Direct Media's May: 'Business Has Been Picking Up'

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WHITE PLAINS, NY -- "Fortunately, business has been picking up, so I'm very lucky," Direct Media Inc.'s Larry May said yesterday of his 14-month tenure as the firm's chief executive.


The remarks came during his greeting of attendees at the 2005 Direct Media Mailer Conference and Co-op here.


"I think if you survive this [recession], you win," he said. He then joked that now all the industry faces is increased postage and paper costs, identity theft, privacy issues and depressed response.


The CEO of the Greenwich, CT-based firm then introduced a panel of direct marketing experts for a session called "What They Didn't Tell You on Their Way to the Top." The panelists were Dave Florence, Direct Media founder/chairman; Fred Simon, executive vice president of Omaha Steaks; and Marty Edelston, president/founder of Boardroom Inc.


Almost immediately, Edelston -- who is 76 and suffered a stroke four years ago that has slowed him little -- usurped Direct Media executive vice president Linda Huntoon's role as moderator and started posing his own questions. He first asked the panel what advice would benefit attendees the most.


Edelston's own answer was to take Florence to lunch because he doesn't eat much and he talks a lot. "Listen, take a lot of notes and carry out everything that Dave says," he said. "After you've done that, call Dave again."


Simon touted testing. He said Omaha Steaks began as a family business in 1917 and it wasn't until 1958 that the company made its first foray into direct marketing with a space ad in the New Yorker. To learn more, Simon went to a DM course taught by Ed Mayer and came back with 14 ideas to test. Despite losing money, those early tests represented an education.


Florence said he first encountered direct mail while as sales manager of an office equipment company.


"The next thing I knew, Ed Burnett was in my office, and that's when I realized this was what I wanted to do," Florence said.


His advice: If you don't love the numbers side of direct marketing, you shouldn't be in it.


All three panelists praised the genius of DM legend Dick Benson, though Edelston said that what he loved most about the industry was proving Benson wrong many years ago. According to his story, Benson said direct marketing had peaked years ago, which was obviously not the case.


When asked about the Web's influence on DM, Simon said Omaha Steaks' customers helped the firm build a better site. The company launched its first site in 1995 and, based on feedback, has turned it into a direct marketing powerhouse and the fastest-growing part of its business.


Florence said Simon's son Todd, who is also an Omaha Steaks executive, has taught him a lot of what he knows about the Web.


The final topics were keeping the entrepreneurial spirit alive and where business would be in 20 years. Simon urges the younger generation of Omaha Steaks' leaders to expand in new directions, one of which is a new line of complete meals.


Florence said e-commerce would be the road to future endeavors, even more than it is today.


The co-op wraps up today at the Renaissance Westchester Hotel and Conference Center.


Kristen Bremner covers list news, insert media, privacy and fundraising for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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