The Story of Ray Markman – Part 9
Friday, 4:10 pm
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. He takes them out 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 presentation.’
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.
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.
- The Propaedia—The summation of all knowledge in the world in one volume.
- The Micropaedia—10 volumes, similar to the “World Book.” Short, easy-to-read articles on every subject in the world.
- The Macropaedia—17 volumes of long scholarly articles—like the original 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. It’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.
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