file sharing and regular automated backups as well as a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to deliver better support for remote working. “By the time you factored in the cost of the server, software licences, storage and backup, we were being quoted between £5,000 and £10,000 for a Windows-based solution, with ongoing annual support costs on top,” Carter says.

The key factor holding Touchdown back from moving to Apple was integration with clients, who are all Windows-based. “Our business is document-driven,” Carter points out. “With so much of our work based on visual and written content, we couldn’t afford to have our clients irritated by formatting glitches resulting from interoperability issues.”

However, Carter noticed that one of his best employees was a Mac user and was collaborating seamlessly with the rest of the Touchdown team using Office for Mac. After personally testing the interoperability between the two platforms and seeing it work without a problem, Carter called his local Apple Authorised Reseller to discuss Touchdown’s needs.

Touchdown took the plunge in 2010. The business acquired MacBook Pros loaded with Office for Mac, together with 24-inch Apple LED Cinema Displays for all its staff, a Mac mini running OS X Server to act as a file server and provide the VPN, a Time Machine for automated backups and networking, an AirPort Extreme for redundant wireless network access, VM Fusion to allow the company’s finance director to continue running Sage, and Magic Mice and Keyboards.

“While the MacBooks were more expensive than PCs, once you had factored in that we didn’t need to buy separate applications to handle PDFs, scanning, backup and several other functions, the difference was negligible.”

James Carter, Managing Director, Touchdown

Much lower TCO

“Because we didn’t have to spend any time finding, purchasing and installing those applications, the time savings probably gave the MacBooks the edge in pure capital cost,” says Carter. “Add to that the fact the Mac mini with OS X Server was a fraction of the cost of the Windows servers we were quoted for, and the whole package came out less than the equivalent Windows proposal.”

Other than the Harvest time-tracking app, Carter says he hasn’t needed to spend anything extra in the two years since the switch to Apple: “All the business functions are included, and we don’t need to pay monthly subscriptions. We’re currently looking at Dictation — something that can transform talk to text would be invaluable.”

Carter says the solution has delivered a return on investment in the first year of over 200 per cent simply by immediately eliminating the slow boot times and lockouts from upgrades that staff were experiencing with Windows Vista.

“The total cost for the Apple solution was around £12,000, compared with the £30,000 we were losing each year just from downtime.”

James Carter, Managing Director, Touchdown

Easing European expansion

What’s more, it has made expansion simpler and cheaper. “We’ve since opened an office in Munich,” says Carter, “and this is as simple as ‘buy another MacBook’. New staff are connected to the network straight away and we don’t need to bring in outside IT help.”

For a small business like Touchdown, Apple technology is far easier to support, says Carter. Despite having no background or any formal training in IT, day-to-day management was handled by Anita Andrews, account coordinator and de facto office manager for the company. While currently away on maternity leave, Anita was able to conduct a simple IT handover with a colleague to ensure that any new machines could be quickly and easily integrated into the business, says Carter.

“We have very few problems but if there is a problem, we encourage staff to try and find a solution. Nine times out of ten, a Google search will tell you what to do. It’s a self-solving culture. If they don’t understand, they can find out.”

Carter estimates Touchdown now only needs two days a year of external IT support and training. “We encourage staff to use the MacBooks for work and pleasure. The more you become an expert in something, the more useful you become to the business. We want staff to be technically independent.”

Cost and IT management savings, together with greater reliability and availability, aren’t the only benefits Touchdown has seen from switching to Apple technology. “In PR, reputation is something we always look to enhance — for ourselves and our clients,” says Emily Gallagher, a senior account director at Touchdown.

“With the Mac, it’s so much easier to create and present eye-catching, engaging material to get people’s attention. Scanning in documents or turning them into PDFs comes built in with the Mac. Macs make it much easier to create a better visual impression and a more favourable image of what the agency can offer.”

Emily Gallagher, Senior Account Director, Touchdown.

