Andy Stefanovich: how I 'transformed marketing'

Andy Stefanovich got his marketing company through its first year by working in bars to make ends meet. By 2007, it was turning over $5m a year.

Andy Stefanovich had always wanted to work in the hotel industry. But after landing what he thought was his dream job at the Ritz Carlton, he quickly became disillusioned. So he quit and formed his own company. Growing up, he had heard his father, a vice-president at General Motors, rail against "bloated bureaucracy and staid thinking". Andy realised large companies needed help "to be better and different". He decided that Play would do nothing less than "change the way that business does business".

"A lot of people thought we were crazy because we didn't have much business experience. But our approach didn't need experience it was about challenging the way firms think and operate." But with no business track record and no money for marketing, Play found it hard to attract clients. Eventually, a breakthrough came via a childhood friend who was involved with the sponsorship for the Indianapolis 500 car race. Indy 500 was looking for new ways for sponsors to interact with racegoers. Stefanovich was asked to generate ideas for the following year's race.

He now had a year "to learn as much about event sponsorship as I could". Indy 500 gave him free entry to sporting events, but Stefanovich had to "travel and live on my own dime" for a year. He worked part-time in bars to help make ends meet. After 12 months, he submitted his proposals. One was to open the doors of display cars, play classical music on their stereos and leave brochures in their glove compartments. Participants were then asked how they felt about the car.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

This simple strategy "completely changed the dialogue between the sponsor and their potential clients. Instead of focusing on a car's technical capabilities we were getting people to interact with the car." Indy 500 loved the response and awarded Play a $1m sponsorship deal. "Without doubt it was the moment that changed the company I quit the bar jobs pretty quickly".

Now Play began generating fresh clients. "We didn't use a traditional campaign to advertise our services because we don't think we are a traditional company." Instead, Stefanovich used his position as a guest lecturer at American universities to preach "alternative business thinking". Word spread and Play began to attract big corporations. "We were a natural fit for companies such as Nike, which wanted to show the consumer that they are ahead of the curve." Stefanovich hired writers, sociologists and a range of people "in the field" so that Play could show companies "new ways for firms to relate to their customers". When JP Morgan and Chase Manhattan Corporation merged in 2000, Play helped the two banks "settle on a new, unified business culture".

"When people see our client list, they often think that we must be experts in banking and autos and so on. We're not. We add value by looking in from the outside and challenging concepts and practices that they take for granted." By 2007 Play was employing 35 staff and generating annual sales of more than $5m. It was then bought by a larger rival, Prophet. Losing control of Play "hurt a bit". But Stefanovich, 44, isn't looking back. He is now free "to concentrate solely on creating and not feeling responsible for people's livelihoods".

James graduated from Keele University with a BA (Hons) in English literature and history, and has a NCTJ certificate in journalism.


After working as a freelance journalist in various Latin American countries, and a spell at ITV, James wrote for Television Business International and covered the European equity markets for the London bureau. 


James has travelled extensively in emerging markets, reporting for international energy magazines such as Oil and Gas Investor, and institutional publications such as the Commonwealth Business Environment Report. 


He is currently the managing editor of LatAm INVESTOR, the UK's only Latin American finance magazine.