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The Story of Ray Markman – Part 9

by John Jonelis

Ray MarkmanFriday, 4:10 pm

I’m still alone in my office picking through my box of documents on Ray Markman when I come across this:

Ray’s in Acapulco on vacation after he pulls off a tremendous success with his all-woman ad agency. He gets a call: ‘You gotta come down here. Big meeting with Britannica.’ He says he’s not interested and hangs up. Britannica isn’t his account.

Next day he gets another call. Different tone. ‘You better get your ass back here.’

He says to his wife, ‘Honey, I gotta go.’ And it changes his life.

The Big Meeting

This Encyclopædia Britannica meeting drags on for a day and a half. The agency is showing 100 ads—big fat plan books. It’s one of those all-out presentations his boss is fond of doing. He’s already created the layouts practically ready to shoot. Lots of money tied up in it and any return is at the whim of the client. This is “bet the farm” for the agency. Remember, he owns stock in it.

Listening to the presentations and seeing the response, Ray knows something’s wrong here. So he takes the clients to lunch—alone—separate from the agency people. Here’s what they tell him: ‘Your people missed it, Ray. We didn’t need new creative, new marketing. Our top account guy left and they didn’t even replace him.’ So it was simple as that.

Ray says, ‘I don’t know your business but I know how to build a team and I plan on sticking around.’

They say, ‘It’s too late. Our president already told everybody your agency is fired. And your people are still making presentations.’

Ray figures Britannica must have 25 agencies pitching the business. He says, ‘Stall as long as you can and you won’t be sorry.’

And they do. And Ray saves the Britannica account for his agency.

Then he goes on to increase their business, just the way he did with the previous campaign.

But that doesn’t mean Britannica is out of trouble.

The Big Shift

Ray leaves the agency to become VP of marketing at Encyclopædia Britannica. I don’t find the reasons that drive him to make such a big move in my cardboard box of records. Maybe he just wants the chance to shake up a sleepy company. Maybe he’s addicted to turnarounds.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Britannica’s market share is slipping. World Book and others are eating into their sales. The Encyclopædia Britannica is the gold standard. It’s huge, prestigious, and takes up a whole bookshelf. So what’s the problem?

Ray does a lot of research and discovers that it isn’t the best choice for a family because it’s too hard for kids to understand. People buy it as furniture to show that they have it.

Turns out Britannica has a secret product called “Plan B” that’s been cooking for years. Five thousand scholars from around the world create it. It costs 36 million dollars and they don’t know how to market it.

So Ray grabs onto that and launches Brittanica III. It’s divided into three parts.

  1. The Propaedia—The summation of all knowledge in the world in one volume.
  2. The Micropaedia—10 volumes, similar to the “World Book.” Short, easy-to-read articles on every subject in the world.
  3. The Macropaedia—17 volumes of long scholarly articles—like the original Britannica.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Ray recognizes he needs three separate ad agencies to market it: A general agency to describe Britannica like you’d describe Tide. ‘Tide’s in, dirt’s out.’ Then two direct marketing agencies.

Finance says they can’t afford that. But Ray says, ‘Of course you can because I’m gonna buy these agencies in a way they’ve never been bought before— à la carte.’ And he goes on to do something unique—he buys only the functions he wants and mixes them into a stew.

At one agency, he buys the creative department, not the media, research, or the rest. He works out a specialized fee schedule for all three agencies. This is outside the way advertising traditionally works, but they’re okay with it because the money’s still good.

Then he does something never done before. He gets the three agencies together and says, ‘You guys are my team—we’re all in business together. When you come to my conference room, you leave your egos outside the door because you’re gonna work together. You’re gonna make each other better and we all sink or swim together.’

With that, Ray re-writes advertising history.

And he creates a machine. Normally, if an agency beats its control ad by 10%, it’s good. Ray’s team runs 26 test ads against the control. They wind up with huge numbers—sometimes 100% better than the control. If an ad falls below 25% they ditch it. That’s unheard of.

They produce 2 million leads a year.

Then they put out a “Book of the Year”. It covers all the changes that happen that year. They make a science yearbook, a medical yearbook, and on and on.

Britannica goes from losing money to a billion dollar company.

It’s clear to me that Ray is at his best starting something new or saving a faltering company. And if it means re-writing history, that’s what he does.

Continue to Part 10


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Find Chicago Venture Magazine at www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts are welcomed and encouraged. This is not investment advice – do your own due diligence. I cannot guarantee accuracy but I give you my best.

