A self-proclaimed champion of the underdog masters the business
Story by Donna Reges HallAs founder and CEO of 919 Marketing, David Chapman specializes in helping businesses discover their potential and competitive advantage when marketed correctly. Chapman’s company, started in 1996, offers strategic planning, brand development, lifestyle marketing, public relations and creative services, all which help companies reach their potential.
His well-known client Rosetta Stone is one such example. The DC area company was started by two brothers-in-law, whose language immersion learning product turned out to be a real hit with the public. Before long they became a $10 million company that was ready for some sophisticated branding to continue their trajectory.
“So, it usually is an underdog company that has a terrific product that just hasn’t been ready or had the resources to do the kind of marketing they need to get to the next level,” says Chapman.
He explains that the thing that sets his marketing company apart from others is that it focuses on long-term strategic planning with clients. This approach has helped them garner national accounts in places such as Florida, California, New York, Chicago and Alabama.
“Most agencies here tend to do work locally,” Chapman explains.
“Although our name is 919, we have very few local clients. Kerr Drug is a local client and is probably the most well known. Most of our clients refer to us as a middleweight with a heavyweight punch. We’re a smaller company that does some really big things for people nationally.”
The inherent variety in his work is something Chapman says he enjoys.
“I know enough about a 100 different things to be scary. From water filtration, where I understand how sort of scary it is what we drink, to working on Holly Farms Chicken which was bought by Perdue, and going into a chicken processing plant and understanding what that looks like. I’ve been exposed to more than the average person, which I like. I like working on different things all the time and this is certainly the business for that.”
Learning about his clients’ backgrounds is another intriguing part of Chapman’s job.
“It’s just going through this constant dance of meeting entrepreneurs with either really good or really bad ideas who all are sort of blindly going after their dream,” he explains. “There’s always a really cool story behind why people do things. It’s hardly ever random. It’s always based on some life changing thing.”
He cites the example of his Maryland-based client, Senior Helpers. The founder had trouble finding someone to move in and care for his elderly mother, leading him to start Senior Helpers which now has 380 locations throughout the country.
Chapman attributes making the Inc. 5000 list this year, the company’s first time, to the level of service he gives his clients. It’s a way of treating people that he says he learned from his grandmother.
“She said to me the way you judge someone is by what they do when no one is looking. Whether you think anyone will notice or not, you need to notice it and take care of it. So that is the way that I treat our business, that we always do the right thing whether we think the clients will notice or not. So we typically over-service our clients, which is fine.”
Chapman also points to author Ayn Rand’s books as having a big influence on him. He loves The Fountainhead, he says, for its lesson of not selling out or going for the easy money.
“It’s a very interesting book because it’s about this architect who refused to play the game, who refused to sort of dull down his talent, and about his resolve to make his business successful.”
The challenges that Chapman deals with he says are those of most entrepreneurs. “What you really face is this delicate balance between having the right number of people and working on profitability. Getting good people, getting people to pay you, little things like that,” he jokes.
Staying relevant with technology and even more so, the changing pace of business, are other concerns of Chapman’s as well.
“I used to be one of those Madmen guys and worked for the largest ad agency in the world,” he says. “I had to take my clients out twice a week and have three martinis with them just to keep their business. You go out, you drink, you talk, you develop friendships and you do business. Now-a-days as things move really quickly, it’s a lot more transactional, a lot less relationship based. I think business in general is like that. Long-term relationships, what’s that? It’s just hard to find it. Kerr Drug is one of our clients that we’ve got a really strong personal relationship with from the CEO down. They are local and they are old school people. They appreciate your value and they appreciate a long-term relationship.”
It’s this kind of thinking that makes Chapman speak highly of his clients and his desire for their success.
“What I’m probably more proud of than us being on the list is that some of our clients are on the list. That says a couple of things. One, that we’re doing some good work for them and two, that we’re making sure that they are getting their just rewards for a job well done.”