Larry Clore went to high school in a small farming community 30 miles north of Champaign before graduating from Illinois State University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1969, and a master’s degree in 1970. He went to work for State Farm until 1972, then worked in the film processing industry until 1975, when he heard about an opening at small, privately-owned Multi-Ad in Peoria. Larry came to Multi-Ad in 1975 as a controller. He became executive vice president in 1980 and president in 1986.
Family-owned Multi-Ad employed about 60 people in 1975. Today, employee-owned Multi-Ad employs approximately 599 workers, 425 of which are located in the Peoria area. Other employees are located in Minneapolis, Canada, France and England.
Multi-Ad is celebrating its 50th year of doing business. What does Multi-Ad do?
We are in the business of creating, producing, and distributing advertising materials – on behalf of manufacturers – to the media. The media may be newspaper, outdoor advertising, radio, television, or yellow pages. Major manufacturers hire us to handle what may times is conceived to be the print portion of an ad campaign, distributing those ad campaigns to the local dealers and the local media.
In addition, we provide and distribute advertising materials to newspaper so they can be used to produce advertising. For example, we provide theme art. When you see ads in the paper with borders, frames, etc., the art staff at a newspaper will not traditionally sit down and create them. Those are the types of things we provide to them. In recent years we have taken that a step further, and have provided computer software to newspapers so they can create and lay out their own ads electronically rather than on paper. That’s probably been the biggest change in the business – the medium had always been paper; not it’s CD-ROM, database, and eventually the Internet.
In what other ways has your business changed since you’ve been with the company?
Ownership has certainly changes; we became an ESOP in 1986. Prior to that, the company was privately owned. With the change in ownership came a whole new culture. The participative, empowerment issues became very prevalent with the employees ownership.
Skill-wise, the advent of computerization in the late 80s changed our company in many ways. Prior to that time, members of our art staff were working with pen, pencil, ink, crayons, etc. Today they’re working with a mouse and electronic software. The art requirements are still there, but the method by which we do our work has changed. Computerization has certainly changed the company drastically.
Do you still have artists that sit down with a sketch pad?
A few. You still need artists for conceptualization. We found out very early that artists need to be taught computer skills, rather than trying to take computer experts and make them artists. We tried a little bit of that and it didn’t work very well. The artists’ inherent skill and abilities to conceptualize and illustrate are still the key ingredients to creating good material, whether it be on paper or electronically.
In transitioning to computerization we had to take about 60 commercial artists and essentially throw away their pencils, boards, pens, and inks, and introduce them to computerization. Our staff was very willing to learn, and we made that transition very well. I think that’s one of the things that helped up leap-frog ahead of our competitors in the industry. We were able to make that transition and our people were hungry for it. We always hear, “Change is threatening. People don’t want to get involved in change.” We didn’t find that to be the case at all, and I think that’s a strong testament to our company and our employees.
It has to be a real challenge to keep up with technology in your industry.
One thing technology has done is make it difficult to know who your competitors are. You used to know who your competitors were; you had two or three, and you knew the playing field; you knew how to compete with them and market against them. Technology has diversified the industry so much that you don’t necessarily know who the competitors are anymore. For example, artists in the back rooms of their homes can be competitors, because they can produce art.
Another thing technology has done is introduce much larger companies to the field, companies with more resources and abilities to attract more clients and produce competitive products. So it has really fragmented the industry and brought in many players.
It’s hard to recoup the cost of technology as well. Just because we are entrepreneurs in this technology doesn’t mean we recoup the dollars right away. There is a lot of investment – recurring investment. However, in order to be competitive, we have to do this. I think what has helped Multi-Ad the most is that we have been very directive and entrepreneurial in our efforts in this regard, and we have a strong commitment to being first in providing newspaper services and advertising services in our industry.
How much of the business you once may have had a lock on is now done in-house by major companies?
More of it is being done in-house because, once again, technology has allowed them to do that. Customers used to come to us, dependent on the printing presses and the distribution of their materials on paper. They now have the availability of technology and the various online systems.