Copyright © 2012 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved


Filed under Biography, Characters, Chicago Venture Magazine, Chicago Ventures, Conflict, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Invention


The Story of Ray Markman – Part 5

by John Jonelis

Ray Markman

Friday, 3:00 pm

Across my desk sit both Alexander Harbinger PhD and Loop Lonagan. So far they haven’t come to outright blows but their big duel is set for 5:00 pm.  That leaves two hours to pick their brains.

I realize both men are waiting for my part of the story on Ray Markman, so I report.

“I’ve got the story on the job Ray was gunning for—the one at Leo Burnett, the big-time ad agency. First let me get you into his mindset.  Ray has a theory that all great companies are two men, not one.  There’s Mr. Outside and Mr. Inside.  The idea man and the guy who runs the factory.  Look at it this way—when Apple loses Steve Jobs—Mr. Outside—the company doesn’t just dry up.  There’s a Mr. Inside who’s already running the shop in the background.”

I slap my palm on the scarred desktop. “Same thing at this ad agency. And at that time Leo Burnett himself is Mr. Outside.”

“So Ray makes good his escape from that cosmetics firm. He’s on the loose.  Brand manager experience under his belt.  He shows up at Leo Burnett and talks to the executive that fills the role of Mr. Inside.  And the guy puts Ray through their regular jury system.”  I pause and look each man in the eye. “That’s a set of grueling two-hour interviews with ten people.”

I sip my scotch. “Here’s where it gets good.  Eventually, the personnel department sends Ray to interview with their biggest brand manager—the guy that runs the Philip Morris account.  At that time, cigarette manufacturers spend hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising.  Doesn’t matter how much.  The more they advertise the more they sell.  It’s a direct correlation.”

Philip Morris

Philip Morris

“Yeah.” Lonagan is grinning.  “I remember them times. Kinda like the way they sell cheap beer, nowadays.”

Harbinger merely nods and looks particularly aloof. Probably a smug belief that German beer is better than Budweiser or Miller.  I don’t want to take sides in their duel, which is based chiefly on nationalistic pride, so I agree:

“You got that right.” I say as I take off my glasses and rub them clean with my shirttail.  “So here’s how this interview comes off. Ray and this guy are both standing the entire time—standing at opposite sides of a huge desk, talking over the din of a lot of background noise.  Some kind of construction in the next office.  A lot of hammering.  Then he hands Ray a pack of cigarettes.

“Now, Ray doesn’t smoke but his father did, so he tears off the cellophane just the way he watched his old man do. But then he tears a hole in the top and reaches in to get a cigarette.  Of course, he’s doing it all wrong and makes a mess.  His cigarette’s coming apart.  The Philip Morris guy puts a lighter to it and suddenly Ray’s got a torch in his hand.”

Harbinger is leaning toward me while Lonagan is leering and I go on: “Picture this: There’s all this noise.  They’re standing there talking at each other.  Paper all over the desk and ashes are falling from that ruined cigarette.  Little fires are burning everywhere on the desk.  Meanwhile the guy peppers Ray with questions like a machine gun.  Doesn’t pay any attention to the chaos. And Ray’s praying, ‘God, how can you punish me this way?  I wanted this job.’  Remember, he took that spot at Helene Curtis just get brand manager experience and land this position.”

I’m having a good time telling this story and these guys are still with me. I wind it up.  “Afterwards, Ray goes home to his wife and says, ‘Honey forget it.  They’ll never hire me after this.’  But a couple days later, he gets a call.  Come in.  Tell us when you want to start.”

Lonagan and Harbinger are both grinning as I go on. “Let me give you an idea of the culture of this organization. Leo’s absolutely huge on creativity.  He puts together the most august group of ad people in the industry.  Then he gets four creative groups competing to win each campaign.  Everybody works their asses off.  Competitors say Leo Burnett’s throwaways are better than everybody else’s finished ideas.

“Anyway, Ray goes to work for them. And he submits ideas to the top man himself.  And Leo says, ‘Let’s do this.’  That really shocks Ray.  He sees himself as just an account guy—the low man on the totem pole and Leo Burnett himself is listening to him.  Turns out Burnett will listen to anybody with creative ideas.  Doesn’t matter who you are.  And he gets to like Ray.”

I lean back and lift my feet to the desk. “Nowadays, they’re under a conglomerate like all the agencies. But back then this job is Ray’s dream come true.”


Continue to Part 6


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Comment on this article — Name and email optional

Find Chicago Venture Magazine at www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts are welcomed and encouraged. This is not investment advice – do your own due diligence. I cannot guarantee accuracy but I give you my best.

Copyright © 2012 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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Filed under Biography, Characters, Chicago Venture Magazine, Chicago Ventures, Conflict, CORE Insight Story, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Invention