Three-and-a-half years ago, Gordon Armstrong didn't know a thing about computers. The longtime entertainment publicity and marketing executive wasn't a techno-phobe, but as a former senior manager at Hollywood studios, he didn't know the information superhighway from the Ventura Freeway.
Today, everything's changed. For the last year, he's been the Los Angeles-based regional sales director of the DoubleClick Network Inc., an Internet ad broker targeting people who surf the Net (http://www.doubleclick.net).
Armstrong embarked on his new tech career after decades in entertainment. He's held a variety of marketing posts at MGM, Universal Pictures, MCA and Morgan Creek Productions. The fat studio salaries were nice, but Armstrong had grown weary of Hollywood's volatility.
"In many ways I was finished with the [entertainment] business. I had burned out," recalls Armstrong, who set up his own marketing consulting firm in 1992. He signed up producer Dino DeLaurentiis as a client, but Armstrong also wanted to try his hand in emerging fields.
"I had no knowledge of technology, but the one skill I did have was marketing." So he offered his skills free of charge to an emerging entertainment online service, the Vine. From there, he picked up a couple of CD-ROM developers as clients, and new credentials as a marketing exec with technological expertise.
As the Internet craze escalated in 1995, ad agency Poppe Tyson started what became Doublelick, an advertising network on the World Wide Web. (The network has since spun off from the ad agency). So Armstrong, who had worked only once in sales, briefly in his youth, signed on as the fledgling network's Los Angeles-based regional sales director.
At an age when most people are contemplating retirement, Armstrong was starting a new career in sales in an industry populated by computer whiz kids in their 20s and 30s. Armstrong declines to disclose his age, but admits to being 55-plus. At times, it's been difficult. "With start-ups, you do everything yourself," he says. "It's harder when you're my age than when you're 20 years old." But he can handle the frequent 10-hour days and enjoys the bottom-line way in which the company measures his performance by how much revenue he generates. "I like that aspect of proving myself," Armstrong says.
He's paid in a combination of salary and commission, based on a percentage of the ad revenues he brings in. Clients include major local ad agencies and corporations, such as the Japanese auto companies, American Honda, Nissan, Toyota (Lexus) and Mazda. Armstrong's old acquaintances in entertainment have been less eager.
Selling a completely new advertising concept to risk-averse Hollywood isn't easy, he says. Armstrong sold Columbia Pictures on an experiment to promote "Mrs. Winterbourne" by placing ad banners on Web sites. 20th Century Fox also came through with a buy. But with others, such as his former employer, MCA, he's gotten nowhere. "Hollywood studios are not early adopters," observes Armstrong. He hopes attitudes will change.
"A lot of this job is education," says Armstrong, who frequently courts potential clients for months before making a sale. He says he's hooked by the stimulation and excitement of being in an entirely new, risky industry. "It's an all-consuming business."