SBJ/November 5 - 11, 2001/Forty Under 40

Ray Clark

Like any entrepreneur, Ray Clark has horror stories from his early days, which are probably best heard over some beers. Like The Marketing Arm's first project in 1993 — a direct-sales effort for an oversized golf club appropriately called The Kaboom. It blew up.

"We sold millions of dollars worth," Clark recalled with a laugh, "but the money we paid in returns was a lot more than our sales."

Then there were the finals of a national three-on-three basketball tournament, unfortunately scheduled for a day in New York when Hurricane Hugo was in the vicinity. The event was held, but with heavy wind gusts, "let's just say there was not a lot of outside shooting," Clark said.

Since then, the winds of fate have been kinder to Clark, who founded The Marketing Arm in '93 and eventually sold it to Omnicom in 1999 for a reported $10 million. Kaboom!

From his early days running corporate events for ProServ, Clark realized that so many decisions in sports and entertainment marketing were being made on intuition rather than return on investment. Determined to attract corporate marketers by doing things differently, he founded The Marketing Arm. He offered proprietary tools to measure the advisability before and ROI after any given marketing program, and that alone was enough to set TMA apart.

Clark's big break came when he won some Frito-Lay business. The overwhelming market-share leader in salty snacks was considering a costly Olympic sponsorship when Clark and TMA counseled the company to get a 1996 Dream Team sponsorship instead. The rationale: empirical data showing consumers couldn't differentiate between an Olympic sponsorship and a Dream Team sponsorship. Frito-Lay, one of the best promotional marketers in the business (any promotion being considered must pass the NBD test — "Never Been Done" before) took note.

Oh, and as an aside, the cost of a Dream Team sponsorship was about a tenth of the cost of an Olympic sponsorship.

Shortly thereafter, TMA pioneered the concept of placing a TV show between the semifinals of the NCAA men's Final Four, time that traditionally had been filled by highlights and local news. Instead, TMA fashioned a Final Four history show narrated by Michael Jordan, sold the idea to Frito-Lay for Doritos and then to CBS. It debuted in 1995.

Cell phone marketer Nokia then came to TMA after its first year as title sponsor of the Sugar Bowl yielded no improvement in brand awareness. After a subsequent 20 percent-plus improvement the following year, TMA started to get noticed by people, most of whom seemed intent on marching Clark down the aisle.

Clark looked at 18 different sales proposals before settling on Omnicom.

"They are the only holding company that takes integration seriously enough to make it work," Clark said. So much so that Clark was able to afford recently to give up the athlete representation side of his business to Assante and concentrate solely on corporate work. Being aligned with Omnicom-owned ad agencies like BBDO, GSD&M, TBWA Chiat Day and DDB Needham has made him one of the biggest procurers of commercial talent in the business. The recent Omnicom acquisition of sports collectible agency Steiner Sports (now operating as a TMA subsidiary) means TMA arranges for about 1,500 athlete appearances and commercial shoots a year.

TMA's corporate client list now includes SBC Communications, Schering-Plough and Office Depot. The roster is a tribute to how well the Omnicom network connects its agencies. Clark cites a forthcoming Office Depot Olympic marketing assignment as a paradigm. BBDO won the account, employing a strategy that included TMA, along with direct marketing agency Rapp Collins, public relations shop Fleishman-Hillard and field marketing agency MarketStar.

"Sports marketers aren't the guardians for clients' brands, it's their ad agencies," he said. "I wanted [TMA] to be incubated inside of that environment because it's a perfect complement for the times."

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