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The Story of Ray Markman-Part 10

by John Jonelis

Ray MarkmanFriday, 4:20 pm

My office door swings open and in walks Loop Lonagan holding a bottle of scotch by the neck. “Hadda settle for da cheap stuff,” he says.  “Where’s Alex?”

“Sent him to the club to warm up.” I pull two drinking glasses out of my beat-up old WWII Air Force desk.

Lonagan pours a jigger or two into our tumblers, leans back and inhales the aroma of the scotch. He grins. “Warmin’ up won’t do ‘im no good.”

“That scotch won’t do you any good, either.” From his sloppy speech, it’s clear to me that Loop’s has too much alcohol in his belly already.

“Shuttup ‘n’ drink it. I know what I’m doin’.”  He downs his and pours another, then pulls out his notes.  “Lemme give ya what I got left on Ray Markman. Where d’ya want I should start?”

“Tell me why he leaves Britannica.”

The Fear of Risk

Lonagan flips a page of his notes. “Okay, by dis time, Ray’s da executive veep at Britannica. If he sticks another 8 months, he’s gonna be president.  Deeze guys is payin’ ‘im hundreds o’ thousands o’ dollars and givin’ ‘im every perk a guy can get.  First class travel ‘round da world, unlimited expense account, cars, clubs, seasons tickets to da Bears, da Bulls, da works.”

It sounds like a good life to me. “So why doesn’t he stay with the company?”

Risk - The Game

RISK – A Parker Brothers Game ™

Lonagan thumps his notes. “He wants to get da company into video—dat’s da up-and-coming tech play at da time. Dey already got every subject in the world between da covers o’ Britannica—a wunnerful resource—and dey got a name dat holds incredible prestige.  Nobody can compete with ‘em.  So Ray pitches video and alotta udder good ideas fer products not even on da market yet.”

He scoots his chair closer and leans forward on my desk. “Ray really studies da video business. So far, it’s just mom and pop stores.  But he knows it ain’t gonna end there.  It ends with da big guys musclin’ out da little guys.  Dat’s how it always ends and dat’s what’ll happen here.  Britannica’s da big guy.”

Board Room - Mary Poppins

BOARD ROOM – From MARY POPPINS – A Walt Disney – Buena Vista Production

“Is all this reliable, Loop? Can you back it up?”

“Naw, it’s second, third hand. But it sounds like Ray t’ me.  Wanna hear it?”

“Sure, go ahead.”

He clears his throat and reads Ray’s words from his notes: Some of these guys are interested in just one thing—retiring. That’s all they care about—that’s all they ever talk about.  Who wants to retire?  I don’t want to retire.  I said, ‘Why do you want to retire?’

I tell them, ‘The risk of DOING is less than the risk of STAYING PAT. I can’t convince them.  They have all this money.  They’re buying bonds, not stocks.  They’re looking in the rear-view mirror.  They can’t visualize.  I quit and start my own video company.’

Lonagan looks me in the eye. “You see ‘is problem? Deeze guys is worried about risk.  They’s at dat time in life when it’s too late to recover from a big loss.  We all reach dat point if we don’t get hit by a truck er somethin’.  Ray just sees it different is all.”

I lean back in my chair and close my eyes. That’s thirty years ago and Ray still doesn’t want to retire today.  I find these words wonderfully revealing.  It seems a shame that so few of us relish our work the way Ray does.  People actively seek to escape it.  He finds joy in it.  This is a man at home with his business environment.

On the Loose

Lonagan clears his throat and breaks me from my reverie. “So Ray’s on da loose with ‘is partners and whadaya think? Britannica comes back to ‘im and wants ‘im to do their video business.  Dey had ‘im on da inside.  Dey turned down da idea.  Now dey hire ‘im as a consultant.  ‘Course, he charges a huge fee.  And they pay it! 

 “So he gets into da video business, doin’ real good right from da get-go. 

 “He calls his company Heritage Home Video and does lotsa udder projects.  All sorts o’ how-to videos.  Then he gets ahold o’ dis Jane Fonda video ‘n’ makes it by far da #1 seller at da time.  You remember that one.” 

Jane Fonda Exercise Video

Jane Fonda Exercise Video

I grin to myself, recalling Jane Fonda on the cover of that tape.  They even advertised it on television.

“Back then, ever’body rented video. But Ray ain’t rentin’ any o’ da Jane Fonda stuff.  He figures, it don’t do no good to rent it ‘n’ watch it one time.  It’s an exercise video.  You gotta watch it over and over.  So people is payin’ 59 bucks for dis thing.  Then there’s videos on how to play baseball, golf, basketball, a lotsa others.  So Ray and his partners get all dis video business that coulda belonged to the big company.” 

Lonagan’s slams his fist on the desk. “Y’know how I see it?  Britannica rules da Internet today if dey keep up with technology.  But dey throw it all away just like Sears and Monkey Wards throw away their catalogues dat ever’body relied on fer years ‘n’ years.  And doze guys coulda ruled online retail the way Amazon does now. 

I nod. So Ray saw it that far back.

 “Remember dis, John—Fear o’ risk strangles yer vision every time.”


Continue to Part 11


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Find Chicago Venture Magazine at www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.comComments 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 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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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


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