SIX YEARS AGO PAMELA MAYTHENYI USED HER ENTIRElife savings to start a company called The Source Maythenyi. She ran it-then strictly a commercials whodunit service-out of space she sublet from a video company in Manhattan's Flatiron district, and worked with an assistant, a phone and a computer. To cut down on expenses she rented out one of the bedrooms in her apartment and lived on pizza.
Of course, those were The Source's salad days, before Maythenyi moved her business to its sunnier Boca Raton headquarters, and before she had accumulated a database detailing some 150,000 commercials. Today the 39-year-old former agency producer has a bigger piece of the pie, and she even has the pleasure of mulling over lucrative offers to take her business public. These days Maythenyi is mum about the offers, mostly because she's not even sure she wants to sell, yet they are a testament to how The Source has grown from a one-room operation where people simply called to find out who shot a commercial to an everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-commercials-but-were-afraid-to-ask industry bible.
And talk about strange requests. One agency called to say their wallaby was suddenly unavailable for a shoot; could Maythenyi locate a replacement kangaroo (she did). Another wanted a director who could work with seals (they found one, Steve Hulen of X Ray Films in New York). One agency even called to find out how to get in touch with Barbra Streisand. As Stephanie Apt, director of broadcast production at J. Walter Thompson/New York, puts it, "It's hard to believe there was life before The Source."
Looking back to 1989, Maythenyi's services then were pretty straightforward; agencies paid a fee to subscribe and then got updated information on things like who shot what and a list of production credits-the kind of data Maythenyi pretty much had memorized from her days as a producer at JWT and BBDO in New York.
And, as Maythenyi admits, her timing wasn't too bad, either, considering that the '80s brought not only the industry's decentralization to outposts like Minneapolis, Portland and San Francisco, but also an ensuing maze of reps that made her service even more valuable. Which is one reason that in 1991 Maythenyi didn't hesitate to leave Manhattan for Boca Raton, a place she likens to "living in Beverly Hills for the price of Boise."
These days, The Source supplies those in agency and production circles with more information than even Maythenyi can keep in her head. Its flagship TV Commercial Information Service is a regularly updated commercials database-more than 2,500 new commercials are added each month-with information including content, credits and a summary of the director's style. There's also The Source Commercial Showcase Reel, an hour-long video directory of 90 of the most current spots, complete with credits.
In addition to commercials, Maythenyi offers The Source Creatives Database, a complete software and data package of creative personnel at U.S. ad agencies; Music Video Source, an online service in conjunction with Billboard that provides detailed information on clips, artists, directors and production companies; and a monthly newsletter called The Source Monthly, filled with mostly miscellaneous industry gossip. The Source's newest product is the National Electronic Directory (NED), a floppy disc of directors, editors, music/sound designers and their companies.
Fifteen years ago, Maythenyi, a native of upstate New York, graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in television production. However, in 1976 her timing wasn't as great, and rather than landing a desired PA position at a big network, she ended up a receptionist at E.B. Wilson, a now defunct financial shop in New York. In 1978 she moved to BBDO as an executive secretary, where her willingness to work long hours did not go unnoticed by then creative director Phil Dusenberry, who promoted her to assistant producer and later producer on the Mountain Dew and DuPont accounts. In 1980 Maythenyi made a lateral move to JWT, where for seven years she worked on the Kodak and Slice business. She left JWT in 1987 for a year-long agency partnership that eventually fizzled out.
Undaunted, Maythenyi approached her former bosses, Jim Patterson, now chairman at JWT North America, and Dusenberry, with her idea for starting a commercials database service. "I wouldn't say I was skeptical," Dusenberry recalls, "but let's just say I was only mildly enthusiastic, mostly because the service was unprecedented."
Today, The Source's nine-person office lists some 500 clients, including megashops like Grey and McCann-Erickson, hipper havens like Goodby, Silverstein and Deutsch, and major production houses like Pytka and Smillie Films.
In January, Maythenyi launched Source Europe with Julia Griner, the daughter of commercials director Norman Griner who had been working at an Italian production company. Maythenyi and Griner, who will run the service out of New York, have already sold NED to Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Collett Dickenson Pearce in London, and hope to have a prototype of NED's European counterpart, EED (European Electronic Directory), ready for Cannes in June.
In addition, Maythenyi, who sees her current role as The Source's "vision for 2000," also talks about going global; about opening offices in Asia and Latin America and eventually being able to provide agencies and production companies with information from anywhere in the world. And yes, she even discusses going interactive with Source Multimedia, a visual online product still in the works.
"I still have that producer mentality," she says. "I just want to approach things step by step."