Internet Job Offers, Sale Jitters Have Direct Media Staff on the Run

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As news of more employees departing from list management and brokerage firm Acxiom/Direct Media continued this week, current and former employees attributed the exodus to a combination of the disruptions caused by the pending sale of Direct Media by Acxiom and the opportunities offered by Internet companies flush with venture capital and primed for lucrative stock offerings.


Among the latest to jump ship is Toby Schremmer, the former team leader of list management for Direct Media's Rodale Press files, who this month joins Internet concern Xoom.com to develop and market that company's e-mail house file. Schremmer, who joined Direct Media for the first of two stints about 10 years ago, will work in the New York office of Xoom.com, which is based in San Francisco.


He is one of several Direct Media staffers who have left the company to join online e-mail delivery firms or other traditional list companies, in some cases taking their accounts with them. Other departures in recent weeks have included Mike Mayhew to Gamesville.com, Boston; Rob Fitzgerald to Yesmail.com, Vernon Hills, IL; and Karen Elwood, who left to co-manage the interactive division of The SpeciaLists, Weehawken, NJ. In addition, Regina Brady, who headed up the Internet activities of Direct Media, and Carey Catalda, a broker in Direct Media's interactive services division, both left last month to join e-mail deployment firm Media Synergy, Toronto.


Direct Media is not the only list company to suffer depletion attributable to the opportunities created by the online world, but its situation has been exacerbated by the uncertainty that has hung over the company since Acxiom began seeking a buyer for it several months ago.


"It seems like every day or every week, we hear of somebody else who's gone someplace else," said Randy Robertson, who formerly ran the brokerage division in Direct Media's Walnut Creek, CA, office, but now runs an office in Walnut Creek - along with a dozen other former Direct Media staffers - for list company Paradysz Matera, which is based in New York.


Robertson said tension surrounding the future of Direct Media played a major factor in his decision to leave. With the prospect of his office being split in half according to consumer and business-to-business divisions, and with his home office busily negotiating the future of the company, Robertson said he thought he and his clients would be better off in a different environment.


"As a branch office, we had always worked a little bit autonomously, and the focus on clients seemed to be getting lost," he said.


Another ex-Direct Media employee, who asked not to be identified, said that "morale has been lousy since June."


However, he also was quick to point out that even though a lot of people have left the company, it looks worse from the outside than it actually is.


"It might look like all hell's breaking loose … but it's not like that at all," he said.


Some employees suggested that senior management was allowing the company - which manages nearly 1,000 lists and is by far the largest list management and brokerage concern in the country - to be whittled down to a more manageable size.


Ralph Drybrough, one of the senior vice presidents of Direct Media's business-to-business list division and a partner with fellow senior vice president Mark Joyce and others in the effort to buy that half of the business from Acxiom, said the lure of big salaries and stock options from Internet companies is more responsible for the departure of employees than is the pending transaction.


"These guys are going to places where they will have much better financial packages than anybody in the traditional list industry would offer them," he said, referring to two of his employees who left last month to joint Internet firms. "These are people that look you in the eye and say, 'Look, this is changing my lifestyle. Are you going to be able to change my lifestyle if you increase me by 25 or 30 percent?' "


As is the case in many industries, list professionals are being harvested by Internet companies that sometimes double their salaries and toss in stock options valued at tens of thousands of dollars almost as an afterthought.


Drybrough also downplayed the losses of personnel. "We haven't come close to experiencing what I would call a crisis or anything, and I don't anticipate that we will," he said.


Veterans of the list industry are particularly appealing to Internet companies, some insiders say, because of their grasp of basic direct marketing principals.


"People from the list community know what it's like to be an infomediary," said Todd Love, who recently left American List Counsel, Princeton, NJ, to join e-mail list concern Yesmail.com. "They are used to making promises that others have to keep. The intuitiveness of that is sorely needed in the online world."


Several of his colleagues at Yesmail.com also have come with traditional direct marketing companies listed on their resumes, and more are likely to follow, he said.


Drybrough said there was little list companies could do to stop the bleeding, although he also predicted that the phenomenon would be short-lived.


"I think it's a mania, and in six months much of the bubble will have burst," he said. "I'm not saying that dot-com isn't a huge wave of the future, but with some of the salaries that these deployment companies are paying, that can't continue with the revenues they are generating."
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