Fast-talking Janet Thompson needed a break from the car industry, but she couldn't stay away very long.
As a female anomaly for more than 20 years on the sales side at the former Chrysler Corp., and the U.S. divisions of Toyota, Lexus and Mazda, Thompson finally burned out and joined Callaway Golf Co. as vice president of its Interactive Golf Division in 1995.
At Callaway, she learned a lot about computers, the Internet and how to interact with consumers on a more personal level. So she caught the eye of The Designory, a marketing communications firm in Long Beach, Calif., that specializes in consumer-information materials, primarily brochures and CDs. Thompson agreed to come on as the company's president and CEO last July.
'The reason why I came here is because we need to grow the automotive side of this business,' she says. 'A lot of agencies don't want to do the collateral stuff; they want to do the 30-second spots.'
The Designory, with 130 employees, was established in 1970. It was acquired in March by Omnicom Group Inc., whose holdings include BBDO Worldwide, the advertising agency for Dodge; and Merkley Newman Harty, the agency for Mercedes-Benz.
Automotive accounts for 70 percent of The Designory's $50 million annual revenues, with Nissan, Mercedes and Isuzu as the primary auto clients. Some of its most recent projects are the brochures for the Nissan Xterra and the Mercedes S class.
Net isn't enough
Al Weiss, advertising and brand development manager for Mercedes, which has been working with The Designory for seven years, says brochures are a critical part of the purchase process. 'A lot of people get information off the Internet,' he says, 'but the advantage of the printed word is that you can walk it around; spend free time with it.'
Weiss says about 7 percent of Mercedes' marketing budget goes toward brochures, adding, 'They're very expensive.' Brochures for the S class, for example, cost the company $12 apiece. Mercedes sells them to dealers for $2 to $2.15 each. The company absorbs the total cost if consumers request brochures over the Internet or at auto shows.
'An ad agency would jump at the chance but can't come near the level of The Designory,' Weiss says. 'An ad agency is focused on advertising and communicating with the masses. With this collateral work, we are trying to get closer to the customer.'
As a matter of fact, respondents in one study ranked brochures eighth among a list of 18 possible sources in order of importance for gathering vehicle information. The 1999 study, by AutoPacific, included 40,287 consumers, who rated brochures above such media as TV, newspapers and radio.
'Brochures are significantly bigger than TV, way bigger than radio and most magazines,' says Jim Hossack, vice president and senior consultant at AutoPacific.
New: Client teams
Since the 50-year-old Thompson came on board, she has set up dedicated teams for each auto client. A new interactive team called Heavy Water, with seven staffers, has been formed to develop Web sites as an alternative or supplement to the printed brochures.
'With digital, we can double revenues,' Thompson says.
She says her company's brochures can cost clients from $1 to $25 each, depending on the type and number printed.
'Ads can be awareness generators,' she says, 'but the brochures are pushing them toward purchase intention. We also know who you are when you ask for a brochure.'
Thompson started her career in 1972 at Chrysler, held various sales jobs, and left in 1984 to join Toyota. She subsequently became national marketing director for Lexus, a job in which she helped launch the LS 400. She went to Mazda in 1988 as vice president of marketing and was named vice president of sales operations in 1993.
Asked why she thinks she will succeed at The Designory, she says: 'I thought I was a damned good client. So I know how to work with the client strategically and help the client.'