About Image Above: The MARKETING Awards Ceremony will take place on May 16th — where marketing award winners will be announced for categories in Advertising, Public Relations, Design, Direct Marketing, Out of Home, Graphic Arts, Media, and New Media. Read more about the man who made this possible.
Editor’s Note: A couple decades ago, I had the good fortune to meet a man who quickly became an important mentor in my life. This down-to-earth individual has spent his career educating, promoting and guiding others through the vast marketing maze. It’s a great honor to write this feature story on an extraordinary individual. Jeff Maki (Publisher)
If you live in Everett, Bellevue, Olympia, Renton, Marysville, Tukwila, Seattle, Bremerton, or any other community in Western Washington, there’s a good chance you’ve been touched by the actions of a man who has contributed much to the vitality of the region.
Larry Coffman, the publisher of MARKETING newspaper since 1986, has worked tirelessly over nearly five decades to enhance the region’s economic health, entrepreneurial spirit and marketing savvy. The reason for his dedication is an authentic mix of altruism, genuine concern for the success of others and a deep desire to serve the community through his tabloid newspaper and related activities.
Coffman always wanted to captain his own ship and destination as an entrepreneur—even during nearly two decades of working for others. So in his entrepreneurial shipyard, he built his MARKETING publication into a seaworthy vessel that could withstand the diverse economic storms. He was aided in that effort by dozens of loyal advertisers, who responded to his personal approach to the publishing business. Remarkably, many of his more than 40 regular advertisers have appeared in each issue of the newspaper since 1986!
Larry has always delivered a full throttle push to keep marketing professionals on the cutting edge of every new development that pops up on the radar, from business consolidations to the latest in the social media realm. All of that has been possible through the contributions of columnists and contributing writers who share their expertise, in return for the exposure it provides for their businesses. This was a concept—commonplace today—that Coffman pioneered when he launched his newspaper in the late 1980s.
Although he would deny it, Larry is viewed as an ambassador for the Puget Sound marketing community. Contrary to the fame-seekers we often see in the media industry, it’s never been Larry’s intent to receive recognition for his efforts. He’s always stayed close to the soil of his cultivated garden. He loves that direct one-to-one interaction with the community, on every level. In fact, if there’s one word that epitomizes Larry, it would be “approachable”.
It may be difficult to believe in this era of voicemails and robocalls, but you can call his office and Larry will answer the phone. He’d have it no other way, and it’s one of the many reasons he knows more about the marketing business around here than anyone else. At 75 years “young” he’s fresh, dynamic, energetic, and interesting in every sense of the word—with a contagious can-do attitude that underlies everything he does.
Coffman’s life journey began in Bowling Green, a quaint midwestern college town nestled in northwest Ohio, and he moved as a youngster to Aberdeen, MD, where he grew up. As a youth, he looked forward to wonderful summers with his grandparents in Harrisonburg, VA, home to one of our nation’s founding fathers, James Madison, in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley.
Larry garnered great insights and an unstoppable work ethic from his granddad, a minister in the Church of the Brethren. His summer-time mentor modeled the can-do attitude that is a hallmark of Coffman’s life. He learned early-on that anything is possible when hard work is coupled with meaningful goals and the right mental state.
Larry’s youth intersected with the legendary Ripken family. Father Cal Sr. and he played together on the Aberdeen High School baseball team. But baseball was not Larry’s passion—journalism was.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree from Bowling Green State University in the city of his birth, he went on to earn a master’s degree at Syracuse University. His first job was with the Associated Press in nearby Albany, NY.
He left the AP after a year to take a job as editor of the weekly Globe-News in Auburn. He and wife Margaretha arrived on the West Coast two years after the famed Seattle World’s Fair. After two years at the Globe-News, he was hired to open The Seattle Times’ first-ever suburban bureau in Kent.
In the late 1960’s, Larry was blessed to fall under the mentorship of the legendary Jim Ellis, who spearheaded the Forward Thrust ballot initiatives. This multi-issue countywide capital-improvement program literally propelled the Seattle area to world-class status in the “quality of life” department, with programs ranging from parks, swimming pools and fire stations, to the aquarium and Kingdome. The centerpiece was a billion-dollar rail rapid transit issue, which failed to receive the needed 60% voter approval.
With the failure of the rail-transit issue the first time around in 1968, Coffman was hired by Ellis and then-mayor Dorm Braman to establish a transit office and thus became the first employee of what would eventually become Metro Transit. After a second failed rail-transit measure, Coffman helped lobby passage of the sales and motor-vehicle excise taxes that were the foundation for passage of the all-bus Metro system in 1972. As Metro marketing manager, Larry stayed on for 16 years under three different transit directors, and was a key player in Metro Transit being named the Outstanding Transit System in North America in the early 1980s.
His departure from Metro Transit in 1984 allowed him time to write a book focusing on marketing strategies for the public sector professional, aptly named, “Public Sector Marketing: A Guide for Practitioners” Larry always wanted to share his insights and his know-how, and his book is yet another example of him transforming his desires into tangible results. Even today, the book remains a great go-to resource for tips and tricks for public-sector marketers.