Intuitive and seamless

Overall, says Gallagher, who had only ever used Windows PCs before Touchdown made the switch, her MacBook Pro helps her work more quickly and efficiently. “I work with several clients at any one time, which means there is a lot of information I need to keep on top of,” she explains. “OS X provides lots of different features that help me organise all that information, such as Cover Flow, which allows me to easily flip through files, or Spaces for organising documents for different clients so I’m just looking at documents for one particular client in one desktop. I no longer lose documents behind other documents or discover emails I thought I’d sent but haven’t because they got hidden when I needed to quickly switch to another task and open a different application.”

Gallagher adds that it’s been “a revelation how intuitive and seamless it is to work on the Mac, even for something as simple as getting pictures into documents.” She continues: “We work a lot with PDFs, PowerPoint, Word and Excel, and Apple makes it very quick and easy to move content between documents, even when they’re in different formats, by dragging and dropping items from one document into another. It’s not just the creative side: even putting together reports for clients now takes my team 30 minutes rather than an hour and a half. Reporting doesn’t earn us money like creating content does, but it does need to be done, so we need tools that help us do it as quickly as possible.”

Carter says many of the team are now using iPads for personal use, but the MacBooks remain the device of choice for business. “If I’m doing a major presentation to clients, I’ll use a projector, but if it’s more personal, I still want the larger screen of the MacBook.”

Evelyn Naudorf, a Senior Account Manager at Touchdown, also praises the small touches built into Apple technology that make her job easier. Evelyn is one of the multilingual staff working at the company, and splits her time roughly equally between communicating in English and in German. “With OS X, there’s built-in support for quickly and easily switching to a German-language environment, so that even in email, I can type German characters and have the rest of what I’m typing spellchecked using a German dictionary. When you’re sending 50 emails in German every day, that saves a huge amount of time.”

Account Director Chris Netto, another formerly Windows-only user who joined the company more recently, confirms that he found it easy to make the move to Apple. “Because Microsoft Office works the same way on Windows and the Mac, it wasn’t a rough transition,” he says. He adds, “I remember being very excited when James emailed me after I accepted the job to tell me I would be getting a MacBook Pro in a couple of weeks. As a new employee, I felt very flattered and valued that the company was investing in such quality equipment for me.”

Even the company’s finance director, Emma Carter, a dyed-in-the-wool PC user, has been won round to Macs. A partition on her MacBook Pro created with VM Fusion allows her to continue using Sage, a heavy-duty Microsoft Windows–based database application, to run all aspects of the company’s accounts and have them seamlessly backed up to Time Machine. “I wanted to transition to the Mac platform along with the rest of the business, but I was anxious about how Sage would work on a Mac,” she says. “As it turns out, running Sage on a Mac is just as fast, and is an identical experience because it’s the same application as before — I’ve not had to relearn anything. As soon as we installed Sage on my MacBook Pro, our accounts were up and running again. One added benefit is the automatic backup of my Mac and Sage files to Time Machine, which means I no longer have to remember to do daily manual backups to external USB drives.”

Moving forward, the Apple technology will be an enabler for the company’s long-term growth. “It will be easy to add more staff working remotely to the teams we already have in Munich, Amsterdam and Paris because our Apple infrastructure really does make location irrelevant,” Carter points out. “Similarly, if we decided to have several staff based together in a larger office in mainland Europe, it would be very easy to replicate the same kind of environment we have here in the UK. And because all the Apple products are very much integrated, we can be confident that when we add something new, it will work well with everything we already have. That makes us more willing to experiment with new things and keep up with business needs as the company grows.”

“Our business is about offering a quality service to our customers. Switching from Windows to Apple has proven to be a powerful differentiator that keeps our clients and employees closer to our business.”

James Carter, Managing Director, Touchdown

Company Snapshot

Toolkit

Hardware:

  • Mac
  • Apple Cinema Display
  • iPad
  • Time Capsule
  • AirPort Extreme

Software:

  • OS X Server
  • Microsoft Office for Mac
  • Time Machine
  • Harvest
  • Evernote