By Jan Barley (DBR Reporter)
Some people talk about their commitment to the Dayton area. Walter Ohlamnn, a leading force in the local advertising community, acts on his.
Although he comes in early and leaves late for his demanding job as president and CEO of Penny-Ohlamnn-Neiman (PON), he makes time for community service.
Even a partial list of activities reflects his wide interests. He’s on the board of Junior Achievement, the Dayton Flood Memorial, and County Corp, which helps create and retain jobs in the area.
He’s adviser to the Riverdale Development Corporation; chairman of marketing for the Dayton Opera; chairman of the board, Senior Citizens Center, Dayton; and vice-chairman, Jobs for Grads, a program to help at-risk high school senior find and keep jobs.
In addition, he’s treasurer and chairman of the finance committee for Hospice of Dayton, where he’s working on a capital campaign to finance an addition. For Hospice’s first highly successful capital campaign, Ohlmann spearheaded planning and development of public relations aspects.
Betty Schmoll, president of Hospice, says of Ohlmann, “Whatever he does he does with total involvement. He doesn’t make promises lightly – whatever he says he’ll do he’ll follow through on.
“He’s remarkably efficient. He can accomplish in a half hour meeting, the business others would take several hours to do. He has a wonderful combination of astute business judgment and great creativity. He’s a super person with an intriguing sense of humor. There are not enough words to describe what an asset to the community and to society he is.”
Remains near downtown
Another way Ohlmann shows his commitment to community is to stay in the near downtown location in Riverdale (1605 North Main St.) while other agencies are moving to the suburbs. “A central location is convenient for people coming from all parts of town,” he says.
PON came to the North Main location in 1967 when they had an old auto dealership gutted and renovated to serve as company headquarters. “We’d worked extensively with the architect on interior plans before I asked him what his plans were for the exterior. He said “timber, to fit in with the existing buildings”. I recommended that we use quartz blocks and let the neighborhood come up to us instead of our coming down.”
“In 1983 we rebuilt and added space for 12 more offices. By the time the building was completed in late ’83, all those offices were filled.”
Ohlmann describes PON as “having a lot of stability.” Some employees have been there for 20 years. Managing creative people is a notoriously difficult task. Ohlmann says “ There are no simple answers. The culture is individual to every company and hopefully people feel comfortable here.”
Although Ohlmann doesn’t have much time for firsthand involvement in the creative side, he enjoys it thoroughly. One of his all-time favorite projects was for Drescher, a large, old (1682) German forms printing company with a plant in Vandalia. He planned the design, wrote the copy, and even worked with the client to translate his English into German. When Ohlmann asked why the project was done here rather than in Germany, the client said he wanted it in time for his father’s 75th birthday, not his 80th.
According to a recent issue of Advertising Age, PON had the largest total 1991 billings among local agencies listed. What’s the secret of Penny-Ohlmann-Neiman’s staying power in a volatile industry? Ohlmann sums it up “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”
Ohlmann describes the main thrust of PON’s business as a problem solving. “We start by looking at the best ways to achieve marketing goals and objectives. Sometimes it is hard to keep advertisers from advertising before they’re ready, before they’ve determined their objectives. Sometimes when we determine strategies, we realize merchandising or internal communications or something other than advertising may achieve their goals.
Recommendation saves money
“One company came to us all ready to do brochures and media buys. We analyzed their needs and found they had only 10 to 15 target markets. So we recommended that instead of spending money on advertising, they use the telephone to reach those targets.”
“All businesses are more difficult and more complex than they were 10 years ago. Competition is tougher. We must find ways to make the client stand out over the clutter of advertising so they don’t get lost in the struggle.
“Generally speaking we must be sure the strategy chosen will bring results because media and labor are too expensive for trial and error. Our ability to be right the first time comes from experience.”
One way he keeps up on industry trends is by belonging to Agency Network, a group of representatives from 21 agencies across the country who meet twice a year to discuss what’s new and what’s working.
What does Ohlmann foresee in the next five years in Dayton advertising? “As a whole the picture will be relatively stable.
We’ll still have full service agencies, although there will be more specialized agencies.”
“Reaching the most prospects for the least dollars will be a continuing concern in all forms of advertising. Advertisers will be staying leaner and will often find they get more for their money by buying locally.”