Monday, April 28, 1997

Alumni profile: Jennings aiming for the marketing moon

Published in the Mountainview

Marketing and business building have gotten Ryan Jennings '91 his own business and some rich opportunities, all the while living in Cornwall. He not only builds his own business, but sells his skills to others interested in enlarging their own markets.

Jennings spoke to The Mountainview about his work with a photography business based in Maine. Found by accident, the company has blossomed into an opportunity for Jennings, providing he plays his cards (and cornpany politics) correctly.

An initial conversation began with Jennings and one of the directors of the company, regarding marketing opportunities for prints of the unique wide-angle sports stadium shots which are the company's flagship products, turned into a series of exploratory meetings between Jennings and the company's founders.

He had a lot of ideas for them, and gained credibility with them almost immediately because he had some ideas for marketing their product which they had considered but not yet implemented. He also had some new ideas, which all agreed were good ideas. "They get so close to it," he said, explaining how the company's advertising plans had left out seemingly obvious marketing opportunities, so Jennings decided to explore his own ideas himself.

He sought and got permission to market the photographs himself, at his own expense, in exchange for a cut of the profits from sales he attracted. Jennings's basic philosophy is the classic marketing cliché, "The customer is always right." He said, "Business people think about what they want to do, instead of what the customer wants, or where the customer is." Jennings focuses on his intended customers, using what he calls "funnel vision," the opposite of "tunnel vision."

The son of an inventor, Jennings learned early on the opportunities and shortcomings of "experts." Those people, Jennings said, don't see opportunities the same way non-experts do; they are used to knowing what they do and how to do it. Creative marketing, Jennings argues, comes from saying "I don't know" and then discovering the answer. He also attributes his marketing success to the fact that he works in multiple industries and "cross-pollinates" with marketing ideas, taking an idea from one company or industry and applying it to another.

As the photography company ignored his advice for more and more time, his frustration with them grew. Eventually Jennings began marketing their material as an independent agent, acquiring prints for wholesale rates and using his own publicity ideas to sell the products.

He learned valuable lessons from his collaboration with this company: at a public collectibles show, they made nearly no sales. At closed industry trade shows (for restaurant owners, for example), sales were in the thousands of dollars daily. Picking events, publications, and locations for sales is vital to the success of a marketing effort, Jennings said.

Jennings notes that while he hopes for success with this project, he has placed himself at great financial risk, investing thousands of dollars of his own money to pay for advertisements in magazines, and for a toll-free phone number to accept orders. He is confident that his ideas will pay off, and estimates that he will gross twice his capital outlay within the next eight months.

He is concerned, however, because the photography company with which he is involved is very wary of losing control of their product. A unique product in the world of sports photography, and possible only with a camera valued at $150,000, the stadium panoramas are a sure seller. The photographer obviously wants to make the maximum amount he can from his work. Jennings notes, however, that success in business comes from a melding of two major principles: innovation and marketing. He concedes that the photographs are innovative and are. for the moment, selling themselves.

He notes, though, that the marketing effort put out by the company itself has been feeble and only a limited success. He is betting that his marketing skills can take the photographer's innovation and make it a commercial success. It is this risk which will determine the path of Jennings's career in the short term.