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March 24, 2014 | last updated March 27, 2014 4:00 pm
2014 Business Leader of the Year

Peter Rinck puts a technological spin on 'Mad Men'

PHOTo / Tim greenway
CEO Peter Rinck, left, and President Laura Davis, foreground, analyze a client’s digital campaign with other staff at Rinck Advertising.
PHOTo / Tim greenway
Peter Rinck, CEO of Rinck Advertising in Auburn, has been challenging conventional advertising wisdom since starting his firm in 2001.

Peter Rinck, Small Company Business Leader

CEO, Rinck Advertising

Age: 55

Favorite place outside of work: Biking in the hills around Buckfield

Leadership icon: A river. It flows around obstacles, and it flows constantly.

Maine's biggest challenge: Youth retention

Maine's biggest opportunity: The quality of the work force. There's a tremendous quality and pride in what we do here. You don't see that everywhere in America.

Best business advice: Think it through, then act.

Rinck Advertising

2 Great Falls Plaza, Auburn

Founded: 2001 by CEO Peter Rinck and President Laura Davis as a marketing, promotion and public relations firm

Employees: 24 full-time, 20 part-time

Revenues (2013): $6 million

Contact: 755-9470 www.rinckadvertising.com

The advertising bug bit Peter Rinck in the 1960s as a boy visiting The Sperry & Hutchinson Co. in the heart of New York's Madison Avenue, where his dad held the coveted job of vice president of advertising for S&H Green Stamps, one of the first retail loyalty programs.

Today, looking out his window over a vista of Auburn's historic buildings, the CEO of Rinck Advertising proudly talks of being the son of one of the original Mad Men, and how technology, and data in particular, has interjected itself into his profession as the cornerstone to measuring results for clients.

"When my dad visits here, he looks around and doesn't think we're doing anything," says Rinck, 55, referring to all of the technology his workers use. "In his day, they still proofread galleys."

Rinck credits his heavy reliance on data as a tool to measure success for his company's rapid growth. The company's revenue has bumped up $2 million each year since 2011, from $2 million then to $6 million in 2013, and he expects the same growth for 2014, when revenue should hit $8 million. The company has turned a profit since 2004. Billing tripled from 2011 to 2013.

Rinck isn't shy about sharing his good fortune: The company gives a lot back to the community, more than $200,000 a year in in-kind services to charities and nonprofits. Those who know him point to his philanthropy, much of it in the Lewiston-Auburn area. His wife and company co-founder and president, Laura Davis, is a seven-time cancer survivor, so cancer is a large part of their charitable work. The agency supports an annual day of volunteerism at the Ronald McDonald House, it donates more than $75,000 in in-kind services to the Dempsey Center each year and it does pro-bono work for the Maine Cancer Foundation.

"In advertising, we're not saving lives," says Rinck, but through the charities, "every once in a while we do get a chance to save lives."

The early days

Despite his exposure to the glitz of advertising on Madison Avenue, Rinck diverted into music at Butler College in Indianapolis, from which he holds a radio-television degree. There, he played the violin and spun vinyl as a classical music DJ. But turning an album over every half hour and then talking for five minutes bored him. An adjunct professor at Butler steered him back to advertising.

"It's unbelievably fun," says Rinck, a trim, medium-height man with a keen focus and sense of humor whose office is stacked with posters from a recent McDonald's High School All-Star Games basketball event in Bangor.

Rinck's first big job came in 1983 as L.L.Bean's first professional copywriter charged with writing the company's catalogs, following the style of L.L. (founder Leon Leonwood) and then L.L.'s grandson, Leon Gorman (longtime CEO and chairman of the board). He considers them mentors. When Rinck started, the retailer had just produced its 13th catalog of the year, but by 1989 when he left there were 36 catalogs a year, and sales over the time he worked there had risen from $175 million to just below $1 billion.

Says Rinck, "It was funny that my dad was in the catalog business, and there I was too, eventually."

At L.L.Bean, Rinck got an education in direct-response marketing.

"The things I wrote, we could measure. I never got that out of my system. We use it at Rinck now," he says.

"In the digital world, everything is measured," he adds, when asked what gives his company a leg up. "We look at metrics with digital ads, the effect on the website, sales, time on the site, key word metrics, SEO [search engine optimization] metrics and others."

