Newsletter Publishers Association (1998)
Norman Rentrop, born and raised and living year round in Bonn-Bad Godesberg, Germany, was schooled in a Jesuit School, later becoming an exchange student at Eton College in England and graduating from Cologne University with a degree in business administration. He gained journalistic experience at a school newspaper, a youth Magazine for Bonn, a local newspaper and the German Stars & Stripes armed forces newspaper.
He stated his first newsletter, die Geschäftsidee, while he was in school with 10,000 Deutschmarks earned from being a reporter for a local daily newspaper. Today, Norman Rentrop publishes 57 newsletters, loose-leaf services and magazines and three directories in the fields of marketing, public speaking, finance, investment, real estate, human resources, taxation, stocks, market analysis, business expansion and more. Founded in 1975, Verlag Norman Rentrop (“verlag” means publishing house in German), employs 220 people and more than 400 authors at its Bonn headquarters, and more than 600 people and 1,000 authors are employed worldwide. Verlag Norman Rentrop is today one of the leading information publishing companies in Germany. Its 1997 sales of 162 Million Deutschmarks (90 mio. US$) makes it the 7th largest professional information company in Germany. To help business owners achieve their goals in life, foster entrepreneurship and independence for a free and social responsible society is Rentrop publishing’s mission.
When he began in the publishing business, the German newsstands were crowded and the bookstores did not welcome newcomers. Norman turned to American-style direct marketing to grow the company; NPA, FOLIO and DMA conferences became his training camps. His training was enhanced by seminars given by visiting North American direct marketers like Joan Throckmorton, Dick Benson, Ted Nicholas, Ted Kikoler and Don Hauptman.
“We practice what I like to call ‘consultative journalism,'” said Rentrop. “I would like for every German business owner (my audience) to be able to afford consulting, and that’s what I give them through my newsletters. I think of information products as the ability to multiply ideas over the printing press and electronically.”
Norman is famous for inviting American publishers to tour his operations in Bonn and reciprocally visiting U.S. publishing operations. “By exchanging ideas and comparing how we do in different areas we can all optimize our publishing successes.”
“His case studies of actual successes and failures presented at NPA special publishers conferences are very remembered of,” says NPA executive director Patti Wysocki.
Verlag Norman Rentrop spends a lot of money on developing people and new products. There is a heavy emphasis on investing in people. They budget one month’s salary for training each year per employee. His company sent 18 employees to the NPA International Newsletter Conference last June – from Germany. They also budget between $150,000 – $200,000 on books, magazines, newsletters and other information products, which averages $1,000 per employee (in addition to the one month’s salary for training). “My philosophy is that if you give, you will receive,” said Norman. “I invest in my people and they will work hard for me in return and help to grow my company.”
Back in 1987 Verlag Norman Rentrop was one of the very first German publishing companies to introduce profit center managers – the concept of intrapreneurs. “By empowering my profit center managers to make all the decisions as if it were their own company and incentivising them by phantom stock. My people love the system for the freedom and I can concentrate on the big picture.”
On a recent business trip to the U.S., Norman dropped in at a Barnes & Noble bookstore. He looked at about 150 books, and bought 50 books that he had shipped to Germany. “What more could you ask for,” said Norman, “all the books you could possibly want, and nice chairs and food, too.” Although Norman does enjoy visiting bookstores, he also buys books at amazon.com on the internet.
New product development and the ability to see a need in the market is one of Norman’s favorite parts of the newsletter business. He spent $50,000 with amazon.com last year on books to research new product ideas. “I love the creative process, but I also love the investment process. I study the lists, and based on the statistical validity of a test of 50,000 names, I make the determination of whether to invest in another 50,000-name mailing. That’s my favorite kind of investment.”
“Why buy the cow if you want to drink a glass of milk,” Norman asks. That explains for a lot of outsourcing at Rentrop and their partnering and enjoying minority participation.
Today, Norman has minority interests in companies around the world – in Turkey, Romania, Poland, France and the U.S. He works with the mayo Clinic Letter, Agora, Georgetown Publishing House, The Global Network and Garrett Communications, to name a few. In the case of many of these relationships, Norman takes the U.S., newsletter and translates it into German – both for language and cultural differences. For example, one newsletter has to do with etiquette. While the American and German editions are similar, cultural differences make it impossible to simply translate word for word. For example, in the United States, it is customary for the gentleman to open the door to allow the woman to go ahead. In Germany, the man goes first to thwart danger.
Norman’s first love of the newsletter business is lists. “I spend one-third of my time evaluating and cultivating mailing lists and studying SRDS and rate cards; it requires the mindset of a good investor who can calculate chances,” said Norman. The famous list guru, Dick Benson, once said that a publisher should spend one-third of their time on lists or media. “I spend 12 days a year in list meetings where I meet with publishers and profit-center managers to evaluate lists for mailings and inserts (German magazines don’t rent their mailing lists, but do take inserts); it’s one of the most important elements of direct marketing.”
Norman Rentrop, Verlag Norman Rentrop
53117 Bonn, Germany