Some companies occasionally choose to do their own work in-house and then distribute it. However, most of them try it for a year or so, then come back, because one of the things they like about Multi-Ad is the one-stop shopping concept. We can create it, we can distribute it, and we can package it. We can also send training and educational materials with it. We can provide a lot of additional services that their in-house staff can’t. It’s not uncommon for a major manufacturer who has been our customer for several years to try to do this on their own. But eventually, usually within a year or two, they come back.
Where do you see the Internet going and how quickly?
First of all, I think we’re on the learning curve on the Internet. What will come of that, I don’t know. I’ll give you my perceptions and feelings about it: It’s really devised to be another medium for the exchange of information. The Internet is much like paper – a medium of exchanging information.
I think the Internet will become a very viable part of the business world. People in our business have to be involved with it. It’s certainly cheaper to put something on the Internet today than it is to print, mail, and deliver information by paper techniques.
One of the difficulties of the Internet, however, is how you negotiate business. How do you make a financial transaction on the Internet? We haven’t found adequate ways to do that yet. We’ve found ways to inform people. We’ve found ways to educate people. We’ve found ways to market our products. But we have not yet found a way to transact business on the Internet. I think that will come as people go through the learning curve. I believe it will happen.
How much of your business is local, national, and international in scope?
Our local area business is primarily related to our commercial printing division; it’s not particularly significant in the overall picture, but it’s important to us because we like to maintain a presence in our community and serve our community businesses well. The majority of our business comes from major manufacturers and companies who are located in major metropolitan areas. Less than 10 percent of our business comes within the continental United States. Probably another 10 percent come internationally. The main thrust of our business is in major metropolitan areas where there are major newspaper chains, large manufacturers, and large agencies.
Your company is involved in cutting-edge technology and cyberspace while at the same time operating printing presses. Does that ever create conflict within the company?
There can be significant conflict. That’s one of the most interesting parts of our business today. We essentially have Gutenberg technology competing with modern day cyberspace technology. And there is a transition for many of our products away from the printing press to cyberspace. What we find is that many times, in order to use the cyberspace technology, customers need printed information to learn and train from. So the nature and the scope or our printing business is changing immensely, away from being the primary medium for exchanging advertising information, to one of being a supporting medium for education and training. This can cause a tremendous philosophical conflict within an organization, concerning where the resources need to go. The nature of our business means that we are directing more and more of our resources to the cyberspace side.
Creativity is obviously a big ingredient to the success of your business. How do you manage creativity?
There’s a fine line, in that you have the forces of creativity on the one hand, and the requirements of discipline on the other. This is a tough business. We try to provide our employees the opportunity to be creative, to experience the freedoms that are many times required for creativity, yet keep focused on what the principles of business are. I think we’ve done a pretty good job doing that. Our people have freedoms that perhaps other employers would not grant, but we also have the discipline to recognize when our customers’ needs are important; our people have shown the ability to really respond to that.
It’s a difficult issue. What’s probably more difficult is that, within our own organization, some people are perceived to have more freedom than others. The creative people often seem like they have a different set of rules or requirements than the others, but when it comes down to meeting and responding to customer needs, they are all directed 100 percent. I’ve always been very proud of that.
Managing the creative side of our organization was probably one of the most difficult things I had to come to grips with. I am an accountant by trade and, by reputation, we’re not very creative people. Understanding our employees and allowing them the freedom they needed was something that was very difficult for me. I had to learn to manage people by results, and the results have always been very good.
As the CEO, what areas of the business do you concentrate on most? How would you describe your management style?
Fortunately, I have a very good management team, and I believe in the management team concept. We have experts in various aspects of our business. My main job is to create an environment where these folks can do their thing. When there are requirements for me to be hands-on, I can be hands-on, but that doesn’t happen very often.
I work very closely with our management team. I have people here who are much more knowledgeable about technology than I am. I’ve never printed a page, and certainly wouldn’t want to try to create a page or an illustration. I have never packaged a page, and I have never programmed anything, so you wouldn’t want me to go work in those areas. My job is to create an environment where the people with those skills and abilities can produce their best.
