1998 Direct Marketer of the Year - Jay Walker
Midweek Observer: Wipeout #1
In his junior year at Cornell, the restless Walker dropped out to start a newspaper—the weekly Midweek Observer—and go head to head with the local Ithaca Gannett Daily. "I ticked off Gannett big time," Walker remembers with a smile.
The Premise. Daily papers across the country were being aggressively attacked by free weekly shoppers. By pulling advertising out of the dailies, the supermarket chains and national food manufacturers could reach every household via saturation mail rather than going only to newspaper subscribers. Grocery advertising was the backbone of local newspaper advertising, and Walker wanted in on the action.
The Execution. With a staff made up of college students, the fledgling paper was launched with a $500,000 loan which, amazingly, Walker negotiated with Bankers Trust.
What Happened. Gannett sent a SWAT team to deal with "The Ithaca Problem," as it was called, and promptly launched a directly competitive weekly and gave away most of the advertising. Against such deep pockets, Walker and his paper lasted five months before the final denouement.
After taking summer courses in pre-law and computer programming, Walker returned to Cornell to get his degree in Industrial and Labor Relations in 1978. Where most college students graduate owing money on student loans, Cornell was paid in full thanks to Jay's father and royalties from a book Jay co-authored on how to win at Monopoly. "Instead, I left college owing Bankers Trust $500,000," he chuckled. "Imagine Bankers Trust lending a college kid $500,000!"
NYU's Publishing Course: A Brief Interlude
"Newspapers get your hands dirty," Walker says. "What's more, it never ends. You have a seven-day product cycle and a huge, perpetual news hole. It's a never-ending nightmare." Walker thought magazines might be the answer and enrolled in New York University's course in magazine publishing. While there, he so impressed one of the instructors, Joe Hanson, founder and publisher of Folio: The Magazine of Magazine Management, that Hanson offered him a job.