Rinck and Davis formed the company in 2001, right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and amid a recession. Businesspeople were fleeing New York at the time, and the duo briefly thought of going against the grain and setting up shop in Manhattan, but decided instead on Auburn, not far from their home in Buckfield. Rinck says the city of Auburn has been very helpful to the company, and he still offers pro-bono work to several of the local art organizations and other nonprofits. Another advantage: Oxford Networks has its fiber optic loop in the area, which Rinck says is a gigantic competitive advantage because his data costs are so low.

Being formed in the recession, Rinck says his company knows how to do good work when money is tight. One example is his first paying account, milk producer Garelick Farms. Rinck launched a multi-state promotional tour on a very small budget, wrapping a truck to look like a circus tent and taking it through New England, handing out hundreds of thousands of milk samples. That also brought an opportunity to do some charitable work. The chief marketing officer of Garelick had recruiting foster families as a cause close to his heart. Rinck, who himself is adopted and later adopted two girls, put the recruitment into full swing, eventually shortening the time by more than a year for the training to become a foster family.

The company's businesses are advertising, account services and strategy, public relations — including social media and blogger relations — creative, media buying, digital as well as promotions and events. The hottest areas now are social media, blogger relations and digital such as Web services.

It's in the numbers

Rinck likes numbers. "Anything we can measure here at Rinck, we measure, to determine if it was successful or needs to be tweaked," he says. "That's a real fundamental aspect of what we do here. In the digital world, everything can be measured, so we're constantly looking at the baseline and advanced metrics associated with digital ads."

The company looks at the effect on the website, so it might measure any of 20 different dimensions associated with time on site and funnels to goals implemented. "So no matter what we do, we're trying to measure it. As I always say, we want to do more of what works and less of what doesn't."

Last year, for example, Rinck executed a major media campaign for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and its Brew Over Ice K-Cup for the Keurig coffee maker. Using shopper marketing and consumer behavioral data to determine shopping habits, he sought potential buyers who shopped alike and found those who were likely Keurig purchasers as well as current owners who were informed they could now brew over ice.

"There were intense amounts of data mining that went along with it," says Rinck. He works with clients, using their data and measurement tools, to assess how an ad or public relations campaign is working.

Even 10 years ago, his approach to advertising could not be done because the technology lagged.

"In the last six years our industry changed more than in the previous 20-plus years I've been in the business," says Rinck, pointing to his smart phone and saying he has the Internet in his hand. "Data is the difference. That is, what we're able to now know about you as a consumer, not you personally, but that you have collective group of behaviors that are similar to this larger group."

He says some people find the targeting and retargeting (or remarketing) creepy and intrusive, but he insists it's also effective and efficient. One example he points to is a jacket ad that might keep popping up during a visit to Amazon.com or another website, just because the site visitor lingered on a particular product.

"If you're looking for jackets, you're not looking for shoes," he says. "The problem is we don't know whether you bought that jacket. But we want the ad to serve up content you're most interested in. You can ignore it."

What's in an ad?

When it comes to getting people to part with their dollars, Rinck lists four motivators, originally coined by direct marketing genius Herschell Gordon Lewis. First is fear, as people are afraid of all sorts of things from losing their hair to losing their health. Second is greed, which shows in the gigantic coupon industry rife with consumers who want something more. Third is exclusivity, which used to mean an expensive product like a Rolex watch, but which has evolved into exclusivity of knowledge and knowing something before everyone else. And finally guilt, a classic motivator that he says has to be handled carefully so people don't feel fooled. In the last 15 years, Rinck says, guilt has been associated with the health of your diet. So client Gorton's Seafood, for example, can offer its product as a good source of omega 3s, easy to prepare and one where unwanted ingredients like MSG have been removed.

Asked by Mainebiz how he would have put a positive spin on an ad campaign to attract tourists during this year's extreme winter, he was quick to default to the four motivators. For exclusivity, he says he'd use a counter argument and target his approach: "It's not for everyone," or "Only the most hardy want it." For greed: "If you can stand it for one week, you get the second week free." For guilt: "It's been the hardest winter Maine has had in 100 years. Are you going to miss it?" And for fear: "Not for the timid."

"We'd test all of them and see which pulls the best," he says. "If none of them do, it's back to the drawing board."

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