I am more of an environment-type manager than a hands-on manager. I walk around a lot. I spend a lot of time communicating company values, company philosophies, company culture, and company direction with our employees. I meet with our employees and our managers a lot. My role, as I see it, relates to things like education and value-setting. There are always times when tough decisions must be made, and I respond to that. But I believe my primary job is to bring these 50 people together, working in the same direction and producing good results.
What is your company’s philosophy of doing business?
Our philosophy of doing business, corporately and culturally, is to take on projects and assignments that other people think are impossible. Multi-Ad is known for doing the seemingly impossible in creating ad campaigns, sometimes within a few days – doing print work and marketing work with just a few days notice, work that perhaps other people can’t do.
You might wonder why people in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Detroit come to Multi-Ad here in Peoria, because I can guarantee you there are both printers and ad agencies much closer to them than we are. We have to provide a significant difference and a significant response. The culture we have here at Multi-Ad is the idea that we will be better. We will do those things that other people can’t do, or won’t do, or won’t make the commitment to do, because we know that we have to be better and more responsive. So, it’s that challenging, aggressive style of putting our efforts into our products and services that distinguishes Multi-Ad from the rest of the organizations out there.
When we go into major metropolitan areas and try to sell to companies, we’re selling against some of the most high-powered agencies and printers in the world. But eventually we find those companies in Peoria, and I think it’s because of our service and response rate.
Tell us about some of the major industries and companies you serve.
Our number one product line is, of course, our food products – the Proctor & Gambles, Nabiscos, General Foods, General Mills, Coca-Colas, and Pepsi Colas. These are all mainline account we’ve had for years. We distribute a lot of product information to newspapers and also to the food stores throughout the U.S.
We also do a lot of automobile advertising, so you get into the Chevrolets, the Cadillacs, the Fords, the Nissans. We serve both the imports and domestics in the automobile industry. We deal with some of the largest manufacturers in the world.
In terms of newspapers, the Gannett chain is one of our major accounts. The Tribune is a major account of ours. Most of all the large, daily newspapers and many of the small, weekly and shopper newspapers are accounts of ours.
We deal with a pretty significant customer list, a lot of Fortune 500 companies. That’s what makes our company proud and our employees proud. Our staff here in Peoria gets a certain sense of satisfaction knowing that we’re working on a major international account such as Nissan, Coca-Cola or Pepsi.
Does the fact that you do work with companies who are each other’s competitors ever pose a problem?
There’s a certain amount of confidentiality and credibility that has to be exhibited by our company because we are handling competitive brands, but that has never really been a problem. Due to the nature of our syndicated products, we send all of them our together on a CD, because the end-user doesn’t want to have a separate CD for Coca-Cola and a separate CD for Pepsi – they want them all together so they have a volume of all the food illustrations that may be required to run ads.
Our customers know going in that we have a syndication of artwork and product delivery, so that’s never been much of a problem. But we certainly don’t want to send one client’s materials out to the wrong customer, or to the competitor.
Tell us about your ESOP and how it has impacted your work force.
Peoria is very unique in that it has a strong ESOP base. There are other companies in the area that are ESOP, but we were one of the first to go 100 percent ESOP. The ESOP knowledge that was here was very instrumental and helpful to us in developing the instrument and communicating it to our people. We’ve taken somewhat of a leadership role in the area in terms of what a 100 percent ESOP-owned company is, and the intricacies of managing it. We’ve received some national recognition because we’ve been one of the better ESOPs, and we’re very proud of that. Our ESOP return and our investment have done quite well, and our employees have profited.
How has the fact that Multi-Ad is employee-owned impacted the work force?
