When Mark Dresden completed his MBA thesis at Wharton business school in Philadelphia in the late 1950s, he started a process that would eventually revolutionize the buying of advertising space in the pharmaceutical industry. Dresden’s subject had been the use of direct mail to investigate physician attitudes and practices. He proved that mail surveys could accurately document physician behavior.
Not surprisingly, he went on to a job with Lee Ramsdell—a Philadelphia advertising agency with prescription drug accounts. There, such expertise was appreciated. At the agency, Dresden came in contact with the subjective manner in which medical journal space was purchased. There were no objective audits of journal readership and millions of dollars were being spent on the medium based essentially on judgment and instinct. Having just left an intellectually rigorous academic background, Dresden saw the deficiencies in the system, but rather than become a sideline critic he took a bold, entrepreneurial step, founding a company to provide the objective standards that were lacking. He conducted mail surveys and in 1963 launched Media-Chek—the first objective, independent journal audit. To describe the response to his findings as “controversial” would be an understatement.
Marshall Paul recalls the scene at a meeting of publishers when Dresden reported Media-Chek findings for the first time: “As he was presenting his data, you could hear mumblings going on in the crowd…and then it started to gather steam and all of a sudden there was a kind of uproar. Mark was presenting information that showed that half of the journals were not doing very well. Immediately, he annoyed half the audience…which realized that their publications might be in jeopardy. Then you had the upper half, but they were not pleased as to their rankings. Just about everybody was upset!”
To understand this reaction you have to appreciate the way advertising schedules were drawn up in those days. Lou Miller describes the method: “In the early 1960s, journal advertising was bought on three factors: reputation, circulation, and entertainment.”
Dresden’s data challenged the official journals of medical organizations that sold on reputation. He took on publications that had added nonrelevant audiences to lower their CPM. And most importantly, he took on the fraternity of “space men” who through the force of their salesmanship, personality, and the relationships they had with decision-makers (often gained through extensive entertaining) were the dominant factor in the competition for journal spending. Dresden’s numbers changed everything and the losers in his surveys did not go quietly. Dresden came in for volumes of pointed criticism. Sam Davis, who was his partner, remembers how Dresden handled it: “Every one of the [readership surveys] met with criticism. It was to folks’ advantage to tear them down, to make sure they didn’t succeed. Mark had the ability to ignore that, to stand by it and keep going. He always prided himself on being a little hard of hearing, not physically, but he always said, ‘You have to keep going.'”
Faith that you were right and an innate “tenaciousness,” which Davis also attributes to Dresden, were needed to overcome the entrenched habits of the industry and the personal relationships which had been built up among agencies, publications, and manufacturers in the free-spending, post-WWII boom period.
Media-Chek answered its critics with rational arguments and improved methodology and became basic to the purchase of journal advertising. Dresden sold the company to Fisher-Stevens in 1978. He continued in media research with the Dresden Davis company, which launched another innovative data service, Scriptrac, which provided companies with information for field force coverage on physician prescribing patterns by name and address. Dresden, in turn, sold that company to PCS in 1983 and retired from the business.
Dresden can be credited with starting the research-oriented approach to purchasing medical journal space. He was joined by others—notably Gus Fink, the founder of Patient Care, who expanded on what he had done to establish media buying as an analytical discipline and not a clerical function. Dresden initiated, or made a major contribution to, such practices as verifying receipt of publications, obtaining feedback on physician readership, demonstrating page exposure through the use of check studies (the “perfect coupon”), tracking exposure by location in the journal, and measuring exposure in successive issues. His innovations led to the development of reach and frequency models, and the ability of media buyers to use the computer to determine the efficiency of a journal schedule.
Marshall Paul sums up Dresden’s importance: “The contribution that Mark made to the industry, more than anything else, was making journal advertising a legitimate approach to communicating a message. He provided an understanding and an ability to advertisers to be able to deliver a verifiable message in journals.”
Mark Dresden lives in retirement in Pennsylvania near Philadelphia where he is active with volunteer organizations and also keeps busy with his two major hobbies: organ music (he’s installed a pipe organ in his home) and raising poodles.