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Training Films Leave Giants' Hands

March 01, 1988|GREG JOHNSON | Times Staff Writer

Want to bolster the marketing staff's productivity or boost the sales staff's morale?

Show a motivational video starring "Monty Python" funny man John Cleese. Or screen a video "hosted" by Ed Asner, Christopher Reeve or Bill Cosby.

If that fails, try a film "classic" featuring legendary football coach Vince Lombardi.

U.S. companies spent an estimated $1.5 billion in 1986 on industrial and corporate training films and videos, according to the Fredericks, Md.-based Training Media Distributors Organization.

Some of those films are considered classics in the industry. Others are what one film producer described as "fad videos," ones tied to the latest best-selling management book.

Despite the evolution of newer technologies, industrial and corporate training films--which increasingly are in the form of easily handled videotape--"are still being used an awful lot in (corporate) training programs," according to Tom Wotruba, a marketing professor at San Diego State University.

Computer-driven training programs and interactive videodiscs are making inroads, but "people will tolerate the old technology if it's something that, as a manager, they can feel comfortable with," Wotruba said. "And a well-produced audio-visual presentation (remains) a lot better than listening to someone talk."

Host of Media Giants

That realization drew a host of media giants into the industrial-film arena during the 1970s. By the early 1980s, McGraw Hill, CBS-Fox, Xerox, Gulf & Western, Time Inc. and a handful of other large companies had their own training and motivational film production and distribution operations. They also built management training divisions that incorporated the films into seminars and training programs.

But during the past three years, McGraw Hill, CBS-Fox, Time, Gulf & Western and others have retreated from the industry. Most of them sold their operations to investment groups led by employees, and most training and motivational films now are produced and distributed by small, entrepreneurial companies that are clustered in Southern California, Chicago and New York.

Large corporations had been drawn into the industrial film business because they "saw a $30-million education business and wanted part of the pie," according to Bill Ambrose, who led a management buyout of Time-Life Video in July last year.

But increasingly, the companies "realized that film makers are entrepreneurial by nature," according to Peter Jordan, who, with co-worker Stephanie Glidden, acquired McGraw Hill's educational and industrial film production and distribution business.

"This kind of business doesn't work well in a large company," Glidden said. "That's particularly true for large companies like Time-Life and McGraw Hill. It's just too much of an oddball operation for them."

Carlsbad-based CRM Films, which Jordan and Glidden purchased, is a case in point.

Surfaced in 1970s

The company surfaced during the early 1970s as the publishing and film-production arm of the company that published Psychology Today magazine. During the 1970s, however, it was owned by Boise Cascade, Ziff-Davis Publishing and McGraw Hill.

In 1987, McGraw Hill decided to sell the operation to a competitor. When that deal fell through, Jordan, a former truck driver who now produces CRM's films, and Glidden, who began as an office employee, put together an investor group that includes Bechtel Investments Inc., a venture capital arm of San Francisco-based Bechtel Group Inc.

Ambrose, who served 13 years as president of Time-Life's industrial and corporate film division, "saw the handwriting on the wall" in 1986. On July 22, 1987, he and a group of private investors took over Time-Life's production and distribution operation, renaming it Ambrose Video Publishing.

"What we and CRM prove is that you don't need the private dining rooms and big company perks in order to survive," Ambrose said.

Ambrose Video is best known for instructional and motivational films that feature well-known actors, including Ed Asner, Meryl Streep, Christopher Reeve and Cicely Tyson. Its best-selling video is "Stress Management: A Positive Strategy," which is used by about 200 Fortune 500 companies, Ambrose said.

Management-Training Films

Chicago-based Video Publishing House Inc., formerly a unit of CBS-Fox Video, became a free-standing film production and distribution company in 1986, when the business was acquired by a group that includes now-chairman Von Polk and Kenneth and Marjorie Blanchard. The Blanchards also own Escondido-based Blanchard Training & Development, a management training company.

VPHI produces and distributes management training films that include films prompted by authors such as Tom Peters, Mark McCormick and John Nesbitt.

Larger corporations may have lost interest in industrial film production and distribution, but Bechtel Investments views the industry as a healthy investment.

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