Employees tend to have two different attitudes toward the ESOP. Needless to say, the older the employee, the more important the ESOP is to them. The ESOP is a retirement program, really. When you have employees in their 40s, 50s and 60s, the issue of retirement is more important to them than it is to a 25-year-old, who is more interested in buying groceries, homes, cars, and feeding kids. So the motivational value of the ESOP has been much higher among the older groups than the younger group. But all in all, it is a tremendous instrument for getting us to pull together. The motivation and synergy that can be created by employee ownership is amazing. Everybody joining together, working as a team, is really one of our values from a company culture standpoint. Employees all being owners is a natural ingredient to that success.
How is the labor market in Peoria for your company? Do you have a problem getting the skilled workers you need?
The labor market is very difficult. Right now we’re in a time period of low unemployment, so it’s particularly difficult. It is difficult to find the skill levels we need – finding artists, computer people, and people with knowledge about marketing and advertising is difficult. That means we have to home-grow many of our own people. We often take people who have a willingness to work and learn, and we try to provide the training and experience to develop them. So we have a big investment in young people, and a big investment in training. It’s very difficult for us to go out and compete with the major metropolitan areas – to get people to come and live in Peoria. That’s why we have to home-grow most of our people here.
Do you face any other disadvantages being located in Peoria?
Probably the only other disadvantage is the transportation in and out of Peoria. We bring a lot of our accounts here. Most of the campaigns and advertising programs have to have an approval, and many of these approvals have to be done on sight, so we have to fly people in and out of Peoria. Frankly, the connections and airlines service in and out of Peoria are not what we would like them to be, but we work around that. That’s the only disadvantage I can think of.
The advantages of having good quality people, who have good work ethics, is certainly more important.
What kinds of obstacles do you have to overcome in your global efforts? How much does government regulation in general affect your business?
It’s certainly complicated when you deal with international business. Everyone wants you to report income in their country, so they can collect taxes – that’s really the bottom line. Government involvement in terms of tariffs, import and export fees, and other costs of shipping can be complicated, and is a deterrent to business. There are always obstacles to overcome.
Government intervention domestically centers around things like employment, labor rights, and tax issues – issues most every employer has to deal with. I don’t think there is anything particularly unique to our industry.
Are there any new ventures on the horizon for Multi-Ad?
Technology, and the changes that come with it, creates new ventures all the time. Most of the ventures we are involved with require technology. Today we’re distributing our ad materials by the Internet, creating home page networks, and creating cyberspace products and services – we have people working on that all the time.
In addition, we have global ventures going on all the time in England, France, and Canada. We’re trying to expand into other countries. We established a presence in South Africa last fall, and we’re getting some pretty good business out of there. We are continually introducing our products into other countries in Europe; global efforts are being established all the time.
As a company that does the majority of its business out of the Peoria area, what is your philosophy of community involvement?
When we became an ESOP in 1986, not too many people know about Multi-Ad. One of our management team objectives was not only to run a very fine company, but also to take a role in the community as a good corporate citizen. So we have been intentionally, actively involved in the community since 1986 – serving on the boards of many companies, working with many companies to provide printed matter and creative talent, and getting our employees involved in many different functions in the community.
This community involvement serves as a tremendous took for our company. Being a good corporate citizen helps our company; it also gives our employees a chance to be acknowledged, to be seen, to be a part of something. I think it provides a sense of pride. So we encourage our employees to be involved in some kind of outside activity, to see the organizational requirements of other companies and organizations, and to participate by taking leadership roles. We don’t always have leadership roles for everybody at one time here within our company, but if our employees can work with charities or other organizations, that’s good educational experience for us as well.
What message would you like to convey to the Peoria business community?
Peoria is a unique city. We have a pocket of people and companies here that relate to the advertising industry that may not be locally well-known, but is very strong. There’s a group of companies in this area that provide consumer products advertising services that are very well-known in the industry, and a consortium has been established. This is a tremendous industry in this community. It’s an industry that’s growing, and it’s an industry that can provide many jobs in the future. The jobs it provides may be different from those of the past, but it’s a very strong player when you add the companies together. I think the community would be well-served by anything which can be done to facilitate that growth. We’re very happy to be a player in that sense, and also to be located in this community, because it’s been good to us. IBI