After attaining his book-publishing goal, in 1985 Larry took up the reins of running Travel Washington, the official tourism magazine for the state at the time. It was during that year he conceived the idea of publishing a monthly marketing trade journal that could be a fulcrum for transforming the region’s marketing practices.
His distribution formula was simple yet amazing. At a time when his competition (and most private publications of the day) were selling subscriptions, Coffman broke from tradition and mailed his color-packed periodical to every marketer in the region—thousands and thousands of free copies into the hands of the marketing movers and shakers. Many at the time couldn’t believe his model would work. They were soon awakened to the ingenious distribution model that Coffman perfected. Now everyone is doing it, but at that time very few in the business were.
His odds for success multiplied with the charisma, drive and effervescent energy of his daughter Melissa. A graduate of the University of Washington, Melissa joined forces with her father with the same drive that he possesses. Larry proudly states that Meliissa has worked at his side (in one capacity or another) for the last quarter century—and is most proud of the fact that the two have never shared a cross word (for which he gives Melissa the lion’s share of the credit!)
Timing is everything, they say, and Larry’s arrival in the publishing business could not have been at a more fortuitous time. Seattle-based Aldus was about to release new software that launched the biggest revolution in publishing since Gutenberg invented the printing press. PageMaker Version 1.0 debuted in 1987 and the new world of personal publishing was about to explode.
Without missing a beat, Coffman quickly harnessed his team to the wagon of the future and made personal publishing the center of his universe. Suddenly, like the pilot of a Boeing 747, Larry commanded a cockpit that put him in touch with every production aspect of his publishing realm—and, true to his nature, he quickly began sharing that expertise, those experiences and a host of helpful resources with others.
Soon he mentored other publications to life with his niche-centered approach, which he also pioneered at a time when few could even pronounce the word “niche” correctly — let alone foresee the impact it has come to enjoy in the publishing business. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, he helped launch four other niche publications, all housed in a personal-publishing “incubator” in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle. (Note: the writer of this article once published a journal called Business-Wise and Coffman was very supportive in the launch of that publication as well). It is no wonder that in 1998, he was inducted into the Journalism Hall of Fame at his alma mater, Bowling Green State University, for his pioneering efforts in niche publishing.
Coffman’s first new product was the MARKETING ATLAS, designed to showcase the services available in the local marketing communications community. It comes out each year(and has for the past 22 years) and is still going like the Energizer Bunny. And four years ago, he and Melissa launched the www.marketingnw.com website.
And, of course, it only made sense for his publication to offer awards for excellence—public recognition for all the outstanding work being produced by marketing communications companies in the region. Hence, in 2011, The MARKETING Awards arose from the fertile marketing ground that Larry so carefully cultivates.
The 2012 Awards presentation—which had to be moved to a larger venue after last year’s inaugural success—is being billed as THE EVENT, and will be held from 4 to 8pm, May 16, at the Bell Harbor Conference Center on Pier 66 in Seattle.
As Larry’s MARKETING publication gained traction throughout the Pacific Northwest, it became the hub for every aspect of the marketing world. Readers gleaned the pages for a constant stream of new ideas in advertising, selling, public speaking, photography, video production, publishing, broadcasting, public relations, writing, direct marketing, web design, internet marketing, book binding, social media, SEO, management, entrepreneurism, business management, economics, digital imaging, industry forecasting, and every other conceivable subject you can think of – thousands and thousands of articles that literally uplifted the knowledge base to higher and higher levels.
Still, Larry felt there was a need for remembrance and recognition for those who had dedicated their careers to our marketing community—professionals who had made important contributions through their extraordinary dedication and expertise. In establishing the MARKETING IMMORTALS website in 2008, his aim was to capture the history of the local marketing community via commentaries by inductees into the pantheon of IMMORTALS.
As he says on the website, “Besides ‘immortalizing’ the work of those who have gone before, the site also is intended to inform current and future practitioners of the legacies upon which their work is founded and to have significant educational and historical value.”
That’s not to say that Larry is some kind of flawless machine who does anything and everything perfectly. He’s the first one to admit that at times, no matter how hard he tries – things can go wrong. But he lives by the mantra—“It’s not how you foul up; it’s how you follow up!” He adds that some of his best business relationships have resulted from dealing quickly with mistakes. Another homily, which he says is his favorite, is: “Don’t worry. Plan!”
His and Melissa’s focus now is on publishing the 22nd edition of the ATLAS and making sure THE EVENT is a big success, in terms of the opportunity for networking among the region’s marketing communications leaders. The Big M Award, after just one year, is already a coveted prize in the marketing community. THE EVENT promises to be an extraordinary gathering—highlighted by the attendance of the MARKETING IMMORTALS, who will be special guests.
These amazing feats are all in a day’s work for Larry Coffman. Like his grandfather, he views life as a gift that should be lived to the fullest. Lucky for us, he’s been willing to take thousands and thousands of others along for the ride. Yes, come to think of it, he really does deserve the respect and title of “Marketing Ambassador for the Pacific Northwest”.
Thank you Ambassador Coffman. We Salute You!
If you’d like more information on how to enter your best creative work for award consideration, please visit http://www.marketingnwawards.com. Entries will be accepted until April 5th.