2001 Direct Marketer of the Year
AOL & The Genius of Jan Brandt
By Denny Hatch
In 1993, Internet access was essentially a three-horse race. The text-heavy CompuServe was owned by the tax accounting people H&R Block and had about a million members. So did the cartoon-oriented Prodigy, a joint venture among CBS, Sears and IBM. The longshot was America Online (AOL), with its elegant Graphical User Interface (GUI), chat rooms and exclusive community-building techniques, that had been taken public the prior year by founder Steve Case; he had just under 250,000 members and was doing about $40 million a year in revenue. One advantage Case had over the competition: The name, America Online, says what the service is; Prodigy and CompuServe could be just about anything.
Enter Jan Brandt, a direct marketing wizard with a solid grounding in continuity marketing who helped take AOL to more than 30 million members. This is the story of hundred-hour weeks, insomnia, between 2,000 and 3,000 marketing tests a year and a strategy so wildly successful that it enabled AOL to acquire the vast Time Warner as well as its early rival, CompuServe. Today, Jan Brandt is vice chair and chief marketing officer of America Online, and one of the most influential women in American business—right up there with Martha Stewart and Oprah—in just seven years.
Janice Brandt was born in Brooklyn, NY, and moved to New Jersey when she was eight. Upon graduating from Boston University's School of Public Communications, Brandt was hired by her first mentor, Kathy Howes, as a copywriter at Xerox Education Publications (XEP) in Middletown, CT, proprietors of the Weekly Reader school newspapers and children's book clubs. She was fortunate to acquire a second mentor, the great direct marketing practitioner and teacher Pierre Passavant, who took her under his wing and taught her the basics of the business. When she enrolled for night courses in marketing at the University of Connecticut, her professor asked for a brief resumé as well as reasons for going into marketing. She wrote that she was working as a copywriter, but discovered the work of someone named Bill Jayme that was so powerful she could never do as well, and so decided to switch to marketing.