How Delco’s Marcom Film Studio Made $10 Million Making Training Videos When COVID Hit

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In Delaware County, on an industrial park hill between the busy highway from Concord to Chester and a grove of tulip poplars, sits the Marcom Group, a digital video studio. Inside the two-story office, a team of 20, joined by Philadelphia-area actors working side-by-side, shoot safety videos for bakery and bottling companies, furniture factories, and drug developers, tech giants and town halls.

There is a lot of people. Actress Tricia Sullivan, from Newark, Delaware, continues to be promoted: she says she’s been a “warehouse worker, warehouse manager…nurse and recently a doctor” – in Marcom productions since 2015.

And he’s been really busy lately, thanks to the remote work movement that has accelerated during the coronavirus shutdowns, says Marcom co-founder Don Leonard, who started the company with Ann Diersing 35 years ago. year. Their company name is short for marketing and communication.

“COVID has accelerated the trend towards online learning,” Leonard says. The company sold more than $10 million in training films last year, up from $8.6 million the year before. Leonard says they’re on track to sell $13 million this year.

Marcom’s catalog includes long, short and specialized training programs on topics such as construction, electrical work, heat, hand and fire safety – as well as instructions for evading an active shooter in the workplace, avoiding COVID-19, back injuries, distracted driving and bullying, among other topics.

Training may be mandated by industry policies, local rules, and federal requirements under laws such as the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act. Marcom’s OSHA unit instructs workers on how to report concerns and file complaints about unsafe conditions.

“They’re the best on the market,” says Derek Dunaway, who was general manager of TPC Training, which sold videos of Marcom and its competitors to businesses until its launch. sale last winter to the American Safety Councilwhere he is now a director.

“Their videos are engaging and dynamic,” Dunaway added. “They’ve been amazingly innovative, customizing what we call micro-learning, so what they’re presenting is effective for the learner and for the business. They’ve invested in technology in a unique niche that isn’t perhaps not big enough for major media companies to get involved, but growing at an exciting rate.

Marcom claims dozens of corporate customers, including drug distributor AmerisourceBergen and cafeteria giant Aramark, tech leaders Apple and Cisco, Packaging Corp. of America and Crowley Marine.

Leonard says his company is the last independent operator, as far as he knows, in his cottage industry, after a series of deals over the past five years that have led to more consolidation.

And Marcom was wooed: “This investment group made us an offer of $100 million” to buy Marcom last winter, Leonard said. A representative of the potential buyer declined to comment.

That offering price equates to about 10 times last year’s revenue, which would have been above average for private companies of its size, but in the range of fast-growing tech companies, according to GF dataa company of the King of Prussia which follows the sales of private companies.

Leonard said he turned down the offer because he believed Marcom’s sales would have to double, sending its value up to $250 million, if the company continues to grow so rapidly, over the next three to the next five years.

A former Deloitte accountant who aspired to be a “corporate golden boy,” Leonard spent the early and mid-1980s building data systems for Penn Mutual, setting up European subsidiaries for the things-marketing giant Franklin Mint collectibles and researching drug factory sites in Germany, before helping make his first training tapes on OSHA safety rules for a Delaware utility – and got the media bug , business edition.

“I wanted to create,” recalls Leonard. And the accounting consultant in him wanted to create “something with recurring revenue” – paid updates that would reward hard work for years to come. The tapes were a hit, orders started pouring in, he partnered with Diersing, who runs the administrative side of the business, and made security videos his main job in life.

Many companies were selling training videos in the 1980s. To stay competitive, Marcom had to deal with big technology platform changes, on average, every ten years:

  • In the 1980s, media training meant churning out shelves of 40-minute videotapes for all of a client’s security needs.

  • Advances in media in the 1990s called for digital video-on-demand products suitable for easy downloads to corporate training computers.

  • After 2000, better digital editing software eased the way for “modular” training, cutting videos into specialized five-minute segments that viewers could better remember.

  • And, more recently, with the spread of smartphones, three-minute “micro-learning” units can be accessed as needed or integrated into longer personalized training programs.

This “adaptive learning” reduces the time workers have to pay in class because they don’t have to look at so much one-size-fits-all material that doesn’t affect their own work. Marcom’s master catalog now includes 200 on-demand digital videos, averaging around 25 minutes each, but easily mixed and matched based on the chemicals or processes a customer uses, and cut down to the smallest chunks. more relevant to each user.

Leonard wants to go global. Sales in Spanish have increased alongside the expansion of the Mexican pharmaceutical industry. But a first partnership in China foundered: the partner translated dozens of Marcom videos into Mandarin, but had few buyers.

Marcom previously had a larger external marketing force, which sold training materials at security industry conferences and other events. But he’s found it easier to sign up with safety equipment distributors, whose vendors offer hard hats, safety glasses and fire extinguishers; they add Marcom to their product list, for a fee.

This freed Leonard’s staff to focus on production. “We do everything in-house,” he said, guiding visitors through a fictional doctor’s office, drug packaging lab and “green screen” video room where the background, or text and key data, can be added later – all at the two-story corporate headquarters.

What makes a successful corporate video? “It has to be entertaining,” and produced with the quality that people are used to from pay TV, says Leonard. But maybe not too entertaining: “‘Funny’ doesn’t work in the security market,” he adds. “There was a California company that tried it, and after a few sales they weren’t successful.” It’s hard to be funny, and it’s even harder if you’re reminding people of OSHA regulations on hazardous chemicals or electrical safety.

Sullivan, the Newark actor, had taken acting classes at the University of Delaware and performed in community theater. But working at Marcom Productions “really gave me the confidence” to take on more commercial jobs, she says. She has performed gigs at home shopping giant QVC in West Chester and recently appeared in a Giant Foods advert with her children.

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