David Martin still selling long after cellular

Long After Going Cellular, David Martin Still Selling

Long After Going Cellular, David Martin Still Selling

by Kyle Massey on Monday, Feb. 20, 2017

When Alltel Corp. first considered getting into cellphones, David Martin had to figure out not just how to sell them, but truly whether they could be sold at all.

It was the 1980s, and cellular phones had never been available to the general public. Devices like the Motorola DynaTAC retailed for about $3,000 and were installed in cars. They cost users about $1.50 for every minute of talk.

So Alltel officials, led by Joe Ford, turned to Martin, who had done research for them as a consultant. He joined a small team of Alltel employees marketing a product Arkansans had never seen.

“It wasn’t just the cost,” Martin recalled. “Installers had to tear up your expensive car to put them in.”

So Martin looked for data, acquiring the names of customers from a Motorola test market in Chicago. By conducting in-depth interviews with the test-market customers, he learned to pitch the expensive phones as essential tools for busy executives, doctors and real estate agents. “These people felt that communicating in their cars, on their way home from work and meetings, would actually make them money rather than costing them.”

Martin had found his cellphone sales mantra: “You want it because you need it.”

Since then, Alltel has become Verizon, and cellphones … well, you know.

These days Martin still wields a cellphone, crunching numbers as president and CEO of Martin-Wilbourn Partners. The firm recently moved from Riverdale to Capitol Avenue and Center Street.

His expanding corporate communications and marketing firm has hired Katherine Daniels as a senior vice president and Christen Shaw as a senior account executive. Daniels, a marketing veteran of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, moved over from Talk Business & Politics, where she was vice president for the past three years. Shaw came from Atlanta, where she was senior project manager of the technology team for Coca-Cola Studios. She was previously in account-services at The Allison Agency and Stone Ward.

Martin-Wilbourn, founded with Alltel veteran Randy Wilbourn, is the latest chapter in a career ordained when Martin was in high school and met Jim Ranchino, the pioneering Arkansas pollster and guru of political data.

Ranchino convinced Martin to attend Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, where Ranchino taught political science. While grooming Martin for a job in his political polling operation, Ranchino suffered a massive heart attack and died on election night, Nov. 7, 1978, at KATV.

Ranchino had done election commentary for the Little Rock station since 1972. His death at age 42 was a brutal blow to Martin, who was calling in election results that night. With his career dreams suddenly on hold, Martin got an MBA in marketing and finance at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

After graduating, he appeared without an appointment to see Wayne Cranford at Cranford Johnson, the Little Rock advertising firm. Cranford told the receptionist that Martin needed to make an appointment, but the young man insisted. “He’s going to want to see me.” Boldness paid off when Cranford learned about Martin’s ties to Ranchino. “You’re THAT KID!” Martin recalled Cranford as saying. “Jim told me about you.”

The meeting led to eight years of running Area Marketing Research Associates, a small polling-and-survey company that was then part of Cranford Johnson. Martin bought it, paying in installments over time. He built up the company and sold it to Alltel, where he led initiatives in systemwide use of customer research, outbound telemarketing and creating an internal debt collections operation.

Then came a decade on his own at the Martin Corp., where he worked with Lockheed Martin, Northern Telecom, Motorola, Sandia National Laboratories and others on projects in 35 countries.

After a noncompete agreement with Alltel expired, Martin returned to CJRW, where as CEO he led a turnaround despite a downturn in the national economy.

That relationship ended in 2010, when Martin resigned and four other CJRW employees departed with him to establish a new firm.

“CJRW was an ESOP, an employee-owned business operating under federal guidelines,” Martin recalled.

“There was a difference of opinion with the board on requirements of governance, and I felt I needed something else to do. That’s when Randy approached me to discuss starting an agency. And that’s what we did.”

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